Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Curriculum Making as Novice Professional Development: Practical Risk Taking as Learning in High-Stakes Times

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Curriculum Making as Novice Professional Development: Practical Risk Taking as Learning in High-Stakes Times

Article excerpt

Novice teachers in many urban contexts are learning to teach in highly politicized reform environments with heightened emphasis on test scores. Charged with the responsibility of working with increasingly diverse students (Hodgkinson, 2002) to meet ever more prescribed and standardized outcomes, new teachers are caught in the middle--squeezed by the traditional pressures of the new teacher experience (Britzman, 1991; Fuller, 1969; Huling-Austin, 1990; Lortie, 1975; Veenman, 1984) while also facing new pressures born of these high-stakes curricular environments (Clayton, 2007; Kauffman, Moore Johnson, Kardos, Liu, & Peske, 2002). Given these circumstances, concerns about teacher quality are increasingly related to the retention of quality individuals who have the capacity to teach all students well (National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 2003).

This article examines an effort to promote curriculum making as professional development among new teachers. Curriculum making, or curricular enactment, considers the central role of the teacher as decision maker in the classroom (Clandinin & Connelly, 1992; Connelly & Clandinin, 1988; Schoonmaker, 2002; Schwab, 1969/1997; Thornton, 1991; Zumwalt, 1989). Rather than viewing curriculum exclusively as a document defined by "experts" external to the classroom, such a perspective is grounded in a notion of enacted curriculum as "the educational experiences jointly created by students and teachers" (Snyder, Bolin, & Zumwalt, 1992, p. 418). In particular, new teachers in the current study engaged in creating and enacting curricular projects with the support of a cohort-based professional development program throughout their 1st year of teaching. In spite of theoretical references in the literature to curriculum making, little exists that articulates components of curriculum making specifically drawn from empirical data based on novice teachers. Moreover, this gap is exacerbated by a lack of empirical data specifically on the processes of learning to teach through curricular enactment within the context of high-stakes accountability environments (Clayton, 2005).

This article presents three portraits of new teachers as they learned to teach through curriculum making. These stories are displayed to make transparent the uneven shifts in thinking and practice that occurred among these teachers. Taken together, they suggest that curriculum making as professional development provided an opportunity for these novices to take practical risks that they otherwise may not have tried given the twin pressures of the 1st-year experience and high-stakes testing. Such professional development pivoted on epistemological inquiries that engaged three tension areas during the 1st year of teaching: managing student relationships, making claims of curricular ownership, and understanding sources of classroom knowledge. Practical risk taking in these instances created opportunities for these novices to consider the consequences of curricular choices in personal terms; these changes in practice, however small, seemed to precede any conceptual changes about curriculum and teaching. And, though many of these tensions were ultimately not resolved for these teachers as they began their 2nd year, the current research shows that engagement of epistemological tensions through such professional development activities led to observable shifts in practical choices made by the three teachers. These findings suggest some important implications about novice teacher learning during an accountability era where such risk taking is often discouraged.

HIGH-STAKES NEW TEACHER LEARNING

In an effort to address the daunting challenges of the 1st year of teaching, a special form of professional development for novices evolved to address concerns regarding attrition and the perceived deficits that new teachers bring to their roles (Gold, 1996). In general, the primary focus of induction programs is the novice teacher's socialization into the system through the development of competence in basic teaching practices. …

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