Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Observation in Learning to Teach: Forms of "Seeing"

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Observation in Learning to Teach: Forms of "Seeing"

Article excerpt

When asked to convey his account of the observation experience during practice teaching, in the context of a university teacher training program in Israel, Sandy, a first year student teacher (teacher candidate), wrote the following entry in his portfolio:

I feel sorry to say that the idea of sitting in a class is not that useful. We have already spent 12 years in school and now when we go to school again we feel that everything is familiar and nothing is really being added ... We have seen teachers for 12 years and now we are exposed to the same situation ... we are not learning or gaining anything new from the teacher.... (Sandy, January, 2004)

Upon first reaction, the above entry might disappoint many of us who strive to create observation contexts and tasks that allow for making meaningful connections between students' perceptions of teaching as former pupils and their new roles as prospective teachers. Moreover, knowing that Sandy's entry was recurrent in other portfolios, and given the fact that it was written in the context of an observation task, his remark raises serious questions about the impact of observation on prospective teachers' sense making of their teaching experience. Put bluntly, if the value of observation for learning to teach were to be assessed by this recurrent entry in student teachers' portfolios, we would probably have to seriously reconsider its allocation as a component in practice teaching.

Having entertained the possibility of doing away with observation there is, nevertheless, significant evidence to support its value for learning to teach in practice teaching (Buchmann, 1989; Guyton & McIntyre, 1990; Mazor, 2003; Weade & Everston, 1991). The above seemingly discrepant attributions (the perceived meaninglessness of the experience of observation as expressed in Sandy's entry and attributions of observation as a meaningful experience) have challenged us to examine, as the title of this paper suggests, how "seeing" in practice can constitute a site for learning to teach. Specifically, our qualitative inquiry inquired into the meanings that student teachers attribute to observation in practice teaching, as reflective of their learning from the experience.

Observation as 'Seeing' in the Context of Practice: Theoretical Perspectives

The epistemic superiority Kessels and Korthagen give to (visual) experience is corroborated by Gilbert Ryle's analysis of seeing as an achievement verb (Ryle, 1980). The very use of such verbs indicates success...According to Ryle, verbs like know, discover, solve, prove, perceive, see and observe are, in an important sense, incapable of being qualified by adverbs like erroneously and incorrectly. (Kvernberk, 2000, p. 360)

The theoretical rationale for the value of observation as integral to learning to teach can be grounded in the above assertion. As Ryle reminds us, seeing in practice is inherently constructive and, as such, it is regarded as a particularly worthwhile learning opportunity in professional learning and in teacher education. Margaret Buchmann's work (1989), for example, reminds us of the potential of seeing as connecting old to new, as student teachers see teaching practices that are already familiar to them during observation. Their sense making from "seeing" such practices is, thus, strongly directed and constructed by their assumptions about teaching, from years of being pupils themselves and watching teachers (Buchmann, 1989). Buchmann's claim finds support in Schon's (1983) argument of the relationship between seeing and knowing: As practitioners bring their repertoire of past experiences, images, examples, understandings and actions, they are able to 'see' and make sense of new situations.

Kvernbekk (2000) describes this kind of seeing as "seeing as" in practice, defined as identifying similarities and differences between past experiences and new observed situations encountered. …

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