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Talking Into the Profession: Problem-Based and Evidence-Driven Conversations Between Preservice Teachers
Unformatted Document Text:  The field of preservice teacher education has not emphasized a problem-based orientation as a mechanism for learning how to teach. We know little about how preservice teachers negotiate their problems with each other, particularly when their conversations are focused through artifacts such as lesson plans, curriculum units, and their students’ work. The problems that preservice teachers face during their initial teaching experiences in schools are a particularly fertile area of inquiry. Elbaz (1983) found that growth of new teachers’ practical knowledge began with the identification of such problems. Bereiter and Scardamalia (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1993) coin the term, “progressive problem-solving”, as a desirable orientation for “expert” teachers (p. 109), one where teachers view the problems of practice as the most productive place to improve teaching. Such an orientation requires teachers to reinvest their time and energy into these problems. A consensus across research studies of teacher education is that it is difficult for preservice teachers to connect the experiences in their teacher education courses to their initial work with students in classrooms. Preservice teachers “often find it difficult to adapt the theories and concepts taught in their teacher education courses to the immediacy and vividness of the clinical work” (Hammerness, Darling-Hammond, & Shulman, 2001, pp.219-220) Assisting preservice teachers to make connections between their coursework and field experiences in their everyday decision-making is the heart of the work of teacher education. As Shulman (1986) states, “to educate a teacher is to influence the premises on which a teacher bases practical reasoning about teaching in specific situations” (Shulman, 1986, p. 32). The evidence of such influence, though, is tenuous. In a synthesis of teacher education literature, Wilson, Floden, and Ferrini-Mundy (2001) note that several studies found preservice teachers’ field experiences in schools were disconnected from other components of their teacher preparation. The authors’ meta-analysis of the teacher education literature reveals that prospective teachers have difficulty applying what they had learned in their teacher education coursework to their first clinical experiences, student teaching, and later, to their initial teaching positions in schools. Based on their analysis they suggest that a fertile area of future research is to carry-out research that examines attempts to address and repair this disconnection between the learning in schools and teacher education programs (Wilson et al., 2001). They also propose that such research could investigate particular components of teacher education, “by themselves or in interaction with one another, to prospective teachers’ knowledge and competence” (Wilson et al., 2001, p. 35). Smagorinsky et al. (2003) support efforts of teacher education programs to “create a more fertile setting” (p.31) for preservice teachers’ development of concepts by providing a coherent curriculum, provide spaces to consider and extend interns’ questions about new concepts and understanding, and to ground curricular conversations between interns through the integration of their school-based experiences. C. ContributionThe analysis of preservice teachers’ evidence-and-problem-based conversations provides insights into the ways they synthesize (and do not synthesize) learning from courses, their supervision observations of mentor teachers, and their learning from their own initial teaching experiences. This analysis takes place at a time when there is a heightened interest in teacher collaboration and inquiry, but little empirical research regarding teachers’ (and particularly, pre-service teachers) conversations with each other about their puzzles and problems of practice. The study challenges the claims in the literature that pre-service teachers do not have the capacity to approach their problems without the aid of more experienced mentors. An analysis of the data reveals that such conversations created opportunities for the participants to negotiate more adaptive and nuanced depictions of teaching and student learning than is generally true of individuals in this population.

Authors: Miller, Matthew.
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The field of preservice teacher education has not emphasized a problem-based orientation as a
mechanism for learning how to teach. We know little about how preservice teachers negotiate
their problems with each other, particularly when their conversations are focused through
artifacts such as lesson plans, curriculum units, and their students’ work. The problems that
preservice teachers face during their initial teaching experiences in schools are a particularly
fertile area of inquiry. Elbaz (1983) found that growth of new teachers’ practical knowledge
began with the identification of such problems. Bereiter and Scardamalia (Bereiter &
Scardamalia, 1993) coin the term, “progressive problem-solving”, as a desirable orientation for
“expert” teachers (p. 109), one where teachers view the problems of practice as the most
productive place to improve teaching. Such an orientation requires teachers to reinvest their time
and energy into these problems.
A consensus across research studies of teacher education is that it is difficult for preservice
teachers to connect the experiences in their teacher education courses to their initial work with
students in classrooms. Preservice teachers “often find it difficult to adapt the theories and
concepts taught in their teacher education courses to the immediacy and vividness of the clinical
work” (Hammerness, Darling-Hammond, & Shulman, 2001, pp.219-220) Assisting preservice
teachers to make connections between their coursework and field experiences in their everyday
decision-making is the heart of the work of teacher education. As Shulman (1986) states, “to
educate a teacher is to influence the premises on which a teacher bases practical reasoning about
teaching in specific situations” (Shulman, 1986, p. 32).
The evidence of such influence, though, is tenuous. In a synthesis of teacher education literature,
Wilson, Floden, and Ferrini-Mundy (2001) note that several studies found preservice teachers’
field experiences in schools were disconnected from other components of their teacher
preparation. The authors’ meta-analysis of the teacher education literature reveals that
prospective teachers have difficulty applying what they had learned in their teacher education
coursework to their first clinical experiences, student teaching, and later, to their initial teaching
positions in schools. Based on their analysis they suggest that a fertile area of future research is
to carry-out research that examines attempts to address and repair this disconnection between the
learning in schools and teacher education programs (Wilson et al., 2001). They also propose that
such research could investigate particular components of teacher education, “by themselves or in
interaction with one another, to prospective teachers’ knowledge and competence” (Wilson et al.,
2001, p. 35). Smagorinsky et al. (2003) support efforts of teacher education programs to “create
a more fertile setting” (p.31) for preservice teachers’ development of concepts by providing a
coherent curriculum, provide spaces to consider and extend interns’ questions about new
concepts and understanding, and to ground curricular conversations between interns through the
integration of their school-based experiences.
C. Contribution
The analysis of preservice teachers’ evidence-and-problem-based conversations provides insights
into the ways they synthesize (and do not synthesize) learning from courses, their supervision
observations of mentor teachers, and their learning from their own initial teaching experiences.
This analysis takes place at a time when there is a heightened interest in teacher collaboration
and inquiry, but little empirical research regarding teachers’ (and particularly, pre-service
teachers) conversations with each other about their puzzles and problems of practice. The study
challenges the claims in the literature that pre-service teachers do not have the capacity to
approach their problems without the aid of more experienced mentors. An analysis of the data
reveals that such conversations created opportunities for the participants to negotiate more
adaptive and nuanced depictions of teaching and student learning than is generally true of
individuals in this population.


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