Investigating Differences in Teacher Practices through a Complexity Theory Lens: The Influence of Teacher Education

By Martin, Susan D.; Dismuke, Sherry | Journal of Teacher Education, January-February 2018 | Go to article overview

Investigating Differences in Teacher Practices through a Complexity Theory Lens: The Influence of Teacher Education


Martin, Susan D., Dismuke, Sherry, Journal of Teacher Education


Introduction

Teacher educators continue to grapple with the ongoing challenge of how to engage K-12 teachers in learning opportunities, both at preservice and inservice levels, in ways that promote effective teaching in classroom settings. These efforts appear particularly critical in light of current accountability policies for teachers, as well as major social shifts marked by changes to understandings of how people learn; what knowledge is of importance in a knowledge economy, increased student diversity; and growing school inequality (Cochran-Smith & Villegas, 2015). How to best prepare teachers for effective teaching seems to grow increasingly complex.

To address these current challenges, some advocate that teacher preparation move toward better alignment with the urgent needs of K-12 schools (e.g., The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education [NCATE], 2010). Calls for clinical-rich teacher education (e.g., NCATE, 2010) and shifts to accreditation standards (e.g., Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation [CAEP], 2013) have moved linkages between teacher education programs and K-12 settings to the forefront of teacher education policy settings.

Unfortunately, while attention to this alignment has increased, little research has investigated the linkages between teacher education and classroom practice. Ten years ago, as part of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Panel report on research and teacher education, Zeichner (2005) concluded that teacher education research had not developed a systematic body of evidence suggesting critical links between teacher education and elementary classroom teaching and learning. In a review of the professional development (PD) literature published 2 years later, Yoon and his colleagues (2007) found that, out of 1,300 potential studies published between 1986 and 2003, only nine examined connections between PD and classroom outcomes. In the intervening years, studies that investigated the impact of teacher education on classroom teaching and learning have been few and far between (Sleeter, 2014). Cochran-Smith et al. (2015) remarked of their recent review, that only a handful of studies "investigated how preparation influenced candidates' practice, if one regards practice as teacher candidates learning how to do the actual tasks of teaching" (p. 117). The purpose for this inquiry was to investigate links between teacher education coursework and teacher practices.

We had an opportunity to investigate and compare classroom practices of elementary teachers from the same pre-service program--some of whom had taken a writing methods course, and some who had not. Although it is hard to conceive of a teacher education program that does not include reading or mathematics methods courses, writing methods courses are not often found in teacher education programs (Grisham & Wolsey, 2011). We taught this course for several years before it was required in the elementary education program. Our prior inquiries into teacher candidates' perceptions suggested the influences of course content and pedagogies on teacher development during and right after coursework (e.g., Martin & Dismuke, 2015). But, we had no knowledge of what happened to promising knowledge, skills, and dispositions when these candidates entered classroom practice. In addition, we chose to combine this investigation with a parallel inquiry focused on teachers who either had or had not a taken an inservice writing methods course similar to that for preservice teachers (Dismuke, 2013). None of the teachers in this inservice aspect of the study had taken a preservice writing methods course, nor had any significant writing PD during their teaching careers.

As we explored identical data sources from both segments of this study, we were able to investigate differences in teaching practices between those who had taken a writing course (course teachers) and those who had not (noncourse teachers) along a spectrum of teacher development. …

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