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Good idea, disappointing paper

November 1, 2012

Findlay & Bryce (2012), From teaching physics to teaching children: Beginning teachers learning from pupils, Int. J. Sci. Ed. 12, 1.

The authors sought to investigate beginning teachers’ development of pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). The abstract claims that in the beginning, teachers focused on transforming their subject matter knowledge into forms accessible for students. As teachers gained experience in the classroom, they shifted their focus to interacting with students which the author claims is evidence of development of PCK. This is an interesting idea, looking for shifts from “teaching to the students” to “interacting with the students”. Unfortunately, I found their evidence very underwhelming lending very limited support to their claims.

The study involved a series of semi-structured interviews with teachers during their first four years of teaching. The interviews described specific scenarios regarding electric circuits lessons and asked how the teacher would explain certain ideas/observations and how the teacher wanted students to think about certain concepts/experiments. The authors followed four teachers throughout the entire four years, conducting two interviews the first year, and one interview each during the third and fourth years. These interviews were transcribed and coded using codes based on Shulman’s model of the seven components of teacher knowledge as well as additional codes based on emergent themes.

The results consisted of single quotes, one to two sentences long, from each teacher interview. These quotes do suggest a shift from focusing on the teachers’ knowledge and “how to teach electric circuits”  to focusing more on students’ knowledge and “how to teach different types of students”. However, with only a single quote from each interview I am unconvinced of the depth and robustness of this shift. I would like to see more direct quotes even if this meant quoting some but not all of the teachers. I would also like to see graphs or tables of coded statements from each interview, something like # of “interacting with students” or “adjusting approach for students” coded statements vs. interview number for each teacher.

I originally thought this study was tied to a professional development program but that doesn’t appear to be the case. The first year was training and student teaching but otherwise there was no ongoing professional development common to each teacher. I read this article looking for ideas for goals and research questions for our professional development program. I do like looking for shifts in teacher responsiveness so that aspect of the paper has been useful even if I find their data unconvincing.

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