Contract grant sponsor: National Science Foundation for the Center for Curriculum Materials in Science.
Science Teacher Education
Fulfilling multiple obligations: Preservice elementary teachers’ use of an instructional model while learning to plan and teach science
Article first published online: 18 DEC 2012
© 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Volume 97, Issue 1, pages 139–162, January 2013
How to Cite
GUNCKEL, K. L. (2013), Fulfilling multiple obligations: Preservice elementary teachers’ use of an instructional model while learning to plan and teach science. Sci. Ed., 97: 139–162. doi: 10.1002/sce.21041
Contract grant number: ESI-0227557.
- Issue published online: 18 DEC 2012
- Article first published online: 18 DEC 2012
- Manuscript Accepted: 31 AUG 2012
- Manuscript Received: 6 JUN 2011
- National Science Foundation for the Center for Curriculum Materials in Science. Grant Number: ESI-0227557
- Top of page
- THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE
- DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS
Recent efforts to design science methods course frameworks that scaffold preservice teachers in organizing inquiry instructional sequences show promise, yet preservice teachers do not always use these frameworks when they teach in school field placements. This article uses a Discourses lens to explore how two preservice elementary teachers’ sense of obligation shaped their use of an instructional model in their science planning and teaching. The preservice teachers’ course assignments, planned and enacted instructional sequences, and stimulated recall interviews were analyzed to characterize how their sense of obligations as students in a university science methods course and as student teachers in their school field-placement classrooms enabled and constrained their use of the instructional model. Findings show that the preservice teachers encountered multiple Discourses across communities. These Discourses shaped the obligations that preservice teachers were expected to fulfill. The preservice teachers used the instructional model when it supported them in meeting their obligations to others. These findings have implications for situating teacher orientations in Discourses, understanding the role of mentor teachers in supporting preservice teachers in using instructional models, and framing the function of preservice teachers’ subject-matter knowledge for using instructional models.
- Top of page
- THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE
- DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS
A central goal for elementary science teacher preparation is supporting preservice teachers to organize inquiry science instruction in ways that engage students in science practices, build conceptual understanding, and leverage students’ resources for learning (Davis, Petish, & Smithey, 2006; Mikeska, Anderson, & Schwarz, 2009; Windschitl, Thompson, & Braaten, 2009). Many research efforts have developed tools, conceptual frameworks, instructional models, and other scaffolds to support preservice teachers in developing planning and teaching practices that meet these goals (Davis & Smithey, 2009; Forbes, 2011; Schwarz, 2009; Schwarz & Gwekwerere, 2007; Thompson, Windschitl, & Braaten, 2010; Windschitl et al., 2011; Zembal-Saul, 2009). Although many of these efforts show promise, when preservice teachers move from the university science methods course to the school-based field placement, their use of planning and teaching tools, organizing frameworks, or instructional models varies widely (Gunckel, 2011; Schwarz, 2009; Thompson et al., 2010; Windschitl et al., 2011; Zembal-Saul, 2009).
Research on preservice teachers has pointed to the challenges presented by the complex divide between ways of conceptualizing and practicing teaching in the theory-oriented community of the university and the practice-oriented community of the schools (Anagnostopoulos, Smith, & Basmadjian, 2007; Clift & Brady, 2005; Feiman-Nemser & Buchmann, 1985; Zembal-Saul, Krajcik, & Blumenfeld, 2002). As people at the boundary between university and K-12 schools, preservice teachers must make sense of the differences in ways of talking, thinking, and acting on each side of the divide (Akkerman & Bakker, 2011; Alsup, 2006). Investigations of how preservice teachers traverse this boundary have explored the influence of school cultures and mentor–preservice teacher relationships (Bianchini & Cavazos, 2007; Bradbury & Koballa, 2008; Crawford, 2007), the development of preservice teachers’ professional identities as science teachers (Luehmann, 2007; Mulholland & Wallace, 2000; Richmond, Juzwik, & Steele, 2011), and the influence of preservice teachers’ personal histories, goals, visions, orientations, and commitments on their science teaching practices (Eick & Reed, 2002; Gomez, Allen, & Black, 2007; Volkmann & Anderson, 1998). This research has concluded that preservice teachers sometimes reject or modify the tools, frameworks, or instructional models introduced in their methods courses because these resources do not resonate with the identities, visions for practice, teaching orientations, or personal commitments for science teaching that preservice teachers either bring to learning to teach science or encounter in the field-placement classroom (Alsup, 2006; Gunckel, 2011; Horn, Nolen, Ward, & Campbell, 2008; Thompson et al., 2010).
Much of this work has focused on preservice secondary science teachers’ experiences and sense making. However, preservice elementary teachers’ preparation and field-placement situations differ in important ways from preservice secondary teachers’ experiences. For example, preservice elementary teachers are usually placed in self-contained classrooms and have fewer students, for longer periods of time, than preservice secondary teachers. Also, for preservice elementary teachers, teaching science may not be a primary motivation for joining the profession (Book & Freeman, 1986; Brookhart & Freeman, 1992). While many of the findings from research with preservice secondary students are applicable to preservice elementary teachers, differences between secondary and elementary preservice teachers suggest that there is more to learn by focusing on elementary preservice teachers. Recent research on preservice elementary teachers’ metaphors for teaching suggests preservice teachers’ framing of their sense of obligation as teachers shapes their approaches to teaching and explains their reactions to teacher education (Pinnegar, Mangelson, Reed, & Groves, 2011). In this article, I analyze how two preservice elementary teachers use an instructional model introduced in their science methods course to meet their obligations to self and others as they plan and teach science in their field-placement classroom. This approach offers insight into how and why some preservice elementary teachers use course frameworks in their beginning science teaching practices, whereas other preservice teachers do not.
I first offer a theoretical perspective for considering preservice teachers’ obligations and their relationship to the use of instructional models. I then explain the context of this research and the analysis of the data. In the Findings sections, I present the cases of two preservice elementary teachers, Dana and Nicole, as they learn to use the Inquiry-Application Instructional Model (I-AIM) to plan an instructional sequence in their science methods course and teach it in their field-placement classroom. I end with a discussion of the insight that this analysis offers for considering the multiple mediators of preservice teachers’ uses of instructional models or other course frameworks when planning and teaching science.
- Top of page
- THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE
- DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS
As preservice teachers learn to teach science, they participate in multiple communities, including the communities of the science methods course and their field-placement classrooms. Within these communities, each member enacts specific identities, such as student, preservice teacher, classroom teacher, or course instructor. These identities are situated in and mediated by the cultural models, or culturally derived ideas and practices, that shape how people act, talk, and think in a given community (Cobb & Hodge, 2002, 2003; Enydey, Goldberg, & Welsh, 2006; Fryberg & Markus, 2007; Gee, 1996; Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, & Caine, 1998; McCarthey & Moje, 2002; Moje et al., 2004; Wenger, 1998).
Gee (1989, 1991, 1996) refers to these cultural models as “Discourses.”1 A variety of Discourses are potentially present in each science methods and field-placement community, including Discourses of traditional science teacher, inquiry science teacher, or successful university student. The Discourses present within communities shape the way that individuals in communities see themselves, interact with others, and make sense of their experiences (Cobb & Hodge, 2003; Gee, 1991, 1996; Luehmann, 2007; McCarthey & Moje, 2002).
Discourses construct and define the social norms for interactions within a group, including expectations of and obligations to self and others (Cobb, Gresalfi, & Hodge, 2009; Cobb, Wood, & Yackel, 2002; Coleman, 1988). Discourses shape the approaches that teachers take to teaching science (Magnusson, Krajcik, & Borko, 1999), the metaphors teachers use to think about their roles and identities (Pinnegar et al., 2011), and the ways that teachers and students interact with each other and with science content. For example, in a classroom where a Discourse of inquiry science is present, a teacher may take an inquiry science teaching approach that engages her students in relevant science questions, provides students with opportunities to explore phenomena, and supports them in reasoning about patterns they observe. The teacher expects her students, are they are accordingly obligated, to share their thinking; the students expect and the teacher is obligated to value and build on student ideas.
Often, expectations and obligations are related to desired rewards (Becker, Geer, & Hughes, 1968; Coleman, 1988). As students, preservice teachers may feel obligated to fulfill expectations set by the course instructor to receive a desired evaluation or expectations of themselves to reach certain academic goals to obtain credentials or status. As teachers, preservice teachers may feel obligated to cover specific material to receive approval from a mentor or supervisor or obligated to make learning fun for students to gain student cooperation and engagement.
Pinnegar et al. (2011) examined preservice teachers’ metaphors for teaching and outlined the obligations that these metaphors construct. For example, the expert teacher feels obligated to be knowledgeable about subject matter, be in control of students’ learning, and to be a role model for others. The scaffolder teacher feels obligated to support student learning by simplifying complex concepts for students, teaching at the correct level for students’ conceptual development, and encouraging students to become independent thinkers. These various teaching metaphors are situated in different Discourses of teaching. In learning to teach science, the Discourses that preservice teachers enact and with which they interact shape the obligations that they feel to self and others within the learning communities in which they participate.
As preservice teachers move between the science methods course and field-placement classrooms, they must simultaneously meet obligations to multiple people, including course instructor, mentor teacher, students, and self. These multiple obligations can create conflict for preservice teachers, such as when a preservice teacher feels obligated to self, course instructor, or students to use an inquiry approach to teaching science but is confronted with a mentor teacher in the field-placement classroom who takes a more didactic approach. These conflicts mark boundaries between differing Discourses.
When preservice teachers encounter boundaries between Discourses, they must work to address the conflicts or interference that results. Two solutions for managing the conflicts include perceiving and reconstructing boundaries (Akkerman & Bakker, 2011). Perceiving involves working to understand and leverage the differences in perspectives and practices across a Discourse boundary. For example, preservice teachers are often aware of conflicts between elementary students’ ideas and the canonical explanations of science the preservice teachers are asked to teach. A preservice teacher using a perceiving solution would make sense of the students’ understandings and consider ways to support students in building from their perspectives toward more scientific understandings.
The second solution, reconstructing, also involves noticing differences, and like perceiving, involves understanding the nature of the differences across boundaries. However, rather than leveraging differences to reach a new insight, the process of reconstructing involves reinforcing the boundaries that divide, thus emphasizing the differences (Akkerman & Bakker, 2011). This might happen, for example, when the lesson-plan format used in a university-based methods course makes little practical sense to a mentor teacher in a field-placement classroom. A preservice teacher who disagrees with the mentor teacher's pedagogy could submit a lesson plan to the mentor teacher that fits the university requirements but contradicts the mentor teacher's approach, thus reconstructing the differences between the Discourses of the university and the field-placement classroom.
The two preservice elementary teachers in this study moved back and forth between the communities of their science methods course and their field-placement classrooms. The goal of their science methods instructor was for the preservice teachers to learn to use an instructional model to plan and teach inquiry-based science lessons to elementary students. In their field-placement classrooms, the preservice teachers encountered expectations from additional people, including mentor teachers and elementary students, whose goals and expectations for the preservice teachers did not necessarily match the expectations of the science methods instructor or the goals that the preservice teachers set for themselves. The various Discourses that the preservice teachers encountered in the science methods and field-placement communities constructed multiple obligations that the preservice teachers were expected to fulfill. These multiple obligations created conflicts that preservice teachers worked to manage in the course of planning and teaching their science lessons. Using this Discourses perspective, this article addresses the following research questions:
- How do the Discourses that preservice teachers encounter and in which they participate shape the obligations that preservice teachers work to fulfill as students in their university science teaching methods course and as student teachers in school field-placement communities?
- How do preservice teachers identify and manage conflicts created by boundaries among the multiple Discourses present within these communities?
- How do these multiple Discourse boundaries enable and constrain preservice teachers’ use of an inquiry-oriented instructional model for planning and teaching science?
- Top of page
- THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE
- DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS
This study was part of a teacher development experiment (Simon, 2000; Simon & Tzur, 1999) conducted to explore preservice elementary teachers’ uses of an instructional model for planning and teaching science. Teacher development experiments are design-based experiments that focus on understanding the development of preservice teachers’ reform-based teaching practices in complex learning environments where preservice teachers are both students in methods courses and teachers of students in K-12 settings (Simon, 2000). This approach coordinates whole-class teaching experiments with individual case studies. Research frameworks are used as a lens to investigate preservice teachers’ developing understandings, practices, perspectives, and decisions. Simon and Tzur (1999) call this approach “explaining the [preservice] teachers’ perspective from the researchers’ perspective” (p. 254). Teacher development experiments value the preservice teacher's perspectives and experiences as true for that preservice teacher, but at the same time, explain the preservice teacher's experiences from within the researchers’ frameworks. This approach is different from a deficit accounting of what developing preservice teachers can and cannot do and, at the same time, is more analytical than reporting only what the preservice teachers might say about their own practice.
Context of the Study
This study was conducted during the last semester of a 5-year elementary teacher preparation program at a large, midwestern university. The course instructor, Dr. Adams, had instructional responsibility for the design of the course and each class period. My role was as a participant-observer in the research, responsible for observing the happenings in the course from a perspective outside of the teacher–student relationship (Simon, 2000). Dr. Adams and I had worked closely on the development of the instructional model as part of a broader research project on preservice teacher use of curriculum materials in science. I was not, however, associated with any of the preservice teachers in any instructional capacity.
The fifth year of the teacher preparation program was an internship in which preservice elementary teachers spent 4 days a week teaching in their field-placement classrooms and, on the fifth day, took university courses, including a science methods course, designed to support them in their planning and teaching in their internship. This science methods course was the second science methods course of the teacher preparation program. The focus of the first science methods course, taken the year prior to the internship, was on scientific practices, student thinking, and theories of science learning. As part of this first course, the preservice teachers planned and taught a 3-day mini-unit on science in a field-placement classroom. The second science methods course, in which this study was conducted, was designed specifically to support preservice teachers as they planed and taught a 4-week science unit in their field-placement classrooms. In addition, the preservice teachers had previously taken at least three science content courses, as well as general teacher education courses, and methods and content courses in social studies, mathematics, literature, and writing.
Course Organizing Framework: I-AIM
Dr. Adams used the I-AIM2 as the organizing framework for the course. The instructional model was designed to support preservice teachers in synthesizing several pedagogical theories for organizing science instruction (Gunckel, 2011; Schwarz et al., 2008) including inquiry science teaching, conceptual change theory (Posner, Strike, Hewson, & Gertzog, 1982; Smith, 1990), and cognitive apprenticeship (Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1989; Smith, 1990). The I-AIM was founded on the premise that every activity in an instructional sequence should serve a strategic function in moving students toward achieving specified learning goals (Smith, 2001). Activity functions that support inquiry science teaching, conceptual change learning, and cognitive apprenticeship are grouped into four stages: question, explore and investigate, explain, and apply. Instructional sequences that fit the I-AIM include activities that provide students with a central scientific question that frames the inquiry (question stage), engage students in experiences before explanations (explore and investigate stage), make patterns in experiences explicit and visible (explore and investigate stage), introduce scientific ideas to account for patterns in experiences (explain stage), provide opportunities for students to practice applying new science knowledge to new situations (apply stage), and provide opportunities for teachers to elicit and build on student thinking (all stages). Although the I-AIM resembles other instructional models such as the familiar 5Es model (Bybee et al., 2006); the Engage, Investigate, Model, Apply (EIMA) model (Schwarz, 2009; Schwarz & Gwekwerere, 2007); and the conceptual-change model (Smith, 1990), Dr. Adams chose to use the I-AIM as an organizing framework for the course because he felt the I-AIM synthesized elements from all of these models and made explicit aspects of inquiry, conceptual-change learning, and cognitive apprenticeship.
The preservice teachers participated in two communities while learning to plan and teach science: the science methods course and their field-placement classrooms. Within these communities, preservice teachers encountered multiple Discourses that shaped their obligations and their planning and teaching practices.
Science Methods Course
Academic work is situated in an evaluation structure in which student performance is exchanged for desired rewards, including grades, social status, or athletic prowess (Becker et al., 1968). For students desiring academic success, the Discourse of successful student includes the cultural model in which, to meet expectations of oneself for personal accomplishment and high achievement, the student is obligated to meet the expectations set by the course instructor (Doyle, 1983; Feiman-Nemser & Buchmann, 1985). Often, this expectation entails demonstrating that one has learned the new Discourse presented in the course. In the science methods course, this new Discourse was the Discourse of inquiry science teaching, which emphasizes engaging students in scientific problems or questions; finding patterns in experiences with phenomena and developing models, explanations, and arguments for patterns based on evidence (e.g., Forbes & Davis, 2010; Lehrer & Schauble, 2006; McNeill & Krajcik, 2008; National Research Council [NRC], 1996, 2000, 2007, 2012; Romberg, Carpenter, & Dremock, 2005; Windschitl & Thompson, 2006).
Dr. Adams emphasized the Discourse of inquiry science teaching through his use of the I-AIM. He expected the preservice teachers to demonstrate their ability to participate in and use the Discourse of inquiry science teaching by first planning a science lesson that followed the I-AIM and later teaching that lesson in their field-placement classrooms. To meet their own expectations as successful students, the preservice teachers were obligated to fulfill Dr. Adams's expectations.
The preservice teachers’ planning of the science instructional sequence primarily took place within the community of the science methods course. The course emphasized unpacking learning goals, identifying students’ conceptions related to the learning goals, analyzing and using curriculum materials, developing an instructional activity sequence, assessing student understanding, and building a classroom community that supports all students in learning science. During the first 5 weeks of the semester, the preservice teachers were introduced to the I-AIM. Dr. Adams modeled its use by engaging the preservice teachers in example lessons on electricity. In these lessons, Dr. Adams had the preservice teachers use batteries, wires, and flashlight bulbs to figure out how a flashlight works. After completing the example lesson, Dr. Adams provided the preservice teachers with an outline of the sequence of activities in the lesson that described each activity and how each activity fit within the I-AIM.
Dr. Adams then directed the preservice teachers to use the curriculum materials they had available in their field-placement classroom to plan and teach a 4-week long instructional sequence that fit the I-AIM. The topic of the preservice teachers’ science units was selected by their mentor teachers and fit within the science curriculum at the field-placement schools. Dr. Adams expected the preservice teachers to use the curriculum materials they had available in their field-placement classroom to plan and teach an instructional sequence that fit the I-AIM. Dr. Adams required the preservice teachers to use the same format for outlining their activity sequence that he presented in the outline of the example electricity lesson.
During the second 5 weeks of the course, the preservice teachers enacted their instructional sequences in their field-placement classrooms. During this time, the science methods course did not meet. The last 5 weeks of the course focused on analysis and reflection of the preservice teachers’ field teaching experiences. Preservice teachers analyzed evidence of student learning and wrote reflective essays on their own learning during the course and their field teaching. The course culminated with preservice teacher presentations to their course colleagues about their science units and what they learned about teaching elementary science.
Each preservice teacher was assigned to a field-placement classroom in a local elementary school where the planned science instructional sequences were enacted. In each field-placement community, various Discourses of science teaching shaped the status quo for the classroom and the possibilities for learning and teaching for each preservice teacher. Dana, one of the focal teachers in this paper, was placed in a classroom with an experienced elementary teacher who both was new to mentoring preservice teachers and had recently moved from teaching fourth grade to sixth grade. Dana's mentor teacher's science instruction was influenced by a didactic, textbook-based Discourse of science teaching (Magnusson et al., 1999). Students were expected to read the assigned text and answer questions based on the readings. Resources for teaching science were limited to the school district–mandated textbook. Nicole, the second focal preservice teacher, was placed in a classroom in which a Discourse of inquiry science teaching was present. Nicole's mentor teacher was an experienced second-grade teacher and experienced preservice teacher mentor. She had already established a community in which students were engaged in investigating questions, determining patterns, and testing explanations (NRC, 2000; Windschitl et al., 2008). Nicole's mentor teacher used a variety of curriculum resources for designing instructional sequences and teaching science. Details of the ways these Discourses played out in the classrooms and their influence on the preservice teachers are presented in the Findings section.
In all field-placement classrooms, the preservice teachers shouldered full teaching responsibilities for all curriculum subjects for 5 weeks, including planning, teaching, and managing all aspects of the classroom without the mentor teacher present during instruction. Participating in the Discourse of student teaching, the preservice teachers were obligated as students to fulfill their obligations to their mentor teacher and as teachers to fulfill their obligations to the students.
All 19 preservice teachers in the science methods course were invited to participate in data collection. Five preservice teachers accepted the invitation. During the course of the semester, two preservice teachers dropped out of the study because of the demands of juggling school, work, and teaching. Two preservice teachers, Dana and Nicole, were selected as case studies for this article because their work represents the two contrasting ends of the implementation spectrum, from apparent rejection of I-AIM to full implementation of the I-AIM in the field teaching context. The work of the third preservice teacher was explored separately in Gunckel (2011). All names in this article are pseudonyms.
Data sources were chosen to provide evidence of preservice teachers planning and teaching in science methods course and field-placement communities, their instructional decisions, their sense of obligation as students and student teachers, and the Discourses in which their thinking and activity were situated. Data sources included course artifacts, video recordings, interviews, and fieldnotes. All science methods course assignments submitted to the course instructor were collected from the participating preservice teachers, including their analyses of the curriculum materials they used to plan their science units, planned instructional sequences, daily lesson plans, and postteaching reflections. All course meetings were documented with detailed fieldnotes.
Because science is rarely taught everyday in elementary settings, the number of opportunities that each preservice teacher had to teach science in her field-placement classroom across 3 weeks varied. I observed and video-recorded five to seven science lessons from both Dana and Nicole. To understand the context of the field-placement classroom, I also video-recorded the preservice teachers’ mentor teachers teaching one science lesson.
I interviewed each preservice teacher three times during the semester. The first interview took place early in the semester to elicit preservice teachers’ previous experiences planning and teaching science and their ideas about how science should be taught in schools. The second and third interviews took place after the preservice teachers had enacted their science lessons in their field-placement classrooms. During these interviews, I used video clips of the preservice teachers teaching their lessons to stimulate recall of the events in the classroom and thinking about those events (Borko & Shavelson, 1990; Meade & McMeniman, 1992). Stimulated recall has been shown to be a robust technique for accessing teacher's implicit theories of teaching (Meade & McMeniman, 1992). I probed the preservice teachers’ rationales for their teaching moves and prompted them to recall their thinking about what was happening in the classroom and how this informed their next teaching moves. This approach allowed me to explore with the preservice teachers their perspectives on their planning and teaching experiences and the I-AIM. I also interviewed the mentor teachers to elicit their views on planning and teaching science and their perceptions of their preservice teachers’ science planning and teaching.
My analysis had three strands. For both Dana and Nicole, I examined the data for evidence of (1) each teacher's use (or rejection) of the I-AIM, (2) each teacher's planning- and teaching-related conflicts, and (3) each teacher's obligations and Discourses. I began data analysis by examining how the preservice teachers used the I-AIM. I first determined the match between the preservice teachers’ planned and enacted instructional sequences (lessons) and the I-AIM. I compared the preservice teachers’ written descriptions of their planned activities and my observations of their enacted instructional activities to the I-AIM to determine the extent to which these written and enacted activities matched I-AIM activity functions. These instructional sequences were also analyzed to determine whether they included a central question (question stage), experiences with phenomena before scientific explanations and experiences that make patterns in phenomena evident (explore and investigate stage), scientific explanations for patterns (explain stage), invitations for student ideas (all stages), and opportunities for students to apply new knowledge to new situations (apply stage). This analysis helped identify Dana and Nicole as representing preservice teachers who appeared to reject or incorporate, respectively, the I-AIM into their teaching practices.
Next, I open coded (Esterberg, 2002) Dana and Nicole's interviews, video recordings, and course assignments, seeking evidence of different Discourses and accompanying obligations used by each preservice teacher. My initial codes included “classroom management,” “student learning styles,” “student excitement or engagement,” “methods course assignment,” and “mentor teacher guidance.” Over time patterns emerged across these initial codes, and I was able to identify the conflicts that the preservice teachers were working to manage. I identified these examples by labeling planning and teaching struggles (e.g., differences in approaches to science inquiry or differences second-grade or fifth-grade interactions with science content) discussed by each preservice teacher. When the preservice teachers articulated the same struggle on several different occasions, I labeled this as conflict.
As the coding for conflicts emerged, I also noticed how these conflicts were situated in and connected to the communities in which the preservice teachers were participating (i.e., methods course or field-placement classroom), the Discourses that were present in these communities, and how the preservice teachers talked about their expectations and obligations. For example, Dana frequently noted that she believed that students should engage in hands-on activities rather than learn science from the textbook, as was common in her mentor teacher's classroom. I coded this as evidence that (1) Dana perceived a conflict with her mentor teacher, (2) that she was concerned about how students learned science, and (3) that she preferred a hands-on approach to teaching science. I returned to the data with these refined codes for conflicts, obligations, and Discourses and through focused coding (Esterberg, 2002), I was able to tie the conflicts to obligations and Discourses.
My analysis was an iterative, grounded-theory approach beginning with the data, moving to the literature, and returning to the data (Bogdan & Biklin, 2003; Miles & Huberman, 1994; Strauss & Corbin, 1994). As codes emerged, I consulted the literature to better understand the emerging Discourses, obligations, and conflicts, as well as how the preservice teachers managed these conflicts. Miles and Huberman (1994) note that examining the fit between preexisting constructs and a researcher's emerging themes adds explanatory power to data. Using the categories from Akkerman and Bakker (2011), I recoded the data. From this processes, perceiving and reconstructing emerged as important to this study. Finally, I merged the three strands of analysis, linking the preservice teachers’ use of the I-AIM in their planning and teaching to the ways that they managed these conflicts in and among the Discourses in which they were participating.
Throughout the analysis, validity was established through peer debriefing (Creswell & Miller, 2000; Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Analytic memos were periodically shared with other educational researchers who provided written feedback, questioned methods and interpretations, and challenged assumptions. Member checking was not possible because the preservice teachers involved in this research had graduated and were no longer available.
- Top of page
- THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE
- DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS
This section presents the cases of Dana and Nicole. For each preservice teacher, I provide a short introduction, and then describe how she participated in the Discourse of successful university student and the Discourse of student teacher. I highlight the ways that the Discourses shaped each preservice teachers’ obligations, how these obligations helped each notice conflicts between Discourses, and how each managed these conflicts, including using the I-AIM, to fulfill her obligations.
Dana's career goal was to become a middle school science teacher. She chose science as her major focus and took additional science content courses to fulfill the science major requirements. Dana was successful as a student of science and was confident in her science knowledge.
During her internship year, Dana was a busy college student who had multiple demands for her time and expectations from many people to meet. During the semester, she juggled teaching, work, school, professional activities, and hobbies. In addition to taking 12 class credits and teaching in her field-placement classroom, Dana also worked as a tutor in an after-school homework program, was a student representative to the local chapter of the teachers’ union, and was actively applying for teaching jobs, traveling on weekends to attend job fairs in other states. At home, Dana worked with her father to raise and show rabbits at the county and state fairs. Despite these demands, Dana did well in her courses and maintained a high grade point average. In her science methods course and her field-placement classroom, Dana expected that she would again do well. The demands of her life outside of school limited the time that she had available to plan for teaching. She noted, “It is really hard being a teacher and trying to get the most out of the time that you have” (Dana interview, 04/09/07). Nevertheless, Dana prided herself in being able to successfully manage all of her activities and meet all of the expectations that were placed on her both in and out of school, including the expectations she had for herself.
Discourse of a Successful Student: Fulfilling Student Obligations to Course Instructor
Dana's participation in the science methods course was shaped by the Discourse of the successful student. To succeed in the science methods course, Dana had to fulfill her obligations to Dr. Adams by planning an instructional sequence that fit I-AIM, thereby demonstrating to him that she could plan and teach using an inquiry approach. In an interview at the beginning of the semester, when she was asked what she wanted to learn in the science methods course, Dana revealed her perspective on inquiry teaching and learning:
I am always willing to learn more [about inquiry]. But, last year we did a thing with magnets. And I walked away more confused than when I entered the class on day one … I didn't feel that we learned from it. It was just something we kept working on and working on and kept getting more confused about … But I like the reasoning and the hand-outs that he [Dr. Adams] gave us explaining what his goals [for this science methods course] were because it made it clear to us.
Dana was signaling that although she was skeptical of the efficacy of inquiry science teaching, she was willing to learn more about inquiry in the science methods course and was willing to plan an instructional approach that met Dr. Adams's expectations to fulfill her obligations as a successful student.
Dana planned her instructional sequence on how people see color. Her sequence focused on recognizing that objects reflect the color of light that is seen. Dana anticipated that students would initially think that the color of an object depends on the color of the light that shines on it or that the color of a light mixes with the color of an object to produce the color that is seen, much like colors of paint can be mixed to produce new colors. She planned to have students test these ideas by shining different colors of light on different colored objects and noting the patterns in the colors that resulted. She then planned to introduce the scientific explanation about reflection of colors of light. She intended to end her instructional sequence by having students apply this new idea to explain why ripe strawberries are seen as red and green peppers are seen as green.
The planned instructional sequence that Dana produced included many features of the I-AIM. Her outline of activities established a central question, provided students with experiences with phenomena before providing explanations, made patterns explicit, challenged student ideas, and provided students with opportunities to talk about and revise their ideas. Dana demonstrated that she could design an inquiry-based instructional sequence using the I-AIM. Because Dana met his expectations, Dr. Adams awarded her a high grade for this work.
Comparison of Dana's planned instructional activity sequence with Dr. Adams's example instructional activity sequence on electricity revealed that Dana's instructional sequence closely matched the structure of Dr. Adams's sequence. In Dana's planned instructional sequence, the activity titles, descriptions, and order were nearly identical to the activity titles, descriptions, and order in Dr. Adams's example. For instance, the description of the first activity in Dr. Adams's activity sequence, titled “Exploring a Flashlight” read, “Students examine a flashlight, taking it apart and observing its parts. They construct a first draft explanation of how they think the flashlight works” (example electricity sequence). The description of Dana's first activity, titled, “Exploring a Mirror,” read, “Students examine a mirror, by using a flashlight to reflect light off of it. They construct a first draft explanation of how they think a mirror works or in other words how light is reflected” (Dana planned instructional sequence, 02/17/07). The title of Dana's activity is nearly the same as the title of Dr. Adams's activity with Dana substituting the word “mirror” for the word “flashlight.” Dr. Adams's description of the activity identified what students would do with the flashlight; similarly, Dana's description identified what students would do with the mirror. Both Dr. Adams's and Dana's descriptions state that students will construct a first draft explanation of how the flashlight or mirror works. For each activity in her instructional sequence, Dana's description followed the same structure and highlighted the same activity functions as the corresponding activity in Dr. Adams's example.
One interpretation of these similarities could be that Dana copied her instructor's example. However, the way that Dana translated Dr. Adams's activities shows that Dana put considerable thought into figuring out how to make the electricity instructional sequence work for a light and color instructional sequence and was therefore not merely copying. For instance, in the example above, although Dana used the same phrasing as Dr. Adams in stating that the students would compose a first draft explanation of how a mirror works, Dana clarified that she wanted students to focus on how light is reflected. This clarification indicates Dana was thinking about how the content of the light and color sequence was different from the content of the electricity sequence. Dana explained in an interview that she also consulted with an instructor from her previous university science content course who provided Dana with activities and supplies to use to conduct the activities. Dana then used Dr. Adams's example instructional sequence as a template, modifying the activities that she gathered from her former science content course instructor to fit the outline of the electricity example instructional sequence.
Dana's participation in the science methods course involved interactions between the Discourses of successful student and the Discourses of inquiry science teaching. As a successful student, Dana was obligated to meet Dr. Adams's expectations for using the I-AIM to plan her instructional sequence. Despite her own reservations about an inquiry approach to learning and teaching science, she took the assignment seriously and made a sincere effort to use the I-AIM to plan her activities. Overstretched for time, her strategy of using the course instructor's example as a template for her own work allowed her to effectively and efficiently demonstrate that she could use the I-AIM to plan an inquiry science instructional sequence, thus showing that she could participate in the Discourse of inquiry science teaching. As a successful student, she was adept at paying close attention to the criteria for success and marshalling the resources that would support her in fulfilling her obligations.
Discourse of Student Teacher: Fulfilling Obligations to Mentor Teacher and to Students
In the field-placement classroom, the Discourse of student teacher shaped the obligations that Dana felt she was expected to fulfill. Dana's field-placement classroom was in a self-contained, sixth-grade classroom in an elementary school located on the rural/suburban boundary of a small midwestern city. To complete her field-placement assignment as a student teacher and be recommended for state teaching licensure, Dana had to fulfill her obligations to Melinda, her mentor teacher. Melinda expected Dana to cover the material on light and color in the district-mandated textbook.
Dana had an oppositional relationship with Melinda. Melinda described Dana as difficult to work with and Dana stated that she had differences with her mentor teacher. Although Melinda set the expectations in the classroom, Dana did not actively seek feedback from her. In planning and teaching her science instructional approach, Dana experienced a conflict with Melinda related to approaches to teaching science. Melinda used a traditional textbook approach (Anderson, 2002), commonly having students read sections from the science textbook together and then answer questions from the textbook or complete related worksheets. Dana was critical of the textbook and critical of Melinda's approach to teaching science. Dana felt that the textbook did not engage students in active science learning. She explained, “I mean the content of the book is great, but it doesn't provide enough hands-on opportunities” (Dana interview, 04/09/2007). She was also critical of Melinda's worksheet-driven approach to teaching science. Dana stated, “Students could not wait to explore why we see objects,” implying that the students’ had not previously had opportunities to explore in her mentor teacher's science lessons (Dana teaching reflection assignment). Although her criticism was oblique, it pointed to an important conflict between Dana's approach to teaching science and that of her mentor teacher.
Dana's approach for teaching was situated in a Discourse of hands-on science teaching common among many preservice teachers. In this Discourse, the teachers engage students in activities to confirm or discover science ideas (Abell, Bryan, & Anderson, 1998; Davis et al., 2006; Davis & Smithey, 2009; Magnusson et al., 1999). Dana described, for example, a science lesson on seasons that she had taught during her previous science methods course. She said,
Well, we [Dana and her students] read about it the first day, but then we did the activity the next day and it took us 15 minutes. I am sure that everyone cleared up their misconceptions because we talked about it beforehand and then afterwards we revisited it. (Dana interview, 1/18/2007)
This statement demonstrates that Dana believed that hands-on activities are essential for student learning. She believed that even a short activity could do what an entire lesson reading content could not do for student learning.
As a student teacher, Dana felt that she had an obligation to her students to not just cover the content, but to do it in a way that ensured that her students would learn science. Dana's science teaching goals focused on what she thought her students needed to do to learn science, and she believed that her approach to teaching science would be better for her students than the textbook approach that Melinda used. The challenge for Dana was to figure out how to manage the discontinuity between the Discourses of teaching science that shaped the different approaches that she and Melinda used so that Dana could fulfill her obligations to both Melinda and her students.
Dana managed these conflicting Discourse-driven obligations by teaching an instructional sequence that on the surface resembled the sequence that she had planned in her science methods course. She engaged students in several activities that demonstrated that the color of objects is determined by the color of the light that the object reflects. However, during her enactment, Dana made several changes to her planned instructional sequence.
Contrary to the explicit placement of experiences before explanations in the I-AIM, Dana started her enactment by providing students with explanations about the nature of white light and waves, two topics related to light that were in the school district-mandated science textbook. She also added several learning stations, each with a different activity related to properties of waves, through which the students rotated. At each station, students followed directions to produce common wave phenomena using slinkies and strings. Dana provided scientific definitions for vocabulary words such as “amplitude” and “wave length” and had students use those words to explain phenomena with waves. Dana justified adding these activities by stating, “I just wanted them to understand what wave lengths were and what amplitude was and just some basic understanding of waves before they started learning about light” (Dana interview, 04/09/2007). Dana believed that her students needed information about light waves before engaging in the experiences with phenomena.
Throughout the rest of her teaching, Dana used the hands-on activities she had included in her planned instructional sequence as whole-class demonstrations. Later, Dana asked students to use the explanations of white light and the nature of waves to explain what they had observed. These changes shifted the overall instructional approach from an experiences-before-explanations inquiry approach represented by the I-AIM to an approach that provided explanations followed by confirmatory experiences. These changes made Dana's enacted instructional sequence fit her approach to teaching science.
Dana was proud of what she accomplished in her lesson. She said,
I was most proud of their [the students’] attitude towards it. It was something that they had never done, but they were willing to cooperate and do everything that I asked them to do and they were so engaged about doing science and having science time again. (Dana interview 04/09/2007)
Dana also noted progress made by a student who had struggled in science previously, “And one of my struggling students pretty much, something connected with her and she just got it and she was understanding everything that was asked of her, which was really impressive” (Dana interview 04/09/2007). Dana continued to explain what she thought was different for her students, stating,
I think that actually being able to do the hands-on part of seeing how the different colors of light and stuff really affect what you view gives them a whole different perspective than to read two pages that tell you the same thing in the book. Because you don't actually understand what it is that they are saying until you actually see it. (Dana interview 4/9/2007)
Here Dana pointed out that her approach to teaching science was not only different from her mentor teacher's approach but better for students. Her approach helped students “actually understand” the science and have “a whole different perspective.” Taken together, these statements were a clear dismissal of the Discourse of textbook-based science teaching used by her mentor teacher.
In enacting her science instructional sequence, Dana addressed the conflict between her Discourse of hands-on science teacher and the textbook-based Discourse that shaped Melinda's teaching by directly marking and reconstructing the boundary that separated these Discourses. Dana did not try to eliminate or smooth over the difference, which she might have done by having students read from the textbook during part of her teaching. Instead, she signaled to her mentor teacher that she knew the difference existed and then explicitly demonstrated a different approach to teaching science. In making this demonstration, Dana also fulfilled the obligations she felt as a student teacher to her students by trying to change the approach to science teaching that was common in their classroom. Dana felt that her teaching efforts were rewarded because she noticed that her students enjoyed her instruction, were cooperative and engaged, and could use the vocabulary that she had provided to explain how people see color.
Noticing and Managing Discourse Conflicts
Dana experienced multiple conflicts among Discourses that she encountered in her science methods course and her field-placement classroom. First, the Discourses of university student and student teacher were not compatible. Second, Dana experienced conflict between the Discourses of inquiry in the science methods course and hands-on science teaching that she preferred. Third, in her field-placement classroom, Dana experienced another conflict between the Discourses of hands-on teaching and the Discourses of textbook-based science that her mentor teacher enacted. These Discourses constructed obligations to different people and at times, these obligations did not align.
Dana managed these conflicts by isolating her participation in these Discourses and reconstructing the boundaries among them. In the science methods course, Dana focused on fulfilling her obligation to Dr. Adams to produce an instructional sequence that fit the I-AIM. Although she demonstrated that she could use the I-AIM once in her field-placement classroom, where she saw herself as the teacher, Dana no longer felt obligated to Dr. Adams to use the I-AIM. Furthermore, in her field-placement classroom, she isolated her obligations to her mentor teacher from her obligations to her students. Although she felt obligated to her mentor teacher to cover the assigned content, she did not feel obligated to teach in the same way that her mentor teacher taught science. This enabled her to reconstruct the boundary between herself and Melinda and teach science in a way that she felt best fulfilled her obligations to her students.
Interestingly, Dana had planned an instructional sequence in the science methods course that would have also allowed her to meet her obligations to her students and at the same time mark and reconstruct the Discourse boundary between her herself and her mentor teacher. However, Dana had isolated her participation in the Discourse of university student from the Discourse of student teacher, thus also isolating the Discourse of inquiry science teaching to the university science methods course. As a result, she was not able to leverage the I-AIM to help her demonstrate to her mentor teacher a different approach to teaching science. Thus, the I-AIM remained for Dana an academic framework situated only in the Discourses of her science methods course and did not help her meet her obligations as a teacher to her students or manage the conflicts between the Discourses of science teaching that she noticed in her field-placement classroom.
Like Dana, Nicole was also a high-achieving student. As a top student in her undergraduate class, Nicole received several university-level academic honors. She routinely went above and beyond what was expected of her in all of her academic pursuits. For example, in an instructional sequence that she planned and enacted on consumerism for her social studies methods class, Nicole had her elementary students researching, producing, and marketing cookies in the school. Nicole was well known in the teacher preparation program for the quality of her work.
Discourse of a Successful Student: Fulfilling Student Obligations to Course Instructor
Like Dana, Nicole's participation in the science methods course was also shaped by her mastery of the Discourse of successful student. Both Nicole and Dr. Adams expected that she would plan and teach an exceptional science instructional sequence. Nicole planned her instructional sequence on the topic of sound. Her central question was “How do we hear sounds?” Nicole pieced together an instructional sequence from activities included in a thick folder of resources that her field-placement mentor teacher had collected over the years. Nicole's planned activity sequence included many opportunities for students to explore phenomena related to sound. She planned to have students blow plastic whistles to observe that the ball inside vibrates and explore toy drums to observe that when one taps the drum with a stick, the top of the drum vibrates. Nicole also planned to have students make similar explorations and observations with tuning forks. Then, she planned to have the students experiment with using one drum to make another drum vibrate and using one tuning fork to make another tuning fork vibrate. After each experience, the students would discuss the event and link it to previous experiences. Nicole planned to introduce scientific information at key points, such as to help students label vibrations. In this way, Nicole hoped that the students would learn to identify vibrations and associate the vibrations with sounds. She hoped that through her guidance students would realize that vibrations from one object can make other objects vibrate, including a person's eardrum. At the end of the unit, Nicole designed two application activities. First, she planned a field trip to a local music store where the students would have an opportunity to play many different musical instruments and use their new understanding of sound to explain how each instrument made a sound that people could hear. Nicole also planned a sound museum for the students and their families. The students would serve as museum docents and give tours to their parents of all of the activities they had explored during the sound unit.
In the Discourse of successful student, Nicole fulfilled her obligations to Dr. Adams. Her instructional sequence fit many of the features of I-AIM, including having a central question, exploring multiple experiences with phenomena across which students could notice patterns, introducing explanations following experiences, and providing many opportunities for students to make sense of explanations of patterns. The field trip and sound museum provided two opportunities for students to apply their new understanding to different but related phenomena and contexts. Dr. Adams was impressed with the sophistication of Nicole's plans and rewarded her with the top grade in the class for planned instructional sequence.
Discourse of Student Teacher: Fulfilling Obligations to Mentor Teacher and to Students
Nicole was placed in a second-grade classroom with an experienced mentor teacher, Annette, who had served as a mentor for the university teacher preparation program for many years. In mentoring Nicole, Annette modeled many aspects of planning and teaching an inquiry science lesson that was represented by the instructional model used in the science methods course. However, Annette was not familiar with the I-AIM and did not provide Nicole with guidance on how to use the I-AIM to plan and teach science. Annette also set the expectation that the sequence would cover the state science standards for sound for second grade, fit an inquiry approach to teaching, and include at least one field trip.
Nicole's planned and enacted instructional sequences closely matched. She engaged her students in the experiences that she had planned, elicited and built on student ideas, and provided opportunities for students to share ideas. Nicole's enacted instructional sequence met Annette's expectations because it covered the necessary content, used an inquiry approach, and included a field trip. For Nicole, the Discourse of inquiry science teaching that was present in the science methods course was also present in her field-placement classroom. As a result, she was able to use the same instructional approach to fulfill the obligations to her course instructor arising from the Discourse of successful student and her obligations to her mentor teacher arising from the Discourse of student teacher.
Although Nicole's planned and enacted instructional sequences met the expectations that she, Dr. Adams, and Annette had for an exceptional unit plan, Nicole's efforts were not without difficulties. When Nicole learned that Annette wanted the instructional sequence to be about sound, Nicole was initially enthusiastic. The year before, in her first science methods course (taught by a different course instructor), Nicole had planned and taught a lesson on sound to fifth-grade students. Early in the process of planning, she stated that she was fairly confident in her ability to plan the new instructional sequence because she had already done the background research on the science content and therefore had a head start. However, she soon realized that she would not be able to use her fifth-grade approach to teaching sound to second-grade students. She explained that when teaching sound to fifth-grade students, “we had to get to the point where we were talking about the molecules” (Nicole interview 01/17/07). But with her second-grade students, Nicole realized that she would not be able to use a molecular explanation to account for how sounds are made because her students were not yet ready to grasp the particulate nature of matter. This realization created a challenge for Nicole. “[The] first couple of weeks were really a struggle for me … because I was thinking fifth grade, like what we did with them and try to bring it down to second grade … I was just frustrated” (Nicole interview, 04/11/2007). Nicole had identified a difference in the content between what second-grade and fifth-grade students should know and learn and because she was not sure how to approach this difference, she no longer felt confident in her thinking about how to teach science to her students.
To resolve her struggles, Nicole turned to Dr. Adams for guidance. She met with him to discuss her plans. During the conversation, Dr. Adams explained to Nicole that while second-grade students were not ready to understand a molecular explanation for sound, they would be able to understand that sounds are vibrations and that vibrations from one object can cause vibrations in another object. Nicole then leveraged Dr. Adams's guidance to create an instructional sequence that made two patterns explicit: (1) objects make sound by making vibrations, and (2) one vibrating object can make another object vibrate. After enacting her instructional sequence, Nicole summed up the success of the unit by noting that her students were able to explain to their parents during the sound museum how sounds were made:
But then here is the test - can you talk about it? You know, like, we never gave them a written test. It was, bring your family, and then the families got to see what they were doing … But I think that was the true test. Like, can you talk about it? (Nicole interview 4/13/2007)
As a student teacher, Nicole met her obligations to her mentor teacher by enacting an instructional sequence that fit Annette's expectations. The obligation that Nicole felt to her students’ learning helped her recognize the way that second-grade and fifth-grade students could engage with the science content of sound and also supported her in finding a solution to the problem for her planned and enacted instructional sequence.
Noticing and Managing Discourse Conflicts
Similar to Dana, Nicole felt obligations as a university student to her course instructor, and as a student teacher to her mentor teacher and her students. In contrast to Dana, however, the obligations to students spanned both her participation in her science methods course and field-placement classroom. Nicole's obligations to her students guided her focus and helped her notice, early on, an important difference between the ways students at different grade levels interact with ideas. Nicole managed the conflict that this difference caused by leveraging the I-AIM and Dr. Adams's guidance to understand how both fifth-grade and second-grade students made sense of the phenomenon of sound. She successfully perceived the difference and then was able to use her understanding of this difference to identify the patterns in experiences that would be accessible to second-grade students, planned an instructional sequence that met Dr. Adams's expectations, enacted an inquiry science instructional sequence that met Annette's expectations, and fulfilled her obligations to her students to teach science in a way that would support them in learning important science content. For Nicole, the I-AIM became a tool that functioned in both the Discourse of university student in the science methods course and in the Discourse of student teacher in the field-placement classrooms to meet her obligations to her course instructor, her mentor teacher, and most importantly, her students.
Comparison of Dana and Nicole
Across the science methods course and the field-placement classrooms, Dana and Nicole simultaneously participated in the Discourses of university student and student teacher. These Discourses shaped the obligations that each was expected to fulfill. In the science methods course, the Discourse of successful student shaped Dana's and Nicole's obligation to meet Dr. Adams's expectations and provided resources for meeting this obligation. This Discourse also provided them with resources for meeting this obligation, such as Dana's use of the instructor's model as a template and Nicole's reliance on Dr. Adams for specific guidance.
The Discourse of student teacher shaped the obligations that both Dana and Nicole felt to teach the science content so that their students would learn science. It was this obligation to students that created the conflicts among Discourses that both Dana and Nicole worked to manage during the semester. Where Dana and Nicole differed was in how they managed these conflicts. Dana marked and reconstructed the boundaries that she noticed by isolating her use of the I-AIM to her participation in the science methods course, and explicitly teaching science in ways that were different from the ways that her mentor teacher taught. Nicole, on the other hand, perceived differences and then leveraged the I-AIM to help her understand the conflicts that she experienced in matching her instruction to her students and then resolved this conflict by embracing and building on what her students could do. For Dana and Nicole, their obligations to their students and how they managed the Discourse conflicts that these obligations revealed drove how and when they used the I-AIM to plan and teach science.
DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS
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- THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE
- DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS
Like other course-organizing frameworks, the I-AIM was designed to scaffold preservice teachers in using what they learned in the science methods course to plan and teach science lessons in their field-placement teaching (Gunckel, 2011; Schwarz, 2009; Windschitl et al., 2011; Zembal-Saul, 2009). The hypothesis was that the I-AIM would support preservice teachers in managing the boundary between the science methods course and the field-placement classroom so that when they moved to their field-placement classroom, they would be able to sequence activities to support elementary students in engaging in inquiry learning. By using a Discourses lens to examine elementary preservice teachers’ use of the I-AIM, this study suggests that preservice teachers encounter not just one boundary but multiple Discourse boundaries as they move between their science methods courses and field-placement classrooms. Preservice teachers’ obligations, as constructed by these Discourses, sometimes produce several conflicts that they must manage. When course frameworks support preservice teachers in managing these conflicts, preservice teachers use these frameworks in their planning and teaching. As I will discuss below, this Discourses-and-obligations perspective on preservice teachers’ uses of instructional models adds depth to and situates other explanations for preservice elementary teachers’ uses of course-organizing frameworks in science methods courses and field-placement classrooms, including interpretations of the influence of preservice teachers’ orientations to science teaching, the role of the mentor teacher, and preservice elementary teachers’ subject-matter knowledge for teaching.
Orientations as Situated in Discourses
One analysis of the difference between Dana's and Nicole's uses of the I-AIM frames Dana's hands-on orientation (Magnusson et al., 1999) to teaching science as in conflict with the inquiry approach represented by the I-AIM, resulting in Dana's rejection of the I-AIM in her field-placement classroom. This same analysis would suggest that Nicole, who did not encounter this conflict in orientations, was therefore more inclined to use the I-AIM in her field-placement teaching. This explanation is similar to the Discourses analysis offered in this paper. However, the analysis in this paper goes further by situating these teaching orientations in the larger Discourses in which the preservice teachers were participating.
Magnusson et al. (1999) frame orientations as shaping other aspects of teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge for teaching science, and they identify nine orientations that describe teachers’ ways of conceptualizing science teaching. Friedrichsen, Van Driel, and Abell (2010) question the empirical basis for labeling orientations and the usefulness of these labels for characterizing teacher approaches to science teaching. They argue that teachers’ beliefs about science, learning, and science teaching influence teachers’ practices in ways that are more complex than can be accounted for by slotting teachers into categories of orientations.
In the Discourses framing of this study, I have intentionally described inquiry, hands-on, and textbook-based approaches to teaching science as situated within inquiry, hands-on, and textbook-based Discourses rather than calling them orientations because a Discourses lens allows for a broader consideration of the ways of talking, thinking, and acting that are associated with these approaches. The analysis of Nicole's and Dana's situations shows how their teaching Discourses (i.e., inquiry or hands-on Discourses) are situated in and intersect with other Discourses. For example, for Dana, the Discourse of inquiry science teaching was situated in the community of her science methods course but not her field-placement classroom. Dana showed that she could use the I-AIM to plan her instructional approach, despite the difference between the inquiry approach to science teaching that the I-AIM represented and her own hands-on view of science teaching. Her sense of obligation to fulfill the expectations of her course instructor, as situated in and defined by the Discourse of successful student, meant that although there was a conflict between inquiry and hands-on teaching, her obligations as a student resulted in her use of the I-AIM to plan her science lessons. In the Discourse of successful student, her hands-on Discourse did not help her meet her obligations. However, in her field-placement classroom, her sense of obligation to meet her students’ learning needs, as defined by the Discourse of student teacher, gave her the opportunity to confront the conflicts among Discourses of inquiry, hands-on, and textbook-based science teaching. To fulfill her obligations to her students, Dana relied on her hands-on approach to teach science in her field-placement classroom. This analysis illuminates that preservice teachers’ conceptualizations of the purpose and nature of science teaching are situated in the complex landscape of intersecting Discourses and are among many resources that preservice teachers draw to fulfill their obligations as constructed by these Discourses.
Role of the Mentor Teacher and Power Relations in the Classroom
The findings from this research can also provide insight into the role of the mentor teacher in influencing how preservice teachers use course frameworks in the field-placement classroom. As others have noted previously, a strong mentor teacher can support preservice teachers in learning to use instructional models for ambitious practices in the field (Davis et al., 2006; Zembal-Saul, 2009). Consistent with this view, one interpretation of Nicole's and Dana's relative success in using the I-AIM would be that Nicole's mentor teacher, Annette, was more supportive, whereas Dana's mentor, Melinda, was not. As a result, it was easier for Nicole to use the I-AIM than it was for Dana. The Discourses-and-obligations lens adds complexity to understanding the connections between mentor teachers and preservice teachers’ uses of course frameworks. In this study, Dana and Nicole both felt obligated to fulfill their mentor teachers’ expectations. Annette set specific expectations for Nicole that aligned with inquiry science teaching. Thus, even though Annette was not familiar with the I-AIM and did not offer specific guidance on using the I-AIM, the parallels between Annette's inquiry teaching expectations and the goals of the I-AIM meant that Nicole could use the I-AIM to meet her obligations to Annette. In contrast, Melinda's expectation for Dana was only that Dana would teach the assigned content. From the perspective of negotiating power relations, it might have been wise for Dana, as she purposefully dismissed the teaching style of her mentor teacher, to turn to the Discourse sanctioned in her methods course and use the I-AIM in her teaching. However, for Dana, her obligations to her students and her Discourse of hands-on teaching drove her teaching decisions and were more powerful than the Discourses sanctioned by either her mentor teacher or her methods course instructor. Thus, a Discourses-and-obligations perspective on the role of mentor teachers in supporting preservice teachers in learning to use course frameworks suggests that strong mentorship includes setting expectations that parallel course frameworks, rendering the frameworks as useful to preservice teachers as they meet their obligations to mentor teachers.
The Discourses lens also provides insight into the role that instructional models could play in managing conflicts with mentor teachers and challenging status quo Discourses. Gee (2005) and Alsup (2006) both present Discourses as political and critical. Encapsulated within Discourses are power relations that maintain the status quo. Alsup claims that preservice teachers who do not engage differences across Discourses may adopt the status quo teaching present in their own teaching situations. In this research, neither preservice teacher challenged the Discourses of successful student or inquiry science teaching in the science methods courses. As a result, both used the I-AIM to participate in these Discourses and fulfill their obligations to their course instructor. Their use of the I-AIM maintained the status quo Discourses of the science methods course.
In the field, Dana's sense of obligation to her students set her in opposition to her mentor teacher. Melinda and Dana's field supervisor both saw Dana as a difficult preservice teacher. Yet, Dana's reconstruction of the boundary between her approach to teaching science and that of her mentor teacher represents a sophisticated management of the conflict among Discourses that she experienced. Dana analyzed the situation and then set out to teach in a way that was different from her mentor teacher. However, she did not find the I-AIM useful in challenging her mentor teachers’ Discourse.
Nicole, on the other hand, did not have to manage this type of Discourse conflict with her mentor teacher and did not challenge or critique the Discourses of inquiry science teaching that she encountered. This analysis of when each of the preservice teachers challenged Discourses leads to questions about when and how an instructional model could or should be useful for challenging Discourses and managing conflicts and when its use may reinforce the power relations that exist in classrooms.
Subject-Matter Knowledge for Using Instructional Models
The Discourses-and-obligations perspective also provides insight into the influence that preservice teachers’ subject-matter knowledge and attention to students has in using instructional models. A common notion used to explain preservice elementary teachers’ motivations for teaching and their planning and teaching decisions is that preservice elementary teachers are focused on students rather than subject-matter knowledge (Book & Freeman, 1986; Brookhart & Freeman, 1992). Typically, preservice elementary teachers are framed as less knowledgeable about content knowledge than preservice secondary teachers (Davis et al., 2006; Rice, 2005).
However, both Dana and Nicole had fairly sophisticated content understanding of the science they were teaching. Dana had taken many science content courses across her college career and relied on the guidance and activities that her former science content instructor provided to teach about light and color. Nicole relied on her previous experiences teaching about sound to fifth-grade students and had done extensive background research about sound. During the course of their instruction, neither preservice teacher represented the science content in inaccurate or inappropriate ways. As student teachers, their sense of obligation was to provide the best possible science instruction, which included knowing the science content and attending to students’ science content understanding.
This analysis suggests that subject matter plays a complex role in mediating when and how preservice teachers use instructional models. Preservice teachers’ subject-matter knowledge plays a role in how well preservice teachers use instructional models to represent science content (Gunckel, 2011). Subject-matter knowledge may also play an important role in how preservice teachers perceive their students’ learning needs (Zembal-Saul et al., 2002), thus defining the nature of the problem that preservice teachers feel obligated to students to address. In turn, this understanding of subject matter and students may mediate whether preservice teachers see the instructional model as useful in fulfilling this obligation in their teaching.
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- THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE
- DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS
To teach science preservice elementary teachers must traverse the complex landscape of multiple and intersecting Discourses present in their science methods and field-placement classrooms. These Discourses construct many obligations to others, including self, course instructors, mentor teachers, and students that preservice teachers are expected to fulfill. Instructional models and other course frameworks are intended by teacher educators to support preservice teachers in using what they learn in science methods courses to organize instruction in field-placement classrooms. To be useful to preservice teachers, instructional models must span the multiple and intersecting boundaries among Discourses and support preservice teachers in managing conflicts that arise as preservice teachers work to fulfill their multiple obligations.
This research was conducted with preservice elementary teachers, whose teaching situations differ from secondary preservice teachers. This context has illuminated aspects of learning to teach science, using course frameworks, and moving between university and field-placement classrooms that were not previously emphasized in explorations of secondary preservice teachers’ experiences and sense-making crossing boundaries between university courses and field placements. By highlighting the multiple boundaries that preservice teachers must manage and the role that obligations to self, course instructor, mentor teachers, and students play in how preservice teachers notice and manage conflicts at these boundaries, this research adds insight into how all preservice teachers use course frameworks such as instructional models to plan and teach science. Future work might explore further how preservice teachers’ sense of obligation constructs’ their participation within the multiple Discourses they encounter while learning to teach science.
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- THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE
- DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS
The author thanks Marcy B. Wood and Ann Lawrence for personal assistance in preparing this manuscript.
Gee uses a capital “D” to distinguish his construct of a Discourse as characterizing broad ways to viewing and being in the world from a more focused examination of the arrangement of words in a section of speech or writing (Gee, 1989). Although language and the arrangement of words is part of Discourse, big “D” Discourse encompasses a broader meaning about ways of making sense of, interacting with, and communicating with others about the world (Cobb & Hodge, 2002; Gee, 1989, 1991, 1996).
For more details on the I-AIM and a description of the research base supporting the I-AIM, please see Gunckel (2011).
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- THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE
- DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS
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