Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Alignment in Constructivist-Oriented Teacher Education: Identifying Pre-Service Teacher Characteristics and Associated Learning Outcomes

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Alignment in Constructivist-Oriented Teacher Education: Identifying Pre-Service Teacher Characteristics and Associated Learning Outcomes

Article excerpt

Goals of Professional Preparation

An aim of professional preparation should be the development of an ability to reflect on and learn from practical experiences (Tynjala, 1999). The integration of theoretical and practical knowledge and the eventual ability to be a reflective practitioner are logical aims for teacher education programs. However, Mandl, Gruber, and Renkl (1996) observed that in traditional university settings, pre-service teachers normally make use of the knowledge acquired in the instructional setting but cannot generalize this to professional contexts. If abstract theoretical content studied in the university setting does not transfer to practical knowledge or future teaching practice, then theory is not influencing professional preparation.

Nothing more than rote knowledge can be expected when methods of assessment tend to encourage students to memorize and discourage students from achieving deep understanding (e.g., Entwistle, 1995). A challenge in teacher education is to develop instructional practices that integrate theories of learning and instruction with practical pedagogical skills. This study measured the extent to which students from an educational psychology course learned from activities that required them to integrate theoretical information with previous practical knowledge about instruction.

This study took a situative perspective, which views learning as changes in an individual's participation in social activities as a result of the acquisition of new knowledge (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Cobb, 1994; Putnam & Borko, 2000). Putnam and Borko stated that a limitation of pre-service teachers is that they lack their own classrooms and teaching experiences that could situate the information delivered in teacher education programs. Encouraging reflection about previous classroom experiences (K-12) as students during university courses helps pre-service teachers to be innovative and critical of subsequent classroom teaching experiences, thus making up for their lack of professional experience.

A way to activate students' practical knowledge (Copeland & D'Emidio-Caston, 1998) is to engage them in discussing theories about instruction so they can argue for their understanding of such content (Richardson, 1996). The value of a theory is in its use as a tool for making sense of past and current educational experiences, and as a basis for making judgments about what constitutes effective versus ineffective instruction. Because the meaning of a theory cannot readily be understood without practical application, it should be defined and understood with reference to the contexts for which it has been produced (Saljo, 1999).

Engestrom's expansive cycle (1987) asserts that the integration of theoretical and practical knowledge can occur by engaging in activities that make implicit knowledge (the filter through which people interpret, make decisions, and act in their environment) explicit, so that new theoretical information can be assimilated and accommodated into the learner's normally implicit knowledge. The outcome of this process of making the implicit explicit is that new (theoretical) information is meaningfully incorporated into the implicit knowledge used to interpret classroom experiences.

Dewey (1965) argued that if learning is to be meaningful, it must begin with what is already relevant. Dewey would support the use of qualitative evaluations such as essays that can represent students' current understanding and show individual growth. Essays were used in the current study; they engaged students in discussing theory and practice, largely in light of personal experience, at various levels of complexity. In order to implement this type of assessment, one must ask about the kinds of outcomes that are indicative of the quality of students' growth. Evaluations promoting recognition-based items inhibit enthusiastic engagement with ideas and are a barrier to the acculturation of students into reflective practitioners. …

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