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Threshold concepts and the troublesome transition from GCSE to A level: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of students’ experiences in secondary school biology

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posted on 20.02.2018, 12:33 authored by Matthew James Dunn
Despite an acknowledgement in secondary education that the transition from GCSE to A level brings with it a noticeable increase in the difficulty of work, there is a paucity of research literature exploring this aspect of transition from students’ perspectives. In higher education, research into threshold concepts has been shown to offer productive insights into those aspects of curricula which students find troublesome, providing practitioners and curriculum designers with a growing body of evidence to inform improvements in teaching and learning. This study, situated predominantly in the subject of biology, explores the lived experiences of six students in the UK during their first year of A level study, through the lens of the Threshold Concept Framework (TCF) (Land, 2013). A longitudinal hybrid design frame is employed, drawing from both case study and Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), to illuminate the affective dimension of threshold concepts (TCs), an aspect of this research field which is notably underdeveloped. This thesis advances the argument that students’ encounters with TCs are significant for them, posing a level of cognitive and affective challenge which serves to exacerbate the difficulty of transition already caused by increased workload and pressure. The findings offer insights into what the students describe as ‘the jump’ to A level, presenting detailed accounts of their struggles adjusting to increased workload and pace, intensified by encounters with TCs. Critical consideration of the TCF leads to the proposal of an original exploratory model for the identification of TCs, and several TCs are identified in the findings, including scale, cell structures, biochemistry, troublesome language and specificity. Recommendations are made for further research exploring TCs and the affective dimension of transition in a range of other subjects in secondary education, to inform improvements in transition and teaching and learning.



Adams, Kate; Puttick, Steven

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School of Education

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

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Degree completed at Bishop Grosseteste University and awarded by University of Leicester.



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