Writing Instruction or Destruction: Lessons to Be Learned from Fourth-Grade Teachers' Perspectives on Teaching Writing

By Brindley, Roger; Schneider, Jenifer Jasinski | Journal of Teacher Education, September-October 2002 | Go to article overview

Writing Instruction or Destruction: Lessons to Be Learned from Fourth-Grade Teachers' Perspectives on Teaching Writing


Brindley, Roger, Schneider, Jenifer Jasinski, Journal of Teacher Education


What happens to teachers' instruction in the face of high-stakes testing? Are teachers able to apply subject matter and pedagogical content knowledge within the pressure-cooker environment of classroom accountability? This study focused on fourth-grade teachers' perspectives about writing development and instruction, as well as their practical knowledge, within a climate of testing and educational reform. The insights gained from surveying these teachers may help teacher educators recognize the tensions between the teachers' beliefs and practices and help educators at all levels to have a better understanding of the complexities surrounding teaching in the elementary school today. As a result, teacher educators may further develop the manner and sensitivity with which pedagogical issues are addressed in preservice and in-service course work and the role teacher education has to play in the reform process.

TEACHER BELIEFS

Any discussion of classroom practice should recognize the influence of teachers' beliefs on their teaching behaviors in classrooms (Pajares, 1992). In general, people hold complex belief systems that have been built on memorable episodes in their lives, unquestioned presumptions, and personal truths (Nespor, 1987). Furthermore, beliefs often persist even when they are seemingly inaccurate. Rather than being reasonable representations of reality, these beliefs are often ideal conceptualizations that differ from reality to some extent (Nespor, 1987; Nisbett & Ross, 1980; Rokeach, 1968).

Teachers' professional behaviors in particular situations are affected by their episodic beliefs about previous experiences. These experiences create images or perspectives about, and influence their personal knowledge of, appropriate classroom practice (Calderhead, 1988; Carter, 1990; Tabachnick & Zeichner, 1984). In this way, teachers use their intuitive screens (Goodman, 1988) as they develop personal practical knowledge that is ultimately aggregated as lay theories about teaching (Connelly & Clandinin, 1990; Holt-Reynolds, 1992).

Explaining teachers' classroom behaviors in terms of the individual teacher's theories and knowledge of teaching is complex. Cazden (1976) recognized the irregular mapping between teachers' knowledge and how they deliver the curriculum to children. Teachers' personal theories are juxtaposed against other factors, ones that influence their teaching practice. In fact, they are surrounded by a myriad of contextual pressures in the school site. These may include the evaluations of administrators, the physical environment of the classroom, the needs of individual children, the attitudes of parents, the prescriptive curriculum, and their relationships with other teachers (Borko et al., 1991; Cazden, 1976; Kilgore, Ross, & Zbikowski, 1991). In addition, educators are becoming increasingly concerned about the pressures associated with high-stakes testing reform, suggesting these standardized tests may be inadequate or inappropriately administered or that they may result in unintended consequences (American Educational Research Association, 2000; Barksdale-Ladd & Thomas, 2000; Gratz, 2000; Kohn, 2000). Within the social context of these competing measures, it is reasonable to expect that teachers' personal theories about pedagogy will be influenced in contradictory directions. Yet it remains unclear how teachers might enact this juxtaposition in the area of writing instruction.

It is tempting for teachers to conform to predominant classroom approaches found in the culture of the school site or to allow their predispositions to cloud their reflections about teaching (Bullough, 1992; Eisenhart, Behm, & Romagnano, 1991; Feiman-Nemser, 1983; Zeichner & Tabachnick, 1981). These predispositions are also evident in preservice teachers (Bird, Anderson, Sullivan, & Swidler, 1993; Goodman, 1988). …

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