Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Challenging Idealism: Pre-Service Teachers' Core Beliefs before, during, and after an Extended Field-Based Experience

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Challenging Idealism: Pre-Service Teachers' Core Beliefs before, during, and after an Extended Field-Based Experience

Article excerpt

Introduction

John Dewey (1897, 1938) long ago posited that students learn best by applying theory with practice and by seeing theories put into action. Progressive, constructivist pedagogy is built upon these beliefs. As future pedagogues, preservice teachers are far from immune to the need to experience the theories that they learn about in their teacher education coursework. Like anyone entering a new career or community, teachers become "full participants" (Lave & Wenger, 1991) in their new environments via apprenticeship--a process that Lave and Wenger describe as 'legitimate peripheral participation' (Conkling, 2007; Darling-Hammond, 2006; Lave & Wenger, 1991). To become proficient with the methods that they are charged with using, preservice teachers must engage with students in real-world environments (Darling-Hammond, 2006). This, in turn, necessitates that those charged with preparing new teachers must create opportunities in which their students can see theories put into action and, ideally, in which they themselves can practice some of these theories.

In order to more closely match content area teaching theories with research-based effective practices, we chose to build and study a project based around the inclusion of reflective practices as part of our students' secondary classroom "field" experiences. We view reflection as a systematic process, one that can enhance learning when used as a mechanism to interpret experiences (Leberman, McDonald, & Doyle, 2007). As Cochran-Smith and Fries (2005) suggested, teachers must learn from their own practice. We also believe that teachers do not practice within a vacuum, but instead function within fluid contexts that are influenced by the interactions of students, teachers, knowledge, and milieu (Schwab, 1969). In our students' cases, this would be represented by the complexities of teaching and learning in a diverse, urban high school. Teachers (preservice, regarding our students) must often consider how these contexts are situated within their own set of beliefs about teaching and learning (Richardson, 1994).

Teacher beliefs have for some time been directly linked to teacher actions (Bandura, 1986; Clark & Peterson, 1986; Pajares, 1992; Tabachnick & Zeichner, 1984; Ware & Kitsantas, 2007). What teachers believe about curriculum, pedagogy, their students, and the greater goals of education itself influences their instructional behaviors and resultant decision-making. Although embedded in the broader teacher-practical-knowledge epistemological framework, teacher beliefs differ from teacher knowledge in that beliefs are grounded in personal understanding (subjective) and knowledge is grounded in factual understandings (objective) (Pajares, 1992). Studies of teachers' practical knowledge often examine how teaching beliefs develop into practical theories of teaching and how these theories influence teachers' decision making.

Sanders and McCutcheon (1986) defined such theories as the conceptual structures and images that provide teachers with the reasons for acting as they do and for choosing the teaching activities and curriculum materials that are most effective for student learning. When describing and identifying teaching beliefs, it is important to consider both personal (outside the classroom) and practical (inside the classroom) experiences as, collectively, these are strong influences on how teachers think and act (Cornett, 1990). As a result, we initially asked our students to (a) describe and define what they believed to be the conceptual structures (which we termed core teaching beliefs) that will guide their teaching and (b) justify the origin of these beliefs and why they were identified. Once completed, each student developed a grounded set of beliefs that represented what he or she believed to be the guiding constructs for teaching.

The process of first identifying and then coming to define in more depth one's teaching beliefs can have a positive impact of the effectiveness of one's teaching. …

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