Friday, March 22, 2013

Conceptual Change and Learning to Teach

Excerpt from: Feiman-Nemser, S., & Remillard, J. (1995). Perspectives on Learning to Teach. National Center for Research on Teacher Learning, East Lansing, MI. Retrieved from  [pp22-24]

Conceptual Change and Learning to Teach

We have already described the kinds of beliefs about teaching, learning, subject matter, and diversity that many teacher candidates bring to teacher preparation. While teacher educators often intend to change those beliefs, prospective teachers frequently leave teacher preparation with their beliefs intact. When such beliefs limit the range of ideas and actions that teachers consider, this consequence is problematic.

Feiman-Nemser and Buchmann (1986) report a case of mislearning during teacher preparation which illustrates the problem. The researchers describe how Janice, an elementary education major, fits ideas she encounters in her courses into a framework of beliefs based on what she saw and heard growing up, leaving her with beliefs that work against equal educational opportunities. Asked to describe an article that stood out to her, Janice selected Anyon's (1981) critique of the unequal distribution of school knowledge by social class and school location which she misinterpreted as simply a description of the way things are. She connected this to something she read in math methods on motivation—that poor children are more present-oriented and require immediate reinforcement. Asked whether she had any experiences with children from backgrounds different from her own, Janice talked at length about Mexican migrants who worked on the family farm and whose children were not interested in going to school. Adding a final piece to the picture, she recalled a discussion in her curriculum class about "why teach poetry to lower class, low achievers" which made her think that "maybe certain things should be stressed in certain schools, depending on where they're located" (p. 247).

While current beliefs and conceptions can serve as barriers to change, they also provide frameworks for interpreting and assessing new and potentially conflicting information. That is the paradoxical role of prior beliefs. Like all learners, teachers can only learn by drawing on their own beliefs and prior experiences, but their beliefs may not help them learn new views of teaching and learning advocated by teacher educators (Bird and Anderson, 1994) Recognizing the challenge of transforming prospective teachers' beliefs and committed to promoting new visions of teaching and learning, some teacher educators have turned to conceptual change models for insights about the conditions under which people are more likely to change their minds.

Conceptual change theory (Posner, Strike, Hewson, and Hertzog 1982; Strike and Posner 1985) suggests that changing teachers' beliefs depends on their recognizing discrepancies between their own views and those underlying new visions of teaching and learning. Research on human judgement suggests that change is more likely to occur if alternatives are vivid, concrete, and detailed enough to provide a plausible alternative (Nesbitt and Ross 1980).

From these theoretical perspectives and from the work of teacher educators interested in transforming teacher candidates' beliefs (see, for example, Florio and Lensmire l990; Feiman-Nemser and Featherstone 1992; Bird, Anderson, Sullivan, and Swidler 1993; Wilcox, Schram, Lappan, and Lanier 1992; Holt-Reynolds 1992), several conditions seem necessary to induce conceptual change. First, teachers need an opportunity to consider why new practices and their associated values and beliefs are better than more conventional approaches. Second, they must see examples of these practices, preferably under realistic conditions. Third, it helps if teachers can experience such practices firsthand as learners. If we also want teachers to incorporate these ideas and practices into their own teaching, we need to provide ongoing support and guidance (Kennedy 1991). All these requirements find additional justification in theories of situated cognition.

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