Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Novice Teachers' Attention to Student Thinking

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Novice Teachers' Attention to Student Thinking

Article excerpt


Kay (1) was a novice teacher last year, working as a paid intern while she took classes toward her credential. As part of her coursework for the credential program, she videotaped and analyzed a lesson from one of her classes, paying close attention to the student thinking in evidence. Kay transcribed a clip from a lesson in which students were to diagram a cell at each phase of the cell cycle to visualize what happens during each phase. They had spent the previous class completing a "cell cycle notes sheet" together as a class.

Kay: Okay, today, as I said yesterday, you are going to be making a little wheel showing the stages of the cell cycle, including stage 1, which is?

Students: Interphase.

Kay: Stage 2?

Students: Mitosis.

Kay: Good, mitosis. And stage 3?

Students: Cytokinesis.

Kay: Now, in mitosis there are how many phases?

Students: Four.

Kay: Four. Good. What is the little acronym that we learned for the four phases yesterday?

James: P-M-A-T.

Kay: Good. PMAT. Remember, don't pee on the mat!

Students: [Giggle and laugh]

Kay: Okay, for warm-up, during what stage does the DNA replicate?

April: Interphase

Kay: Excellent! Interphase!

Given it is the first semester of Kay's first time as a teacher, how should teacher educators think about her work? The class was orderly, her students seemed engaged, and her review affirmed they retained the information from yesterday.

If she were an experienced teacher, we expect teacher educators would have concerns. The review consisted almost entirely of naming terminology, without attention to meaning. What did students think the terms interphase, mitosis, or cytokinesis mean? What does it mean for DNA to "replicate"? Do students realize that mitosis is taking place in their own bodies all the time and that mitosis is how they grow and heal?

The transcript reveals a pattern of triadic dialogue, a conversational routine of teacher questions, short student answers, and teacher evaluations. (2) It is common in classrooms, but here as in general, this form of participation is high in quantity but low in quality (Lemke, 1990). Kay did not notice either the nature or substance of the students' participation; she did not recognize opportunities to probe their conceptual understanding. Moreover, her carriage in class and her reflections later conveyed only satisfaction. She wrote that the diagrams and students' responses in the aforementioned exchange demonstrated that students understood the cell cycle.

By some well-subscribed accounts of teacher learning we review in the following, we should not expect a novice like Kay to attend closely to the substance of her students' thinking. Before she can do that, she needs to develop classroom routines and to establish for herself an identity as a teacher, both of which she appears to be doing admirably. Later, as these routines become second nature, she will be able to attend to student thinking. As a first-year teacher, Kay was doing quite well. Indeed, the administration at her school was delighted with her, with how quickly she was able to manage a class and make progress through the material.

Our first purpose in this article is to challenge these stage-based accounts of teacher development, contributing to arguments in the literature. To the existing empirical work we add further case study evidence of novice teachers' abilities for attending and responding to student thinking. As well, analyzing those cases, we suggest and illustrate what should constitute evidence of that attention. To the existing theoretical work, we propose framing as an alternative account of why teachers may or may not attend to student thinking. On this view, whether and how teachers attend and respond to student thinking largely reflects how they frame what is taking place in their classes. …

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