Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Preparing Teachers to Learn from Teaching

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Preparing Teachers to Learn from Teaching

Article excerpt

How should teacher preparation programs be designed to ensure the graduates become expert teachers? A recently released volume by the American Educational Research Association (AERA) indicates that the question is not even close to being answered empirically (Cochran-Smith & Zeichner, 2005). This is not a new conclusion. The absence of research-based recommendations cited by authors of relevant chapters in the AERA volume (e.g., Floden & Meniketti, 2005; Zeichner & Conklin, 2005) reinforces similar conclusions reached in earlier reviews (Evertson, Hawley, & Zlotnick, 1985; Kennedy, 1999; Raths & McAninch, 1999).

The most common approach to teacher preparation--equipping prospective teachers with expert teaching strategies--has been convincingly critiqued on theoretical and practical grounds. Nemser (1983) argued that expecting prospective teachers to become expert classroom performers on graduation is unrealistic given the short time of preparation programs and the strong influences on teaching of prior experiences. Prior experiences, acquired during years in classrooms as students, heavily influence how prospective teachers interpret what they are learning and how they end up teaching (Borko & Putnam, 1996; Lortie, 1975). In addition, Berliner (1994) noted the long learning curve that characterizes expert teachers, a learning curve that cannot be traversed very far during a preparation program.

In the absence of empirical and theoretical support for traditional forms of teacher preparation, it is appropriate to consider alternatives. One alternative approach to teacher preparation that has a long but less noticed history in the literature is to design programs that prepare prospective teachers to learn from teaching when they enter the profession. Schaefer (1967) hinted at the possibilities of this approach when he outlined the advantages of structuring K-12 schools as places where teachers, not just students, could learn. Hawkins (1973) was more specific about the role of preparation programs in this long-term learning process:

   It may be possible to learn in two or three years the
   kind of practice which then leads to another twenty
   years of learning. Whether many of our colleges get
   many of their students onto that fascinating track ...
   is another matter. (p. 7)

Nemser (1983) was even more explicit about the advantages of this alternative approach over conventional preparation programs:

   It would be far more realistic to think about preparing
   people to begin a new phase of learning to teach.
   That would orient formal preparation more toward
   developing beginning competence and laying the
   foundation for learning and teaching. (p. 157)

If a preparation program took seriously the goal of preparing teachers to learn from teaching, what would such a program look like? What knowledge, skills, and dispositions would teachers need to learn from teaching--not in an informal, haphazard way but in an intentional, systematic way?

The purpose of this article is to outline some of the specifics of a teacher preparation program that aims to help prospective teachers learn how to teach from studying teaching. We build on and extend the work of others (e.g., Hiebert, Morris, & Glass, 2003; Santagata, Zannoni, & Stigler, in press; van Es & Sherin, 2002) to propose a set of skills that will prepare prospective teachers to continue learning from their practice when they begin teaching. We draw our examples from mathematics; however, we believe the skills apply equally well to all school subjects.

We present our proposal as a hypothesis to be tested. It arises from our interpretation of the literature, from our analysis of teachers' everyday work, and from arguments about the process of improving complex, goal-oriented skills. Although we believe the proposal is sufficiently compelling to merit serious debate and empirical testing, we acknowledge that it is without direct empirical support. …

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