Tugboats and tennis games: Preservice conceptions of teaching and learning revealed through metaphors



Black (1979) writes about the inextricable interrelationships among language, perception, knowledge, experience and metaphor. An extension of this, grounded in Wittgenstein's (1953) notion of the symbolic, experiential basis of “first language,” is the view that metaphors are windows into this primitive, personal framework. The purpose of this paper is to take an exploratory look at preservice teachers' metaphors of teaching and learning and to examine some components of student teachers' own intuitions in this area. In this study, a questionnaire was administered to one hundred and fifty-one science education students at the beginning of their preservice training on which they were challenged to generate a personal metaphor for “teaching and learning.” Descriptive elements within the responses were differentiated and applied to the development of a classification scheme. Both the technique and the categorization are seen as useful devices for the identification of common conceptions about the teaching and learning process. The metaphors have been seen to communicate a richness of meaning which convey elements of mood, control, roles, attitudes and beliefs as they apply to teaching and learning and which, it is argued here, are grounded on more deeply rooted symbols than literal language. In the light of constructivist pedagogy, the elicitation of students' preconceptions is seen to be germane to the organization of learning experiences.