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THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK ON TEACHING PRACTICE EXPERIENCES OF HISTORY STUDENT TEACHERS: CHALLENGES AND POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS

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THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK ON TEACHING PRACTICE EXPERIENCES OF HISTORY STUDENT TEACHERS: CHALLENGES AND POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS

 

2.1    Introduction

Over the last decades, the problem of theory versus practice in teacher education has increasingly become of interest. Before, the topic was highlighted in particular by Dewey (1933), who distinguished ‘reflective action’ and ‘routine action.’ In the 1980s, there was renewed interest for this topic through the work of Donald Schön (1983). His ideas and conceptions – not primarily concerned with teachers – are among those that have contributed to researchers and teacher educators becoming aware that professionals rarely simply ‘apply’ theory in their practice. A teacher decides on the basis of all kinds of situation-related components. Theoretical knowledge and insight do play a part, but they do not unambiguously determine the behavior of the teacher (Schön 1983, 1987).

Schön mentions the ‘reflective practitioner’ as someone who is able to consider his practice reflectively, not only before and after, but also during the performance of that practice (reflection in action). There is an extensive literature relevant to Schön’s ideas, gradually also followed by critical response (e.g., Gilroy, 1993; Eraut, 1995a). Other shifts  of  accents  in  the  last  few  years  have  influenced  the  theory  versus  practice discussion.  The  focus  on  the  (prospective)  teacher’s  thinking  process  and  beliefs characterizes the changes in research on teaching. This focus originates from the idea that the behavior of the teacher can only be understood well, if the cognitions and conceptions  that  guide  this behavior  are also taken into consideration. Along with content   knowledge,   pedagogical   content   knowledge   and   general   pedagogical knowledge, practical knowledge is seen as an important component of the knowledge base that underlies all actions by teachers (Elbaz, 1983; Carter, 1990; Verloop, 1992). Teacher training colleges have come to realize that prescriptive transfer of theory is not enough (Brouwer, 1989). At the same time it has become clear that the content itself failed to meet expectations; theory was insufficiently in step with reality and with the complexity of action in practice (Cohen, 1998; Coonen, 1987, p. 243; Corporaal, 1988, p.13; Drever & Cope, 1999; Verloop, 2003, p. 203). Furthermore, student teachers are confronted with different types of ‘theory’ in their practice schools – through their supervisors’  exemplary  role  (Zanting, 2001).  The  extent  to  which  the  activities  of students  match  the  goals  of  training  will  partly  depend  on  the  level  and  type  of cooperation between training institute and practice school (Emans, 1983; Watts, 1987; Wubbels, Korthagen & Brekelmans, 1997).

It is clear that practical training of student teachers is a factor in the tension between theory and practice. On the one hand both teacher educators and student teachers consider practical training to be an effective way to acquire (practical) knowledge, on the other hand it is claimed that the realization of teacher education goals – also in terms of integrating theory and practice – is occasionally impeded by the conformist and conservative influence that practical training can have on student teachers (Zeichner et al., 1987). That influence can be a disadvantage for strongly practice-oriented teacher training. There is still another disadvantage to the practice-directed approach. The one- sided focus on school practice leads to insufficient depth in the reflective competence of student teachers (Coonen, 1987).

 

In the course of the next sections we go from a more general analysis of the concepts of theory and practice in teacher education to a more specific focus on these concepts within the context of mathematics teacher education.

 

2.2    Orientations in teacher education programs

 

Over the last few years, research into the relationship between theory and practice in teacher training has focused on the question of how student teachers can integrate theory and practice and in which sense the design of the learning environment can contribute to that integration. However, no unambiguous conception of theory exists, nor of practice or the relationship between the two. In the context of the discussion about relating practical and propositional knowledge, Thiessen (2000) distinguishes three orientations that have been emphasized in teacher education over the last 40 years:

–        ‘impactful behaviors,’ leading to the training of prospective teachers in behaviors that appeared to be effective in process-product research;

–        ‘reflective practices’ and,

–        ‘development of professional knowledge.’

The three orientations should not be seen as mutually exclusive, all are more or less recognizable in current programs. The ‘impactful behaviors’ orientation dominated in the 1970s. Particularly according to the initial teaching preparation programs, this orientation appeared to be unsuccessful in linking student teachers’ theoretical and practical knowledge. Gradually the awareness grew that in order to understand the behavior of the teacher, cognitions have to be considered as well (Clark & Peterson, 1986). The ‘reflective practices’ orientation emerged in the 1980s, after increasing criticism on the empirical base underlying the ‘impactful behaviors’ orientation. According to Thiessen, the reflective practices orientation concentrates on skills which help beginning teachers think through what they have done, are doing or are about to do (Thiessen, 2000, p. 520). In his view, while there are numerous published reports on program innovations in support of the reflective practices orientation, the conceptual rigor and empirical foundation of this work are uneven and less developed. Zeichner (1994) presented an analysis of  the different conceptions within this orientation. He distinguished five traditions of reflective practice for teaching and teacher education: the Academic, the Social Efficiency, the

 

 

 

Developmental, the Social Reconstructionist, and the Generic Reflection Tradition. Though intended for the U.S., Zeichner recognizes his framework of traditions of reflective practice in other countries as well. Reflective practice is still an important orientation in many teacher education programs, although this approach is also criticized by different authors. For example, Eraut (1995a) posits that a (prospective) teacher is often faced with lack of time to reflect in action, because of the necessity to react immediately (cf. Dolk, 1997). Furthermore, a danger is that reflections remain superficial through lack of – subtly ‘fed’ – adequate theoretical knowledge (Kennedy, 1992; Oonk, 2001). Another problem is the (tacit) interpretation of the different concepts. Terms such as reflective practice and reflection in action encompass some notion of reflection in the process of professional development, but at the same time disguise conceptual variations that have implications for the design and organization for teacher education courses (Calderhead, 1989; Boerst & Oonk, 2005).

The third orientation – the ‘development of professional knowledge’ – that Thiessen (2000) mentioned, is the most recent one. He claims that this orientation is the most promising for teacher education. In his view – considering the image of teaching as ‘knowledge work’ – the emphasis on concurrent use of practical and propositional knowledge distinguishes this orientation from the impactful behaviors and the reflective practices orientations. He argues that student teachers should experience “the concurrent use of knowledge in each pedagogical phase and context – on campus through strategies which focus on practically relevant propositional knowledge and in schools through strategies which focus on purposeful, defensible practice (i.e. propositionally interpreted practical knowledge)” (Thiessen, 2000, p. 529). What he contends in this way about relating theory and practice, is to some extent in accordance with ideas of Eraut (1995b) and Leinhardt et al. (1995). Verloop et al. argue that, although the importance of integrating formal theoretical knowledge and teacher knowledge is evident, it is necessary to come to a balanced view of both theory and practice before the relationship between those two components of the knowledge base of teaching can be studied adequately (Verloop et al., 2001, p. 445).

In fact, the central question here is which training method will prevent a gap arising between theory and practice. Another, related question, focusing on the development of student teachers, is how integrating several elements of the knowledge base of (prospective) teachers can be realized and how this integration can be stimulated.

As yet, little is known about how student teachers construct knowledge or of the way in which students link theoretical knowledge and practical situations, both vital components of learning to teach. In the next section we will elaborate further on the concepts of theory and practice as well as on the relationship between those concepts.

 

2.3    The concepts of theory and practice in teacher education

2.3.1 Theory in teacher education

Research literature shows a large variation of definitions and opinions concerning the meaning of the concept of theory. The roots of that concept date back to ancient times, in particular to the Greek philosopher Aristotle. Over the last decades, researchers have rediscovered and deepened his ideas within the context of recent developments in education (Fenstermacher, 1994; Korthagen & Kessels, 1999), in ethics (Nussbaum, 1986), in the theory of knowledge (Toulmin, 1990) and in social science (Van Beugen, 1988). Particularly Aristotle’s opinions on the manifestations of knowledge are frequently cited.

Aristotle distinguishes philosophical-contemplative knowledge (the nous), knowledge that is related to the surrounding world (epistème), knowledge of practical-ethical action (the phronèsis) and ‘practical’ knowledge, skills (the technè). Aristotle considers the first two forms of knowledge superior to the last two. The relationship between the nous or the epistème and reality remain limited to a mental connection, by which, in Aristotelian terms, those two forms of knowing distinguish themselves sharply from knowledge that is aimed at practical action. In present terminology, for nous and epistème, and to a smaller degree phronèsis, we might speak of knowledge which originates from considering phenomena. Such a consideration involves reflection on reality by taking distance from that reality. According to Van Beugen (1988) such a reflective attitude emerges on three levels:

–        the reflective attitude that one can adopt in contact with the surrounding reality as an expression of the human ability to know;

–        knowledge that rests on generalized experiences;

–        knowledge as a system of verifiable judgments according to epistemological rules (scientific theory).

Reflection can lead to ‘theory,’ according to our view meaning a coherent collection of underpinned judgments or predictions concerning a phenomenon. At the highest level – that of scientific theory – we then end up at the development of a theory that can be expressed in theoretical terms and laws (Koningsveld, 1992). Fenstermacher (1994) demands different requirements of theoretical (formal) knowledge, this is ‘justified true belief’ for formal knowledge in scientific settings and, ‘objectively reasonable belief’ as an acceptable form for formal knowledge that is used within the context of the educational practice. In section 2.6 we will elaborate further on the concept of theory by focusing on the characteristics of domain-specific instructional theory (Treffers, 1987).

 

Also in the field of research on teacher training, we find a jumble of almost equal, related or overlapping elaborations of the concept of theory. Thus, there is a distinction

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