Research in Science Education

, Volume 49, Issue 5, pp 1279–1299 | Cite as

Researching Primary Teachers’ Professional Agency: Employing Interactive Ethnography to Overcome Reluctance to Teach Science

  • Jenny MartinEmail author


This paper provides a report of a case study on the professional agency of an experienced early years teacher, Sarah, who successfully embedded a chemical science program of teaching-learning for her students aged between 6 and 8. Interactive ethnography informs the research design, and discursive psychology provides the tools for the analysis of Sarah’s speech acts for her positioning as a responsible agent. Reframing the problem of primary teacher reluctance to teach science in terms of primary teachers’ professional agency using discursive psychology, this ontological study provides new insight into issues related to the provision of science education in primary schools and asks: How do primary teachers position themselves and others in relation to science curriculum and education? The research calls for research methodologies and reform efforts in primary science that are better grounded in the local moral orders of primary schools.


Teacher agency Science education Discursive psychology Interactive ethnography 



I am grateful to the guidance of Jo Sadler (dec.) and Dr. Rod Fawns who were my supervisors during this research project and to the Victorian Government who funded my employment at the school as the Scientist in Residence through the school’s successful application to their Scientists and Engineers in Schools Initiative.

Supplementary material

11165_2017_9654_MOESM1_ESM.docx (143 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 142 kb)


  1. Arnold, J. (2005). Researching teacher agency in primary school science: A discursive psychological approach. Masters Thesis. Melbourne: The University of Melbourne.Google Scholar
  2. Arnold, J. (2012). Addressing the balance of agency in science classrooms. PhD Thesis. Melbourne: The University of Melbourne.Google Scholar
  3. Arnold, J., & Clarke, D. J. (2014). What is ‘agency’? Perspectives in science education research. International Journal of Science Education, 36(5), 735–754.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham: Duke University Press.
  5. Carter, L., Castano Rodriguez, C., & Martin, J. (2017). Embedding ethics of care into primary science pedagogy: reflections on our criticality. In J. Bazzul & C. Siry (Eds.), Critical Voices in Science Education Research: Narratives of Academic Journeys. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  6. Chiew, F. (2014). Posthuman ethics with Cary Wolfe and Karen Barad: animal compassion as trans-species entanglement. Theory, Culture & Society, 31(4), 51–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Corcoran, T. (2015). Ontological constructionism. In A. Williams, T. Billington, & D. Goodley (Eds.), Critical Educational Psychology. London: Wiley Blackwell.Google Scholar
  8. Crevola, C. A., & Hill, P. W. (1998). Children’s literacy success strategy: an overview. Melbourne: Catholic Education Office.Google Scholar
  9. Davies, B. (1990). Agency as a form of discursive practice. A classroom scene observed. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 11(3), 341–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Department of Education and Training (DE&T) (2002). Early Years Research Project (1999–2001): summary of the final report. accessed on 27/10/2004.
  11. Edwards, A. (2015). Recognising and realising teachers’ professional agency. Teachers and Teaching, 21(6), 779–784.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gabel, D., & Rubba, P. (1979). Attitude changes of elementary teachers according to the curriculum studied during workshop participation and role as model science teachers. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 16(1), 19–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. NY: Doubleday Anchor Books.Google Scholar
  14. Harlen, W. (1997). Primary teachers’ understanding in science and its impact in the classroom. Research in Science Education, 27(3).Google Scholar
  15. Harlen, W. (2000). The teaching and learning of science in primary schools. London: David Fulton Publishers Ltd..Google Scholar
  16. Harré, R. (1984). Personal being: a theory for individual psychology. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Harré, R. (1990). Exploring the human umwelt. In R. Bhasker (Ed.), Harré and his critics: essays in honour of Rom Harré with his commentary on them. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  18. Harré, R. (1992). What is real in psychology; a plea for persons. Theory and Psychology, 2(2), 153–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Harré, R., & van Langenhove, L. (1999). The dynamics of social episodes. In Harré & van Langenhove (Eds.), Positioning Theory. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  20. Hodson, D. (2002). Countering reluctance in elementary science education: contrasting approaches via action research. Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, 2, 3.Google Scholar
  21. Lerman, S. (2001). Cultural, discursive psychology: a sociocultural approach to studying and the teaching of mathematics. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 46, 87–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Martin, J. (2016). The grammar of agency: studying possibilities for student agency in science classroom discourse. Learning Culture and Social Interaction, 10, 40–49.
  23. Murphy, C., Neil, P., & Beggs, J. (2007). Primary science teacher confidence revisited: ten years on. Educational Research, 49(4), 415–430.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Shawver, L. (2001) Privileging persons. Postmodern Therapies News. accessed 9th June, 2012.
  25. Shotter, J. (2013). Agentive spaces, the ‘background’, and other not well articulated influences in shaping our lives. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 43(2), 33–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Smith, G. (2015). The impact of a professional development programme on primary teachers’ classroom practice and pupils’ attitudes to science. Research in Science Education, 45(2), 215–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Spradley, J. (1979). The ethnographic interview. (Spradley 1979).Google Scholar
  28. Sutton, C. (1996). Beliefs about science and beliefs about language. International Journal of Science Education, 18(1), 1–18.
  29. Tytler, R., Prain, V., Hubber, P., & Waldrip, B. (Eds.). (2013). Constructing Representations to Learn in Science.
  30. Van Manen, M. (1990). Researching lived experience: human science for an action sensitive pedagogy. State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  31. Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Walker, M., & Unterhalter, E. (2007). Amartya Sen’s capability approach and social justice in education. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Wallace, J., & Louden, W. (1992). Science teaching and teachers’ knowledge: prospects for reform of elementary classrooms. Science Education, 76(5), 507–521.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Wood, L. A., & Kroger, R. O. (2000). Doing discourse analysis: methods for studying action in talk and text. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  35. Woods, P. (1996). Researching the art of teaching; ethnography for educational use. London: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Education Victoria, Faculty of Education and ArtsAustralian Catholic UniversityEast MelbourneAustralia

Personalised recommendations