Scholarly article on topic 'Teaching Tools and Their Role in Shaping Beginning Teachers’ Conceptions of Learning and Teaching Here'

Teaching Tools and Their Role in Shaping Beginning Teachers’ Conceptions of Learning and Teaching Here Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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{teaching / tools / "beginning teachers" / "conceptions of learning" / "conceptions of teaching"}

Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Mihaela Mitescu Lupu

Abstract The paper proposes an analysis of the language employed by beginning and experienced teachers exploring in interviews their history of transgressing from the university-based training programs onto the practices of the classrooms and schools, with the purpose of forming a deeper understanding of the ways in which beginning teachers form their pedagogical reasoning in the course of engaging with the available teaching technologies whilst in the early stages of their professional practice. The data presented here is part of a larger study exploring beginning teachers’ understanding of the professional practices during the induction years, a study supported by CNCSIS-UEFISCDI, project number RU_PD 21/2010.

Academic research paper on topic "Teaching Tools and Their Role in Shaping Beginning Teachers’ Conceptions of Learning and Teaching Here"

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Social and Behavioral Sciences

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 83 (2013) 145 - 150 —

2nd World Conference on Educational Technology Researches - WCETR2012

Teaching tools and their role in shaping beginning teachers' conceptions of learning and teaching here

Mihaela Mitescu Lupu a *

aUniversity of Arts "George Enescu " Iasi, Str. Horia 7-9, Iasi, 700126, Romania


The paper proposes an analysis of the language employed by beginning and experienced teachers exploring in interviews their history of transgressing from the university-based training programs onto the practices of the classrooms and schools, with the purpose of forming a deeper understanding of the ways in which beginning teachers form their pedagogical reasoning in the course of engaging with the available teaching technologies whilst in the early stages of their professional practice. The data presented here is part of a larger study exploring beginning teachers' understanding of the professional practices during the induction years, a study supported by CNCSIS-UEFISCDI, project number RU_PD 21/2010.

©2013The Authors.PublishedbyElsevierLtd.

Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Prof. Dr. Hafize Keser Ankara University, Turkey Keywords: teaching, tools, beginning teachers, conceptions of learning, conceptions of teaching;;

1. Introduction

A change in the conception and approaches to the teaching activity is proclaimed ubiquitously in the political discourses. The change required is focused on promoting learning and student-centered activities in the classroom, whereas responsiveness and flexibility become the main features of the required new teaching approaches and technologies to be employed in the classroom. Not so often studies explore the (trans) formative relationship between the available teaching technologies and the identity and reasoning-shaping processes taking place in the course of beginning and experienced teachers working with them in the classroom.

In the study presented here, the researcher follows a socio-cultural perspective on delineating the theoretical and methodological instruments employed in the analysis. What is proposed here is an understanding of learning as a situated activity, one distributed - just as well as knowledge - throughout the complex structure of persons-acting-in-settings (Lave, in Lave and Chaiklin, 1993). The heterogeneous, multifocal, conflictual character of situated activity is taken as a ubiquitous aspect of learning. Analysis follows the conflicting practices of shifting understandings throughout activities explored in narrative accounts of teachers' participation in the early stages of teaching professional exercise in schools. The truth or error of some knowledge claim is not of interest as it is the

* Corresponding Author: Mihaela Mitescu Lupu. Tel.: +40-751-044-177 E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Prof. Dr. Hafize Keser Ankara University, Turkey doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.06.028

relationship between the what, why, who and how in actions that are carried out and the dynamic between these dimensions and the agency instantiations of learners.

2. Setting up the study

An analysis of the language is proposed and presented here as support for claims and discussions concerning the learning that takes place in the transition from university to professional practice. The language subjected to analysis is that employed by beginning and experienced teachers who are exploring in interviews their histories of transgressing from the university-based training programs onto the practices of the classrooms and schools.

This analysis is part of a larger comparative study exploring how beginning teachers form their understanding of the practical context of the school once they have graduated university-based initial teacher education and enter the field of professional practice. The research data in this larger study consist of survey data with 150 Romanian teachers in secondary education and language data from interviews with beginning and experienced teachers, school principals and program administrators from three countries. Data were collected in Romania, Norway and England, over the period of one academic year in 2010-2011. This work was supported by CNCSIS-UEFISCDI, project number RU_PD 21/2010. Findings of this overall research indicate that the ways in which beginning and experienced teachers position themselves and position others in the activity of learning within the school-context, as well as their understandings of learning and mentoring as specific activities are highly dependant on a variety of aspects relating to the institutional, cultural and historical trajectories of the emergent discursive practices they operate with within the context of the school-based learning activities. Forming a relevant understanding of the learning taking place during early stages of professional practice requires approaches that dwell deep into the discursive practices contextualized in individual and inter-individual actions as well as those of the institutional, societal, cultural and historical grounds for learning actions.

2.1. Participants

The participants whose language are analyzed here, are two beginnings and two experienced teachers working in lower secondary education in Romania. These four teachers work in different schools, in two different cities in the northern part of the country. The subjects they teach differ from one teacher to another and include religion, music, math and language.

The participants took part in interviews conducted over the duration of one academic year. Interviews were voice-recorded and transcribed at a later stage.

2.2. Method

Analysis of language data employs the conceptual tools of chronotopical analysis (Bakhtin, 1981; Bloome et al, 2009) and those of positioning theory (Davis and Harré,1990).

Davis and Harré advocate an immanency stance on discursive practice, which prompts them to the notion of position. A subject position incorporates both a conceptual repertoire and a location for persons within the structure of rights for those that use that repertoire.

Bloome et al (2009) employed Bakhtin's (1981) notion of chronotope to analyze pupils' engagement with learning opportunities in teacher-pupils classroom interaction. Chronotopes are understood as sets of assumptions (an ideology) about how people move through time and space and how that movement is related to changes in the person and in the worlds in which she/he participates. The construct of a chronotope focuses attention on how people conceptualize their collective and individual movement through time and space. The authors make a distinction among individually held chronotopes, shared chronotopes, and publicly held chronotopes. By juxtaposing these differing chronotopes participants to activities create learning opportunities, which are social

events in which a person or people are positioned to adopt and adapt (take up) a set of social and cultural practices associated with academic domains (cf. Rex 2006).

3. Findings

In the analysis presented here, excerpts of participants' speeches in interviews are used to illustrate the finer grained analysis of individual narratives of four teachers' experiences during transition periods from university into the classroom practice. Two of the teachers are beginning teachers. The other two are experienced teachers who have performed, on occasion, informal or formal mentoring for teachers-in-training throughout the years. The four teachers' narratives explored here are not connected to one another, as the narrators live, work and have studied in different institutions, and in different cities. Their selection and coupling for the analysis presented here, followed solely a rationale stemming out of the coding phase of analysis, placing emphasis on speech episodes in which the relationship between action-specific tools and narrators' conceptions of learning and teaching was made explicit by those voicing the stories.

In exploring the possible opportunities for action, the language new teachers employ exhibits a manner of negotiating meaning with opposing the school practices which beginners come to recognize as the modus operandi in the institutions where they work and the tools and values of the practices preeminent in the fields of activity related to the subject they teach. The validity and usefulness of the pedagogical tools proposed in the school practices are disputed against those of the subject-related conceptions of knowledge and learning and often they are found to be less significant in the classroom based actions, as conceptions rooted in long-practiced habits of acting with the tools of their subject-knowledge imbue their reasoning and language about pedagogical decision-making. In Excerpt 1, an example of such reasoning is presented in what follows; analysis focuses on how meaning is negotiated.

Excerpt 1 — Dan's exploration of the teaching tools at hand in his early classroom teaching experiences

Dan: "I imagined ... well I imposed myself this standard that in the Religion class there needs to be discipline and an atmosphere almost like in the church so that we feel that what we talk about is something sacred, profound, mysterious not. .joke like. That is why I was very exigent about this and contradiction arose in what better way to discipline them then . in the beginning this is what I have done, I raised my voice, made it harsher, I practiced unannounced written assessments, checked the homework and even gave them lower grades. I had a beginner's eagerness which I applied as I knew better so that I have discipline, but it did not give me the expected results. In the meantime I have learned not to give low grades. I found new ways. I still give them surprise tests because this is rather good in quieting them down. Sometimes I threaten them with low grades, but I only put it in the Class-grade Book in pencil which is not a very professional practice and ... actually we were recommended in teacher council meetings not to do this. Now I try to keep them more occupied by doing something together. It helps a lot I am at this high school where they put at my disposal a video-projector. This helps me immensely. I have my own laptop and I immediately (.) I bring video and audio materials, presentations and in this way I have their attention."

The beginning teacher explores here his experience of classroom based activities, over time. The historicity of his manner of laying out events making up his storyline is evident in the manner of juxtaposing past and present chronotopes. In his talk about events at the very start of his teaching activity the first level where experienced discontinuities are exploring is that situated in between his understanding of the religious church-situated practices and those of the school and classroom. Different motives rooted in different practices are conducive of a decision making process that takes the beginning teacher's reasoning across has analyzed his position in a variety of social situations of development related to his own learning (becoming a priest versus becoming a teacher) as well as that of pupils (pupils becoming better Christians versus pupils being school teenagers). Expected by the school to just fit in without any guidance except for some restrictions related to the school's assessment practices, what seems to

inform the actions of the new teacher in the classroom remains rather an understanding of the children's' social situation of development rooted in the practices and motives of the Orthodox Church.

The beginning teacher's learning agency is obvious in the language he uses to explore his use of one of the school's tools regulating some of the classroom practices concerning assessment- the class-grade book: in juxtaposing individual ("I only put it in the Class-grade Book in pencil"), public ("which is not a very professional practice") and ultimately shared ("and . actually we were recommended in teachers council meetings not to do this") chronotopes , the speaker positions his use of the teaching tools in opposition to the teaching professional practices in and out of the scope of localized school recommendations. His decision to decrease the level of severity in his classroom approach and keep the pupils occupied by providing them with video and audio presentations, is presented as an extension of the tool-uses common to his activity as a priest, placing emphasis on his pastoral abilities at the expense of bending the rules of the school. Borrowing some of the school's tools, i.e. a video projector, is tailored to meet those actions that fit with the order of things in his conception of what the Religion class should be - capturing students' attention towards the message to be preached in the class.

A similar approach to exploring the experiences in the early stages of professional practice is presented in the other beginning teacher's narrative about teaching and learning music. Excerpt 2 introduces, Dana's language, when exploring her experiences in and out of the teacher training program at the university and moving on to the classroom practice.

Excerpt 2: Dana's exploration of the relationship between the music instruments and teaching and learning music

Dana: "at the university's [practicum] we had to fill in a book from a variety of perspectives. As we were in co-repetition we were allowed to go with whomever we wanted. I think this is a better system because it opens your horizon. I mean I get to understand what a kid does in strings, because I steal I don't just sit doing my little job and shutting my eyes to everything else happening. I don't just sit, I ask why is this done, why is he placing his hand that way, things like that. And I know because I used to sing in a choir and I practiced on myself ... well in strings is a bit more difficult. At the university you don't just bump into these things, because we have camera music with just two pianos and this is just not helpful for me in co-repetition, absolutely not."

In this example of speech, similar linguistic mechanisms of juxtaposing past and present, individual and shared chronotopes are employed to help the narrator position herself and position the practices in various spaces of reference (either confined to the university teacher education program, or to the music school, or a choir experience in the speaker's history of studying music). Tools - i.e the musical instruments - are essential to locating, naming and reasoning along spaces of music learning practices which the speaker either identifies as familiar or unfamiliar (piano versus strings), to locating spaces for learning to teach, either positioned as efficient or less so (having or not an opportunity to study a variety of instrument-playing techniques whilst accompanying other musical instruments than the piano) and to extract a personal metaphor for learning music, reasoned to resemble rather 'stealing' than anything else. By opposing action and agency affirming images of learning as 'stealing' to those encapsulated in academic practices of isolating studying instrument playing in singular instrument classes and book filling practices, the beginning teacher creates an opportunity to clearly position herself and her conception of learning and teaching music. This position-taking on the part of the beginning teacher exhibits a manner of exposing and exploring the available teaching and learning tools and practices, far from naive or lacking agency.

Yet, in the language of experienced teachers whom I interviewed, novices to the teaching profession ought to be initiated into the profession by their more seasoned colleagues; learning is envisioned as transmission of 'ready-made' answers stemming out of the practical experience of the mentor to anticipated questions arising in the mind of the beginner, a conception rooted in the experienced teachers' own trajectory of learning through the early stages into the profession or in occasional mentoring experiences. For John, a math teacher with 23 years of classroom experience, all in the same school, the main quality of a mentee he evokes in imagining a mentoring relationship is 'being receptive of what he/she is being told'. Excerpt 3 illustrates this idea in John's words.

Excerpt 3: John's conception of the mentoring relationship

John: first of all to be receptive, so to want this and to accept ...I know even...I have a colleague who is a primary teacher, she did some classes and became a math teacher and in order to get her degree she needed a mentor and I was her mentor. I gave her all the planning nice. She studied it, she analyzed it. As she was a primary teacher up to fourth grade there was no problem in math, but I had to sit in some classes. I got along well with her. She tried to persuade me so I don't write anything bad. I have no bad thoughts but you need to go to all classes, including eight grade. It is obviously more difficult there. I went, I saw, I wrote all 'very good'. It wasn't all very good but she was receptive. She thanked me.

The tool positioned centrally in John's discourse on learning within the mentoring relationship is the 'planning' -which is a teachers' way of documenting the envisioned progress of his/her teaching, an instrument ubiquitously used in the Romanian system of education. This also serves as a control device, as teachers are bound to present their plannings in the beginning of the school year and expected to follow them closely content, objectives and time-wise. His language, primarily structured on active verbs and successions of regent sentences making up for a divide of individual chronotopes - those of mentor's action timespace and those of the mentee's; along this divide what is expected of the learner is 'receptivity' and what is being offered is mentor's own example of teaching , whilst focusing solely on the dimension of the learning contents. Phrased as such, the formative dimension of both teaching and mentoring are reduced to non-existence and a 'teaching by proxy' (Edwards and Protheroe, 2004) model of mentoring is depicted.

A second experienced teacher's language employed in exploring the mentoring and learning throughout the early stages of professional practice comes to support similar claims, whilst positioning 'planning', and 'observing' at the core of the teaching and learning activity. Excerpt 4 presents Jane's words on learning through the first steps into the profession. Jane is a language teacher with 27 years of professional practice in teaching.

Excerpt 4: Jane's approach to exploring learning through the first stages ofprofessional practice in teaching

Jane: you know it seems that then.well now everything seems to become, not formal but.then there were lots of open-lessons, which you cannot see anymore. Now something else it's required, something else, then something else.ehm, and you as a teacher learn easiest sitting in the back and observing someone's class, so not. well the craft one steals teaching is the same thing. So, by observing how a colleague is doing things with another group, you learn and in the teaching methodical group what's being done, the planning, that's how you learn. The teaching methodical group is very welcome that way, that's where they try to integrate the new-comers and prepare them for what follows.

Jane's language displays a dyadic structure of 'now' and 'then' chronotopes. A similar line of reasoning along the thesis of separate time spaces for mentor's learning and beginner's learning is being portrayed in her language. Learning is viewed as transmission of best-practices from more experienced to beginning teachers. The tools taking centrality of both teaching and learning to teach are those confined to planning (i.e'lesson plans', 'learning unit plans', etc).

4. Discussion and conclusion

One common observation to the language employed by the beginning teachers is that it employs in both cases (much like in all other participants' cases in the extended study) a learning mode of speech made of a variety of positioning attempts and juxtaposing individual, shared and public chronotopes, to exhibit and explore participants' journeys through transitioning from university to the work-space. Learning opportunities are made up in their language as opportunities to adopt and adapt (take up) various sets of social and cultural practices associated with the spaces of action where they acted as beginning-teachers and/or teachers-in-training. This comes to confirm

findings in many researches observing that even the most talented and prepared of the beginning teachers enter the classrooms still on a learning mode. However, studies show that when not supported to develop as masters of their teaching act, most of the beginning teachers either leave the profession or fail to adequately respond to the learning needs of their pupils (Cochran-Smith et al, 2008; Grossman and Thompson, 2004).

Albeit the Romanian legislation awards every beginning teacher in the country the benefit of mentoring throughout the early stages of professional practice, in the actual settings of the school practices I have not found a mentoring program in place. In all of the cases in the extended study I have conducted throughout the academic year 2010-2011, beginning teachers was facing and taking on the 'swim or sink' approach to their induction year. New legislative projects proposed in late 2011 and early 2012 announce different approaches to the initial education of teachers (expanding over the beginning years of professional practice as well), yet at the time of collecting the data proposed here for analysis no example of practical mentoring for beginning teachers was found in the schools visited.

Left out to make up their own answers about classroom practice, beginning teachers inform their reading of the classroom setting and related actions from beliefs and conceptions of learning and teaching rooted in their own schooling trajectories and in the observed situational school practices in the institutions where they work as newcomers in the profession. The teaching and learning tools they pick up on being mainly those confined to the practices of the subject they teach. The perspectives for future embodiments of mentoring of newly qualified teachers are somber as in their more experienced colleagues' language, mentoring is mostly a question of best-practice delivery from one generation of professionals to another.

Refe rences

Bakhtin, M.M. (1981) 1981. The dialogic imagination: Four essays, Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Bloome, D., Beierle, M., Grigorenko, M. & Goldman, S. (2009). Learning over time: uses of intercontextuality, collective memories, and classroom chronotopes in the construction of learning opportunities in a ninth-grade language arts classroom. Language and Education, 23, 4, 313-334.

Cochran-Smith, M., Feiman-Nemser, S. & McIntyre, D.J. (Eds.); Demers, K.E. (Assoc. Ed.) (2008). Handbook of Research on Teacher Education: Enduring Questions in Changing Contexts. (3rd ed.). New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group and the Association of Teacher Educators.

Davies, B. & Harré, R. (1990). Positioning: the discursive production of selves. Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 20, 1, 43-63. Edwards. A. & Protheroe. L. (2004). Teaching by proxy: understanding how mentors are positioned in partnerships, Oxford Review of Education, 30, 2, 183-197.

Grossman, P. & Thompson,Cl. (2004). Learning from curriculum materials: Scaffolds for new teachers. Teaching and Teacher Education, 24, 8, 2014-2026.

Lave, J. (1996). The practice of learning, in Chaiklin, S. & Lave, J. (eds.) Understanding Practice: Perspectives on Activity and Context.

Cambridge : Cambridge University Press. Rex, L.A. (ed.) (2006). Discourse of opportunity, how talk in learning situations creates and constrains, Cresskill, NJ: Hampton.