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Visiting Washington, D.C.
The field of teacher education is undergoing a major shift—away from a focus on communicating the necessary knowledge for teaching toward identifying and fostering teaching practices that embody knowledge-in-use. (Ball & Forzani, 2009; McDonald, Kazemi, & Kavanagh, 2013). For the past eight years Program X has grounded the preparation of secondary science teachers in learning an inter-related set of “core practices” that are central to the work of rigorous and equitable science instruction. In this symposium we define the theory behind the selection of core practices, give the rationale for our strategic selection of a small number of such practices, and provide examples of what these “look like and sound like” in the classroom. We then describe how a focus on these practices enabled teacher educators associated with our program (including methods instructors, field supervisors, cooperating teachers) to support novices in more principled and coordinated ways as they learned to take up responsive forms of instruction.
We use video data to show how the specification of core practices allowed university instructors to model prototypical forms of effective teaching, and how a group of novices gradually became more flexible in their own use of these practices when they had multiple opportunities to enact them in rehearsals at the university and later in their clinical settings. These videos document how the practices played a central role in the development of a shared language and set of tools among a cohort of novices, that then enabled individuals to learn from each other’s attempts at instruction.
Based on these data and our programmatic experiences we argue that, if the field of teacher education had clearer conceptions about the core work of instruction in the subject matter areas, then studies of how novices learn to take up important practices could inform one another more readily and our knowledge of how to support this kind of learning could evolve in more productive and cumulative ways than it currently does.
We argue that a common practice-based framework for professional preparation in science would help cultivate more effective teacher education pedagogies across programs (e.g. deconstructing and modeling instructional practices, allowing opportunities for rehearsals of practice by novices, creating beginners’ tools for the design of instruction, providing feedback on attempts at practice), in part because teacher educators would have to negotiate clear specifications of what effective classroom practice looks like. These deliberations would ground the conversations about teacher education pedagogies so that they are more consonant with the literatures on teaching and learning.
Finally our own experiences with modeling and supporting the development of the core practices for novices over the years has made it abundantly clear that teacher educators responsible for helping novices learn about instruction must have a deep mastery of K-12 pedagogy and student learning as well as an understanding of how early career teachers learn. There are policy implications for who engages in this critical work with novices, as well as how they are selected and trained.