Using symbolic interactionism to analyze a specialized STEM high school teacher's experience in curriculum reform

Tang Wee Teo, Margery Osborne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper, we present a microanalysis of a specialized STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) high school teacher's experience of self-initiated science inquiry curriculum reform. We examine the meanings of these two constructs: inquiry curriculum and curriculum change through the process lens of interactions, actions, and interpretations. Symbolic interactionism is the theoretical framework we used to frame our analysis of how this teacher, Darren Daley (a pseudonym) and various stakeholders purposefully and strategically engaged in "face-work" and act out lines of actions to advocate or oppose curriculum change. Symbols are used in this world of face-to-face encounters to communicate, imply, and assert, meanings through socially flexible and adjustable processes. We scrutinize how Daley (un)consciously engaged all of these to defend his decisions, actions, and outcomes and "look" to others as doing inquiry reform. The meanings of such work are not intrinsically driven or reactions to psychological and extraneous factors and forces, but emergent through interactions. The data collection methods include interviews with Daley, school administrators, students, and parents, lesson observations in Daley's class, and gathering of school website pages, brochures, and curriculum materials. We represent data in narratives describing storied history, voices, interactions, anecdotal accounts from individuals' experiences, and interpretations. The analysis and findings illuminate the nature of teacher agency-how it is reclaimed, sustained, reinforced, contested, exercised, and modified in more nuanced ways, hence offering an alternative lens to theorizing and empirically analyzing this construct.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)541-567
Number of pages27
JournalCultural Studies of Science Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2012


  • Curriculum reform
  • Face-work
  • Inquiry curriculum
  • STEM teacher
  • Symbolic interactionism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies


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