Teachers’ development and students’ agency

To the participating teacher, opening the floor to the students and letting their ideas flow in the classroom seems to be most challenging and, at the same time, exciting experience. The below is an excerpt from the interview with a CHS teacher:

“…The whole point I am trying to make is that this has made me into teacher riddled with more questions than I can ever imagined. In fact, it starts with many students asking me questions, which I don’t usually face in class… It is scary because the answers are not always apparent and it takes effort to find out. What I was just sharing with (mentioning researchers’ names) today was that it makes me a better teacher and most importantly a better student. I never raised so many of these questions when I was a geog student… And now, I am forced to know ’cause my students are questioning me and even I am questioning myself too. It’s like I have never known so much about what I don’t know as geog teacher teaching the same stuff that I have been teaching over the years…”

We argue that the enactment of game-integrated curriculum not only benefits the students’ learning, but also has a significant effect on the teacher’s own professional growth. We found that the teacher and her students have improved their own knowledge and skills simultaneously throughout developing and participating in epistemic community. More specifically, the teacher changed her role in classroom which increases students’ motivation in learning. In particular, we found that the students’ role has changed from being a passive participant to being an active learner and contributor to the classroom. The teacher and the students were working together to co-construct knowledge that were at times beyond the syllabus. Our role as the research team changed from being the domain expert to being a collaborator with the teacher. The classroom discussion changed toward what Bakhtin (1986) called internally persuasive discourse (as opposed to speaking from authoritative voices, e.g., what textbook says). The table below summarizes the general movement we observed over the semester at CHS:


Design principles




1) Working in groups

Cooperatively or alone

Working and conversing within

Working and conversing within/beyond

2) Open-ended questions




3) Activities with tools



Emerged in the classroom

4) Creating artifacts



Ideas and diagrams emerged

5) Sharing mechanism

Group leaders/ vocal members

Teacher’s selection

The quietest person volunteering

6) Linking ideas

Predetermined by curriculum



At the beginning of the semester or even when we were co-designing the lessons before the semester started, the MOE syllabus and the researchers probably provided dominant voices that governed what gets taught and how. On the other hand, the performances in the classroom were taken as more of an individual-matter by students (as in second column #1 & 5). It was important for learners to know and experience that their voices matter in order to break off such classroom culture.  In order for the teacher to develop epistemic community in the classroom (principles #1 & 5), she constantly reminded them of the importance of each member’s contributions in the group work and made sure to make encouraging remarks for their questions, sharing, and explanations. In the following excerpts (from observation note: may not be accurate), the teacher notes for the impacts of students’ explanations on the class as a learning community (pseudonym used):

“You were confused when Mrs. Toh (herself) explained... Perhaps John and Phillip are better teachers... Phillip explains Northings and John explains Eastings, and they did quite accurately.”

In terms of tools and activities used (principles #3 & 4), the beginning of the semester was closer to what we designed and suggested, and there were more emergent designs as teacher and students gained more agency and started to have more communal atmosphere. Based on our analysis, the teacher adopted three strategies the most in order to develop this epistemic community that are closely related to our design principles: a) encouraging students to use their prior knowledge (principle #2); b) helping students to question themselves (principles #2 & 6); and c) increasing students’ ownership of knowledge (principles #4 & 6). As indicated in raw #2 in the table above, there were more mixture of open-ended questions, called “thinking questions” in the class, that came from researchers, teacher, and students. The student-generated questions are often emerged during the discussions in the classroom and taken up as the main “thinking question” for the next lesson when the question was not resolved during the lesson. 

In terms of design principle #5, the teacher started encouraging those who have not spoken up to share and, eventually, we saw the quietest student raising his hand and other students being happy for hearing his voice. Particularly, we saw the boy named, Joshua (pseudonym), showing a stark change. When we observed him the class, we noted that he hardly opened his mouth at the beginning of the semester. However, when we examined the video recordings, we found that Joshua made many utterances, which he never completed or made obviously not in the hearing of anyone during the first few lessons. Joshua’s increasing interactions with his peers happened gradually as the semester went on: he began by interacting primarily with his peers, and then he extended his interaction to the teacher. The reduced frequency of these weak communicative acts may be a good indication of Joshua’s increasing confidence in himself. It may also be a good indication of his sense of importance as a productive member of this epistemic community. 

Joshua, toward the end of the semester, started taking responsibility toward this epistemic communityhe opened a ‘discursive space’ by either asking questions, give tentative answers that call for elaboration, or asking another member of this epistemic community to participate. A trend can also be seen in the shifting of these questions from being directed at the teacher alone, to being directed at his peers.

The significant contrast to Joshua is one of his group members, Leong Jie. He is the person whose hand was always up and constantly answering and commenting (audible by everyone) to questions and discussions from the start of the semester. In Leong Jie’s case, he was happy to see himself as a part of the community. In his reflection he says: 

“In my school life, many criticized my leadership and the way I learn. They feel that I always actively participate and when they don’t I’m the odd one out. However, in this Geography class, this happened much less...”

The agency toward an epistemic community probably means not only voicing out their opinions but also taking responsibilities to hear others’ voices and to advance the understanding together. Joshua and Leong Jie started the semester from different ends of a spectrum (i.e., Joshua murmuring to himself even though he has a lot to contribute vs. Leong Jie answering out-loud whether or not he has clear ideas), but they together learned to become and also to form an epistemic community with teachers and other students.