Issues Magazine

Beyond Belief: Developing Science Teacher Education

By Rebecca Cooper and Stephen Keast

A teacher and teacher-educator set aside labels of “novice” and “expert” when they collaborated in some general science teaching.

In 2007 and 2008, we co-taught General Science curriculum units as part of the final year of study for Bachelor of Education students as well as for the 1-year Postgraduate Diploma of Education students at Monash University in Clayton, Victoria. There is no formal education requirement for teachers as they move to teacher education, in the way there is for new teachers. Some teacher-educators at Monash believe it is important for teacher-educators to get support as they move into teacher education. Here we describe one way – sharing of the teaching purpose – that a new teacher-educator can be guided into teacher education.

Before the Co-Teaching

Rebecca was new to teacher education, with a part-time appointment at the university and a major teaching role in a secondary school. Stephen had been working in teacher education for 10 years, having spent 13 years teaching in secondary schools.

Sharing and researching our practice is important to us. We felt that it was important to research our teaching of science teaching through a critical self-study model. We could see some natural synergies in sharing our learning of teaching about science teaching that could be beneficial to our practice.

Stephen says: “I thought that articulating my practice to Rebecca would help her understand both the thinking behind my practice and the difference between the pedagogy of teaching and the pedagogy of teacher education. Teacher education is often conducted by ex-teachers without formal training in teacher education, and it is expected that good teachers will make good teacher-educators.”

We strongly believe it is valuable for teacher-educators to make public the important issues they grapple with in their teaching so that they can assist other teacher-educators to reflect on their practice in new ways.

Rebecca says: “Collaborating in this way offered me a smoother entry into teacher education. It gave me support with both the functional aspects of working in a new environment as well as the deeper issues of becoming a teacher-educator.”

Stephen says: “Sharing in the planning of classes and debriefing after each class would offer opportunities for Rebecca to question my practice and further elucidate the pedagogical reasoning underpinning my teaching of teachers. In so doing, she would be able to question what she saw as critical incidents and enquire into the how and why of the pedagogical actions as they appeared to her ‘in the moment’.” (Discourse around critical incidents is often at the heart of the values and beliefs of teachers’ and teacher-educators’ practice.)

“Through this process of sharing practice, discussing and debriefing the classroom events, I would be introducing Rebecca (as a beginning teacher-educator) to the ideas underpinning a pedagogy of teacher education in a supportive and reflective way rather than the more ‘sink or swim’ approach that so often happens in teacher education programs. Teachers new to teacher education typically are comfortable in articulating problems in the school classroom and reflecting on their practices there, but when they move into teacher education they do not necessarily ‘problematise’ their teaching about teaching in the same way.”

Therefore, this project was based around collaboration and researching our teaching of science teaching, and teaching together offered us powerful ways of smoothing Rebecca’s transition from teacher to teacher-educator.

Building Shared Understanding of Teaching Teachers

To understand how each of us would teach, we shared our views of what we valued in building a pedagogy of teacher education.

We agreed that while our pre-service teachers’ immediate needs might often be focused on the craft knowledge of teaching, as teacher-educators we should offer many opportunities for our pre-service teachers to investigate and reflect on the science and “art knowledge” of teaching (see Box: Working with Student Teachers).

One way we chose to do this was by implementing the practice of “being explicit” when teaching. We decided to share explicitly why we were teaching the way we were teaching and our thinking behind the approaches we used. In this way we would be modelling the decision-making processes that teachers make when considering their content, the class and the context by which they teach. As teacher-educators we wanted to teach in a way that modelled teaching practices for our pre-service teachers based on reflection.

Rebecca says: “This modelling was also relevant to me as I watched Stephen model teaching practices based on reflection and collaborative planning.”

Of great importance was our pre-service teachers’ learning and the way these students of teaching might make the transition from students to teachers, just as teachers make the transition to teacher-educators. As teacher-educators, we were conscious that our pre-service teachers would be watching the way we taught so that they could identify what we were doing to keep the class flowing smoothly. It soon became apparent that we needed to be far more explicit to the pre-service teachers – they were rarely able to put themselves in the shoes of the teacher while still being students. Thus we became very conscious of the way we modelled our teaching in an effort to support the pre-service teachers.

Stephen says: "This also led to many discussions about the complexities of teacher education that assisted Rebecca to continually reconsider her ideas about the pedagogy of teacher education."

Researching Practice

Researching practice is more systematic than just reflecting on practice. We set out to record, analyse and critique our practice to better understand each other’s teaching and our developing pedagogy of teacher education. We each kept a professional journal of our teaching in which we wrote field notes when observing the other teach and during our debriefing sessions. The data collected from our field-based observations formed the basis of the data sets for this paper (see Box: Week 5 Journals).

Lessons Learned

We learnt that pre-service teachers:

  • bring to the course set beliefs about what constitutes good teaching and learning;
  • perceive all roles involving two teachers as including one as the expert with knowledge and one as the learning novice;
  • have expectations about what we do, what the course has to offer and what they are getting out of it; and
  • are reluctant to move beyond their comfort zone in their teaching practice.

The pre-service teachers come to our unit with their own beliefs about teaching science and what constitutes good teaching and learning in science, just as we came to this unit with our own beliefs about teacher education. We acknowledge the pre-service teachers’ beliefs but also believe as teacher-educators that part of our role is to encourage pre-service teachers to question their beliefs and consider other beliefs about teaching and learning. At the same time it is important for us to reconsider our beliefs about good teaching and learning from our role as teacher-educators. In this way we are modelling reflective practice for the pre-service teachers while further developing our own understanding of the pedagogy of teacher education.

One example of this has been the pre-service teachers’ beliefs that for their students to learn in the classroom they must write something down into their workbooks. Our pre-service teachers are not yet conceiving that the activities they conduct in classrooms can stand alone as learning experiences for their students. This is one issue that we want to continue to discuss and explore, and we hope they do change our views over the course of the year.

Introducing collaborative roles rather than the expert–novice role has been another conception the pre-service teachers have struggled with. In schools they are treated for the most part as novice learners needing expert guidance. Supervising teachers have the role of expert, but more importantly they are expected to know all the correct answers. We constantly discussed our practice both during and after class and never did we view our roles as novice and expert, in an effort to model collaborative roles for the pre-service teachers. We received and acted on feedback from each other and collaborated on our beliefs about teacher education.

Rebecca says: “I view my transition as a process; a continuation of my teaching journey. I recognised quickly that there is a difference between the pedagogy of teaching and pedagogy of teacher education. I saw that teacher education required more than delivering content in a way that promotes understanding and good learning; it needs to assist pre-service teachers to study themselves, our beliefs about good teaching and learning and develop and understanding of our roles as teachers, and it needs to do it all at the same time!”

Stephen says: “This has been an opportunity to articulate my knowledge, improve my practice and continue my teaching journey. Articulating my practice to Rebecca has made me more focused on what I am teaching and why. It also revealed that the style of lessons that we taught could often be confronting for our pre-service teachers. Such confrontation, when made explicit, was useful for the pre-service teachers to reconsider their beliefs about good science teaching and learning and for us to consider ours about teacher education. This only worked when there were high levels of trust and respect between lecturer and learner, learner and learner, and lecturer and learner.”