Academic journal article Education

Novice Teachers' Cases: A Vehicle for Reflective Practice

Academic journal article Education

Novice Teachers' Cases: A Vehicle for Reflective Practice

Article excerpt

Novice Teachers' Cases: A Vehicle for Reflective Practice

The theoretical underpinnings of this study are found in the literature describing teachers as decision-makers (Clark & Peterson, 1986). More recently, Shulman & Colbert (1989) proposed that novice teachers would benefit from the use of cases, which contain a brief description of the practical problems and related decisions they face as they commence their careers. In fact, Shulman (1986) has recommended that the following components be included in the writing of cases. The components include a description of the teaching context, the teacher's plan and intention, the actual experience and surprise, the teacher's judgment, new actions, and analysis and reflection. To date, most studies on this topic have focused on cases written by veteran teachers (Green, Grant, & Shulman, 1990). Very few investigations have examined the nature of case writing by novice or student teachers as well as the consequences of such an endeavor (Kleinfeld, 1991; Rand, 1998; Sardo-Brown & Mastrilli, 1997; Mastrilli & Sardo-Brown, 1998).

The purpose of the present study was to contribute to the knowledge base regarding novice teachers' cases. Recent research has suggested the period of novice teaching should be considered to span the first five to seven years of practice (Bullough & Baughman, 1997). Additional objectives of the study were three-fold in nature. The first was to document the nature of novice teachers' cases by describing both the nature of dilemmas and solutions contained in their cases. The second was to determine how case dilemma writing and discussion could be helpful to novice teachers at a point in their careers when they frequently adopt a survival mode. The final purpose of the study was to gather data to inform future efforts in which case writing and discussion are used among novice teachers.

Method

The 17 novice teachers who participated in the study all attended the same mid-sized state university. All 17 attended a three-credit graduate workshop in educational psychology in which they were required to write case dilemmas during the summer of 1999. Virtually all of the participants were interested in the concept of case dilemma writing and analysis as a reflective and possibly diagnostic tool for their classrooms. The 17 novice teachers possessed a mean of 3.22 years of teaching experience and a range of six months to five and a half years of teaching experience; twelve of the teachers were female and five were male. Of the 17 novice teachers, eight taught at the elementary level, three at the middle school level, and six at the senior high level. Twelve of the teachers taught in suburban school districts where minority populations ranged from 3.0%-6.5% whereas three taught in urban districts in which the minority population ranged from 86%-93% and one taught in a predominately rural district with a minority population of less than 3.0%.

At the outset of the workshop, the teachers were informed that one of the requirements of the workshop was to write a case dilemma of their own teaching based on Shulman's recommendations. The principal investigators selected six of the 17 case dilemmas for discussion and analysis to be held on the last day of the workshop. These cases were selected based on readability and universality of the type of problem presented to the entire group of novice teachers. The topics of the cases selected for discussion included how to help a student control his anger and make appropriate choices, a parent objecting to the teacher's requirements for a performance-based assignment, failure of the school administration to provide appropriate follow-up to a referred student with a severe reading problem, a whole class of students struggling with the process of editing their written work, dealing with a student using inappropriate language, and working with a chronically disruptive student with attention deficit. …

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