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Review of Education

Vol. 1, No. 1, February 2013, pp. 122123


DOI: 10.1002/rev3.3009

Context and Implications Document for:


Assessment And The Logic Of Instructional
Practice In Secondary 3 English And
Mathematics Classrooms In Singapore
David Hogan, Melvin Chan, Ridzuan Rahim, Aye Khin
Maung, Loo Siok Chen, Seng Yee Zhe and Luo Wenshu

This guide accompanies the following article: David Hogan, Melvin Chan, Ridzuan Rahim, Aye
Khin Maung, Loo Siok Chen, Seng Yee Zhe and Luo Wenshu, Assessment And The Logic Of
Instructional Practice In Secondary 3 English And Mathematics Classrooms In Singapore, Review
of Education, 10.1002/rev3.3002

Authors Introduction
By any measure, Singapores educational system has generated an extraordinary
record of achievement over the past two or three decades. In this paper we report on
one key component of a broader investigation of why Singapore has done so well and
explore the logic, strength, resilience and limits of the underlying pedagogical model
and policy framework that have helped secure this widely admired record of achievement. Broadly, we argue that i) the structure of instructional practice in Singapore
reflects a pragmatic, highly instrumental, performative orientation to teaching and
learning focused on curriculum coverage, knowledge transmission and assessment
but drawing on broader pedagogical traditions as well, ii) it does not conform to a particular theoretical or normative model of pedagogical practice (whether conventional
or constructivist, Eastern or Western), and iii) the national high stakes assessment
system exercises considerable institutional authority over Singapores pedagogical
system through its unparalleled ability to shape the pattern of instructional practice at
the classroom level. We also conclude that improving the quality of teaching and
learning will need to address the broader institutional and cultural pressures and policy settings that shape the pattern of teaching and learning in Singapores classroom.
Implications for Policy
1. Given that the pattern of instructional practice reflects the considerable institutional power of the national high stakes assessment system, improving the quality
of teaching and learning will depend considerably on adjusting the national high
stakes assessment system in ways that supports rather than constrains instructional innovation. This will involve at a minimum the development and use of
2013 British Educational Research Association

Context and Implications: Assessment and the logic of instructional practice

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assessment tasks that give direction to classroom instructional practice on the well
founded assumption teachers teach to the test. From this perspective, teaching to
the test should be recruited and employed to support instructional improvement
rather than merely opposed as a regressive pedagogical practice.
2. Given that Singapores performative pedagogy is much more than a tableau of
instructional techniques but a deeply institutionalized cultural orientation or
national mind-set, improving the quality of teaching and learning is not simply a
matter of building the technical capability of teachers. It also involves attending to
the beliefs and collective habitus - the folk pedagogy of all actors in the broader
pedagogical system.
3. Improving classroom teaching also depends on designing accountability systems
that rewards rather than punishes responsible risk taking and innovation.
4. The institutional and cultural logic of instructional practice underscores the
importance of a broad institutional and cultural conception of pedagogy that
acknowledges the breadth of forces acting on classroom instruction rather than a
narrow instructional conception that focuses on teaching what teachers do.

Focus Questions
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

How do teachers teach in your school/district/region?


How much variation is there in instructional practice?
Where do these instructional practices come from theoretically?
How are instructional practices related to each other?
How sectarian or pragmatic in their choice of instructional practices are teachers
in their choice of instructional strategies?
6. Why do teachers teach this way?
7. How institutionalized are these practices? Are they a matter of habit, policy, belief,
tradition, institutional pressures, bureaucratic accountability, parental expectations, or what?
8. What effect do these instructional practices have on student outcomes?
9. What kinds of changes in the broader pedagogical environment would be necessary to support substantial and sustainable change?
10. What kind of implementation model would most likely support substantial and
sustainable instructional improvement?

Seminar/Project Idea
Design and conduct a study of teaching in your school/district/region focusing on
some or all of the questions listed above.

2013 British Educational Research Association