Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Becoming Aware of the Challenges of Helping Students Learn: An Examination of the Nature of Learning during a Service-Learning Experience

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Becoming Aware of the Challenges of Helping Students Learn: An Examination of the Nature of Learning during a Service-Learning Experience

Article excerpt

Introduction

Learning to teach is an incredibly complex endeavor with nuances that elude even those carefully observing it. "Even when observing good teaching or experiencing it for oneself, one cannot easily glean a deep understanding of the complexity of the work" (Hammerness, Darling-Hammond, Bransford, & others, 2005, p. 368). Fresh out of their own experiences as K-12 learners, candidates possess a variety of conceptions of schooling, learning, and teaching based on their "apprenticeship of observation" (Lortie, 1975). Although many experiences provide a rich framework on which to build their learning throughout teacher education, preservice teachers' interpretation of what they observed in the classroom often leads to the formation of preconceptions of schooling that are difficult to overcome during a teacher education program (Hammerness, et al., 2005). These include beliefs that teaching is easy (Britzman, 2003), that concepts and ideas in teacher preparation programs are familiar and obvious, and that learning is a simple and mechanistic process that entails little more than a one-way transfer of information from teacher to student. As a result of such preconceptions, many preservice teachers tend to envision teaching as telling and have a difficult time comprehending the challenges students face while learning in their classrooms.

Constructive views of knowing elucidate learning as humans' attempt to interpret the world based on their extant knowledge, skills, and developmental levels, which influences what students ultimately learn (Bransford Derry, Berliner, & Hammerness, 2005). As such, scholars have begun emphasizing the importance of addressing preservice teachers' preconceptions during preparation programs to offer them space to change the beliefs they held prior to entering the classroom (Bransford, et al., 2005; National Research Council, 2000).Without engaging their preconceptions, preservice teachers may fail to understand new conceptions or learn ideas to perform well on a test but revert to their initial ideas once outside the classroom (Hammerness, et al., 2005). The 'teaching-as-transmission' preconception is particularly difficult for teacher educators seeking to prepare novices to use pedagogies that are compatible with current research on how people learn (National Research Council, 2000). Asking novices to move beyond this pedagogical metaphor often requires them to make a fundamental shift from the approaches they participated in as learners (Hammerness, et al., 2005). Thus, designing learning experiences that allow preservice teachers the opportunity to reconsider the use of more traditional instructional approaches, and to assess their benefits and shortcomings, is often a challenge. Short-term interventions intended to accomplish these ends have typically resulted in few changes to novices' preconceptions (Hammerness, et al., 2005; Wideen, Mayer-Smith, & Moon, 1998).

Even more difficult than changing preservice teachers' preconceptions of learning and teaching is helping them learn to teach in ways that align with how people learn (Hammerness, et al., 2005). Various scholars have noted disparities between what preservice teachers desire to be as teachers, what they know about teaching upon leaving their program, what they say they will do in the classroom, and their actual teaching practices upon entering the profession (Crawford, 2007; McGinnis, Parker, & Graeber, 2004; Windschitl, 2003). Furthermore, it is not uncommon for novices to think of their teaching as distinct from rather than in constant relation to the learner, focusing initially on their own teaching practices while paying little attention to student learning until they have been in the field for an extended period of time (Kagan, 1992; Nuthall, 2004; Wilson, Floden, & Ferinni-Mundy, 2001).

Scholars have attributed this to novices' developmental stage, or "klutziness" (Bransford, et al. …

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