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Constructing Professional Knowledge from Teaching and Learning Experiences in a Preservice Teacher Education Course
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This study demonstrates the power of deliberate and explicit attention to teacher candidates’ prior views of teaching and learning. Focus-group and individual interviews of five individuals document their development of professional knowledge in response to the experiences of a physics methods course and their practicum placements in an 8-month preservice teacher education program. This study also explores and interprets the development of a teacher educator’s professional knowledge through a collaborative self-study between the teacher of the methods course and the researcher. While teacher candidates can readily mimic surface-level features of teaching that they have witnessed over many years, they have rarely considered the complex pedagogical decisions made by teachers. This study demonstrates that teacher candidates’ prior views of school can be challenged and extended by carefully enacting a pedagogy of teacher education that contrasts with the cultural tradition of teaching as telling. Such a pedagogy helps candidates develop authority over teaching and learning experiences in ways that facilitate the construction of principled knowledge about teaching grounded in personal experiences. As explained in the literature review, a purely propositional view of teachers’ professional knowledge cannot explain how individuals learn to teach. Epistemological arguments about the role of experience in shaping professionals’ knowledge-in-action frame the qualitative analysis of interview data. One focus-group interview and five individual interviews were conducted at four points in the preservice program; Atlas.ti software facilitated identification of patterns and metaphors in the verbatim transcripts of the 24 interviews. The changing metaphors used by participants reveal the ways in which their understandings of teaching and learning developed through their preservice program. The pedagogy of teacher education enacted in the physics methods course had a major positive influence on the five participants. Although all had the same learning opportunities during the course, each candidate constructed a unique way of thinking about teaching and learning and developed different messages from the way they were taught. Some focused on how they would later enact the active-learning pedagogies they experienced; others focused on broader issues of teaching and learning. Each candidate also valued the relationship of mutual trust that developed between the professor and the class. Three principles for guiding preservice teacher education emerge as broad conclusions to the study. First, tensions experienced by teacher candidates during the practicum cannot be expected to challenge the dominant culture of schooling. Second, providing a coherent set of learning experiences within a methods course can encourage teacher candidates to confront and revise their assumptions about teaching and learning. Third, collaborative self-study can provide a powerful way for teacher educators to focus on enacting pedagogies that help candidates to identify, reframe, and extend their assumptions about teaching and learning.