Novice and expert teachers' conceptions of learners' prior knowledge


  • This paper was edited by former Section Editor Deborah Trumbull.


This study presents comparative case studies of preservice and first-year teachers' and expert teachers' conceptions of the concept of prior knowledge. Kelly's (The Psychology of Personal Construct, New York: W.W. Norton, 1955) theory of personal constructs as discussed by Akerson, Flick, and Lederman (Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 2000, 37, 363–385) in relationship to prior knowledge underpins the study. Six teachers were selected to participate in the case studies based upon their level experience teaching science and their willingness to take part. The comparative case studies of the novice and expert teachers provide insights into (a) how novice and expert teachers understand the concept of prior knowledge and (b) how they use this knowledge to make instructional decisions. Data collection consisted of interviews, classroom observations, and document analysis. Findings suggest that novice teachers hold insufficient conceptions of prior knowledge and its role in instruction to effectively implement constructivist teaching practices. While expert teachers hold a complex conception of prior knowledge and make use of their students' prior knowledge in significant ways during instruction. A second finding was an apparent mismatch between the novice teachers' beliefs about their urban students' life experiences and prior knowledge and the wealth of knowledge the expert teachers found to draw upon. © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed88:970–983, 2004