The Practice of Constructivism in Science Education

By Kenneth Tobin | Go to book overview

13
Constructivist Perspectives on Teacher Learning

Kenneth Tobin

The focus for the research described in this chapter is on teacher learning and curriculum change. We were interested in factors associated with teachers making changes in their classrooms and institutionalizing those changes. The program of research has been in progress since 1984 and continues today (e.g., Tobin 1990a, Tobin and Espinet 1989; Tobin and Fraser 1987; Tobin and Gallagher 1987; Tobin et al. 1990; Tobin and Ulerick 1989). Throughout the entire research program, we have focused on the teacher and the rationale for teaching practices. Our research questions have involved teacher beliefs and other cognitive factors such as metaphors. It is now clear that a prerequisite to understanding the change process is to understand the culture in which teaching and learning are embedded.

A teacher's experience is sensory and is given meaning by reflection, which involves the construction of images, and, in some cases, the assignment of language to images, which can be thought of as dynamic reconstructions of experience ( Clandinin 1986; Paivio 1974). Sanders and McCutcheon ( 1986) and Elbaz ( 1983) reported how teachers used images as they thought about teaching. Kennison ( 1990) described how the teachers in her case studies used images in the process of imagining lessons in their classrooms, developing and maintaining innovations, and planning for learning. In our own research, we observed how Marsha perceived her roles in terms of metaphors and associated visual images ( Tobin and Ulerick 1989). Even more graphic was the example of a science teacher who envisioned himself as a swashbuckling captain of a ship, barking orders to his crew to keep them under tight control ( Tobin 1990b).


MAKING SENSE OF SALIENT CONCEPTS

An important aspect of language and knowing is referred to by Lakoff ( 1987) as metonymy. This occurs when a person uses a part of a concept to give meaning to an entire concept. For example, Marsha, and most of her colleagues, defined teaching predominantly in terms of management, which, in turn, was defined in terms of control of students. Solutions to teaching problems were, therefore, sought in terms of management and control. Another way to think

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