Challenging Orthodoxy: Problem Based Learning in Preservice Teacher Training

By Blackbourn, Joe M.; Bunch, Dennis et al. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, September-December 2011 | Go to article overview

Challenging Orthodoxy: Problem Based Learning in Preservice Teacher Training


Blackbourn, Joe M., Bunch, Dennis, Fillingim, Jennifer, Thomas, Conn, Schillinger, Don, Dupree, Jeffery, Journal of Instructional Psychology


This article examines the viability of Problem Based Learning (PBL) in the training of teachers for the public schools. The shortcomings of traditional training and induction methods in preparing professional educators for the demands of the 21st Century schools is considered and the applicability of PBL in addressing these shortcomings is considered. A model and a template for implementing PBL in Teacher education coursework is provided and outcomes from previous implementation attempts are described.

A colleague of ours owns a mixed breed dog by the name of "Jasper". Jasper's behavior has become a metaphor for much of our colleague's philosophy and writing (Rader, 1997; 1999). Jasper has also had a significant influence on our thoughts and beliefs.

Jasper operates from the position that his sole purpose in life is to locate and retrieve balls. Jasper has been observed for hours on end chasing and retrieving balls thrown by my colleague. However, Jasperhas anemesis. He despises water. Trying to give him a bath is an exercise in futility. At the sound of thunder, he races for the house and begs for entry. Usually, Jasper's nemesis does not interfere with his life's purpose. However, once our colleague deliberately threw a ball into a nearby lawn sprinkler. Jasper's reaction was unexpected and thought provoking. Instead of barking in frustration or "sucking it up" and running into the sprinkler to retrieve the ball, Jasper began to engage in "searching behavior." He began to move in random, gradually expanding patterns outside of the sprinkler's range. All the time he was sniffing and shifting his eyes as he "searched" for a ball to retrieve. The significant aspect of this incident was that Jasper knew exactly where the ball was, but he refused to acknowledge this fact and instead chose to engage in a nonfunctional and maladaptive set of behaviors to disguise his possession of this knowledge. In essence, Jasper had chosen to be intentionally ignorant to the salient features of his situation and preferred psychological comfort and meaningless activity to a degree of mental discomfort and a meaningful outcome.

Unfortunately, Jasper's plight is analogous to much of our current"best professional practice" in teacher education and training. Skrtic (1991; 2000; 2006; 2007) describes professional culture and professional organization as a set of prescribed operations which have the central purpose of standardization of practice. He further proposes that professionalism itself (because of this focus) is the antithesis of individualization (Blackbourn, Payne, Tyler, Mann, & Elrod, 2006). It is this dichotomy between standardization of practice and the need to help preservice teachers learn to individualize instruction so all students can make adequate progress which forms the basis of the cognitive conflict that serves as the precursor of learning and the meaningful organization of information (Savery & Duffy, 1995).

Clearly, both standardization and individualization and the methods associated with each are legitimate exercises in education. However, the implementation and application of either approach is directly dependent on the goals and objectives one has established for a group of students. The disheartening fact is that many teacher educators have developed an almost exclusive allegiance to those more traditional methods which lend themselves well to the acquisition of knowledge or development of comprehension, but are totally inappropriate for application, analysis, synthesis, or evaluation. Like Jasper, they engage in activities which are, at best, only tangentially related to the task at hand and choose comfort over accepting the opportunity for change. It is important to emphasize that without a direct, positive correlation between teacher beliefs and teacher action instructional integrity does not exist.

Much of this comfort is related to reproductive thinking which requires reliance on the application of solutions, which were effective in the past, to a current problem (Michalko, 1998a; 1998b). …

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