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[ Contents Vol 5, 1989 ] [ QJER Home ]

Thesis abstracts

This section publishes abstracts from theses in education from Australian tertiary institutions. Abstract information for future editions is welcome. Contributors should forward a copy of their abstract, together with relevant biographic and institutional information to: The Editor, Queensland Researcher, Research Services, Queensland Department of Education, PO Box 33, North Quay, Q 4002.

Title:Primary Science Implementation - The Decisions and the Strategies for Change
Author:John H. Dooley
Institution:University of Queensland

This study, conducted over four years, was about the process and effects of an educational change effort. The change involved the introduction of a science program into a Queensland primary school.

The purpose of the study was to trace the decision-making process associated with the adoption of the program and to document the implementation procedures and the internal and external factors affecting it.

A combination of two research methodologies was used: (1) action research combined with (2) interpretative participant observational fieldwork. The curriculum change was considered in three stages and models were designed for initiation, and implementation and internalisation.

Implementation was represented by the extent to which teachers were actually using the program and by the fidelity with which they used it. There was a need to know where the teachers were in the process of change - in terms of both their feelings and their behaviour - before they could be helped to change most effectively. This knowledge was obtained informally by teacher-researcher interaction and formally by using the following instruments:

  1. Personal Data Questionnaire
  2. Attitude Towards Science and Science Teaching Scales
  3. Influences on Curriculum Choice Questionnaire
  4. Teacher Interview Schedule
  5. Concerns Questionnaire
  6. Classroom Observational Schedule
The study suggests that the intensity with which particular factors influence curriculum change varies during the change process, e.g. complexity and explicitness of the program, teacher competence and decision-making strategies are significant during the adoption process while resources, leadership, teacher's willingness to change attitude and behaviour, and the level and quality of research support are more important during implementation. It is concluded that curriculum change can be successful given a long-term change strategy which emphasises active teacher support.

Title:The Performance of Handwriting in Children with Spinal Bifida
Author:Jenny Maria Ziviani
Institution:University of Queensland (Schonell Special Education Research Centre)

The extent of and reasons for handwriting difficulties in children with spina bifida myelomeningocele are ill-defined and poorly understood. The growing trend towards integration of these children into regular schools has highlighted the need to address important issues concerning their education. Accordingly, the handwriting performance of 34 children with myelomeningocele attending regular schools was compared with that of controls matched for age, sex, hand use and scholastic aptitude. Writing speed and legibility characteristics were determined using the Handwriting Performance Test (HPT) (Ziviani and Elkins, 1984). Statistically significant differences were found between the two groups on key components of the HPT: speed t(33) = 6.14, p <.001; spacing t(33) = 3.12, p<.01; horizontal alignment t(33) 3.08, p<.01; and letter formation t(33) = 8.31, p <.001. Reference to HPT normative data, however, indicated that only speed, alignment and letter formation noticeably distinguished children with spina bifida from the normal population. Spacing and size of writing fell within one and two standard deviations of the normative means, respectively.

In a second study, potentially influential factors identified from a theoretical model of handwriting performance were examined as independent variables in a series of regression analyses which aimed to explain the dysfunctions of children with spina bifida. Speed, letter formation and alignment were the only significant explanatory variables. Age contributed significantly in all three analyses but, once it was controlled, speed was most substantially explained by the level of disability experienced by children (F(1,16) = 3.69, p = 0.07). Accuracy of letter formation was significantly related to kinaesthesis and behaviour (R2 = 0.75). Finally, horizontal alignment was most closely related to kinaesthesis and handedness, with left handed writers being more detrimentally affected than right handers (R2 = 0.66).

On the basis of findings from studies 1 and 2, a third was undertaken to test the hypothesised explanation of dysfunction in terms of impaired motor schema development. A specially designed pen was used to record the number of times children lifted their pen while undertaking a series of written tasks. Performance by a subgroup of children with spina bifida aged between eight and 10 years was compared with that of three control groups. The first two control groups were matched for age, sex and hand use with children with spina bifida and then classified as either 'good' or 'poor' writers. The third control group comprised younger children of equivalent writing standard to those with spina bifida. Children with spina bifida differed significantly from all others in the number of times they lifted their pens while writing. The introduction of auditory distraction had no significant impact on any of the groups in terms of number of lifts.

The findings in this project are discussed in terms of motor learning theory. The proposition is advanced that children with spina bifida have difficulty in the transition from a closed loop feedback model of performance to a more open loop system which evolves as motor programs develop for writing. The reasons for this difficulty are considered to relate primarily to the limited opportunity for skill practice, poor kinaesthetic sensitivity and inattention evidenced in these children.

Title:The Influence of the Content and Structure of Curriculum Materials and Dialogue on Achievement in Science
Author:John A. Clarke
Institution:University of Queensland

This study is an exploratory investigation of factors influencing achievement in Year 8 science classrooms with a particular focus on the influence of the content and structure of curriculum materials and classroom dialogue. Both the curriculum and dialogue are analysed using a sophisticated procedure designed to produce a comprehensive picture of how themes emerge, recede and interact throughout the text or dialogue. This procedure, the Thematic and Structural Analysis (TSA) Technique, has been used previously with text but its application to dialogue is the novel part of this study.

The study is conceptualised within a Lewinian B=f(P,E) framework and involves a multivariate analysis of selected 'P' variables: student personality, motivational and cognitive characteristics, and 'E' variables: curriculum materials, classroom dialogue and characteristics of the learning environment. The specific 'P' variables used are Conceptual Level (personality). Locus of Control (motivation) and Piagetian Level, General and Specific Scholastic Aptitudes and Cognitive Structure (cognition). The specific 'E' variables are two curriculum units, teacherstudent and student-student audiotaped dialogue and student perceptions of the psychosocial characteristics of their science classrooms. Two contrasting curricula are included to allow an investigation of the role of curriculum. They are the core of an Australian Science Education Project unit "Mice and Men" which is an activity-based student-centred curriculum, and "Solutions", a chapter in a standard science textbook.

A sample of 125 Year 8 students in four classes in a large metropolitan secondary school in Brisbane, Australia, took part in the study. Data were collected throughout Semester 2, 1982 by means of questionnaires and audiotapes of three lessons for each class in each curriculum unit.

The curriculum texts and the dialogue were analysed using the TSA Technique to produce themes and their structure arrangement. For each curriculum unit, the dialogue structures from each class were rank-ordered on the basis of selected content and structural criteria. Initial and final cognitive structures were measured using Word Association Tests derived from the themes of the curriculum texts. The frequency of individual teacher and student interactions were obtained from transcripts of the audiotapes. Data for all other variables were obtained from the questionnaires. The complete data were analysed using multiple regression with achievement and final cognitive structure as dependent variables in each curriculum area.

For "Mice and Men", the significant variables in order of importance were:

  1. For achievement: the structure of the dialogue, locus of control and level of abstract thinking.
  2. For final cognitive structure: no significant predictors.
For "Solutions", the significant variables in order of importance were:
  1. For achievement: the sex of the student and student perceptions of whether their classroom is a place where individualisation of activities is based on students' needs and abilities;
  2. For final cognitive structure: the structure of thedialogue and the initial cognitive structure.
The most significant finding is the influence of the structure of the dialogue on achievement in the "Mice and Men" activity-oriented classrooms. The relationship is simple and linear - the more sophisticated the dialogue structure based on rank-ordering, the higher the achievement. The teacher is acting as a 'surrogate textbook' and supplies a structure of knowledge through the dialogue in order to facilitate learning. S uch a structure already exists in the "Solutions" classrooms in the traditional textbook and consequently, the structure of the dialogue in those classrooms is not as important.

Most of the other findings - the relationship between achievement and internal control, achievement and abstract thinking, achievement and gender, initial and final knowledge structure - are already well documented. The significance here is that some of the relationships occur in the activity-oriented "Mice and Men" classrooms while others occur in the more traditional "Solutions" classrooms. In other words, the curriculum does make a difference. The other relationships between achievement and perceived individualisation and between structure of the dialogue and final cognitive structure in "Solutions" classrooms are explained in terms of idiosyncratic features of particular classrooms and teachers.

The major outcomes of the study are that dialogue structure is important in particular circumstances and that the TSA Technique is eminently suitable of the analysis of sequentially organised written or spoken material. A number of suggestions regarding the role of dialogue structure and the TSA Technique for improving teacher effectiveness are made.

Title:The Representation of Moral Dilemmas in Australian Children's Literature from 1966 to 1981
Author:Geoffrey Bull
Institution:University of Queensland

This study contains a content analysis of prize-winning Australian Children's Literature selected from the Children's Book Council awards from 1966 to 1981. Books were chosen which had been awarded Book of the Year, Highly Commended and Commended prizes for fictional material suitable for ages 8-15.

The books were analysed by a panel of judges to determine the stages of moral dilemmas presented in them using Kohlberg's stage theory of the development of moral judgment. These levels were then compared to the expected level of moral judgment of the reader as predicted by the work of Kohlberg.

The content analysis, training of judges and recording techniques were quantitative in nature and based on the work of Rihn (1980).

It was found that for primary-aged children the majority of dilemmas were at too high a level for the reader to understand, particularly in the earlier era 1966 to 1972. Sex of author did not affect number of dilemmas presented but there was a bias against females in the books studies. Females faced fewer dilemmas than males irrespective of sex of author. No significant difference over time in presentation of moral dilemmas for individual authors was found although more dilemmas were found in Kohlberg's stages 3-6 than in stages 1 and 2.

Please cite as: QIER (1989). Thesis abstracts. Queensland Researcher, 5(1), 29-36. http://www.iier.org.au/qjer/qr5/thesis-abs-5-1.html

[ Contents Vol 5, 1989 ] [ QJER Home ]
Created 2 Apr 2007. Last revision: 25 Jul 2007.
URL: http://www.iier.org.au/qjer/qr5/thesis-abs-5-1.html