This study aims to explore the beliefs preservice teachers hold about effective science teaching and how these are enacted in their teaching practices in classroom settings, by examining these teachers’ discourses during collaborative oral reflection sessions in their early field experiences. Specifically, the following two research questions guide this exploratory study:
Q1: How do collaborative oral reflections reveal preservice teachers’ beliefs about the characteristics of effective science teaching?
Q2: How do collaborative oral reflections demonstrate the quality of preservice teachers’ reflections?
17 preservice teachers from a large Midwestern university were teamed up and placed in three fourth-grade classrooms in the same school. Each team was broken into two sub-teams, one of which took the role of teaching the lessons while the other focused on observing the teaching practices and taking detailed notes, including supporting examples. The sub-teams switched roles every week. After each lesson had been taught by a sub-team, the whole team engaged in collaborative oral reflection for 30 to 40 minutes. Questions were provided to guide their discussions, such as how effective lesson was and what evidence they had of students’ learning. Each team’s three science collaborative oral reflections were videotaped and used as data for this study. Specifically, nine video-taped sessions by the three teams of preservice teachers over three weeks were transcribed verbatim and used as the final data for this study. The transcriptions included detailed descriptions of teaching and learning activities related to the preservice teachers’ beliefs about effective science teaching, from both the teachers’ own and the observers’ perspectives. For the first research question, constant comparative analysis was used as an analytical tool, guided by grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Strauss & Corbin, 2008). For the second research question, Harland and Wondra’s (2011) framework of depth of reflection (DoR) was used to evaluate the quality of their reflections.
The constant comparative analysis revealed five major themes in the reflections that revealed the preservice teachers’ beliefs about what constituted effective science teaching: (1) students’ engagement, (2) students’ scientific understanding, (3) teaching strategy, (4) technology integration, and (5) classroom/time management. Table 2 presents the definition of themes emerged and Table 3 describes examples for each theme. Most of the collaborative oral reflections (50%) were evaluated at level 2: understanding. Another 46.3% were rated level 3: reflection. Only 2% and 1% respectively were rated levels 1 and 4.
The findings of this study have valuable theoretical and practical implications. Although classroom and time management were regarded as a major criterion of teaching effectiveness, which was often recognized as characteristic of inexperienced teachers and an indicator of low-quality reflection (Barnhart & van Es, 2015), the participants also considered whether their teaching helped their students gain scientific understanding and improved their engagement and enthusiasm in learning science, as Cone (2012) reported. In addition, they reflected on their teaching strategies from a constructivist point of view by discussing how to give appropriate scaffoldings and how to encourage students to actively construct their knowledge. These points are consistent with Seung et al.’s (2011) finding that preservice teachers held multiple views, especially traditional and constructivist perspectives, on effective science teaching.
The findings extend our knowledge by adding the theme of appropriate technology use as a condition of effective science teaching. The preservice teachers discussed how technology helped or could have helped them maximize their students’ meaningful learning experiences. In addition, they expressed frustrations about some unexpected difficulties in integrating technology into their lessons and at not gaining the expected benefits of using technology in their teaching. This finding indicates that science teacher educators need to attend to developing and cultivating preservice teachers’ technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPCK) in a manner that can be applied to their field experiences.
The participants also considered the encouragement of students’ agency and active, meaningful involvement in scientific inquiry to be another criterion of effective science teaching. The preservice teachers valued teaching strategies that allowed students to investigate scientific phenomena on their own, at their own pace, and explain their reasoning to peers, and took this to indicate effective teaching. Although the concept of student agency has been gathering growing attention from science educators, it does not yet have an explicit operationalized definition in the field (Arnold & Clarke, 2014). Efforts will be needed to theorize the term in a way specific to science education and that helps preservice teachers develop strategies for promoting students’ agency.
In this study, we also looked at how collaborative oral reflection demonstrated the quality of preservice teachers’ reflections in their early field experiences. Although the DoL for the participants’ comments varied from level 1 (non-reflection) to level 4 (critical reflections), most comments were rated at levels 2 and 3 (understanding and reflection). Especially, almost 47% of preservice teachers’ comments demonstrated engagement in the high-level reflection processes of levels 3 and 4. This finding is inconsistent with previous reports, such as Arrastia et al. (2014), and Ulusoy (2016), which found poor quality in preservice teachers’ reflections from their early reflective experiences. It could certainly be the case that becoming expert in reflective practice requires development and the practice of reflective practice likely will become deeper as teachers continue the practice.
Unlike in previous studies, the participants in this study worked as teams of observers and teachers; they included peer observation as a component of their field experience model and collaboratively and orally reflected on their teaching practices as teams. The higher quality of the reflections found in this study than in the aforementioned ones confirms the applicability of Dewey’s theory of experience, which prioritizes the role of communities of colleagues in facilitating individuals’ reflection skills, and puts it in line with other studies highlighting the role of collaborative communities in reflection (Schmidt, 2010). These findings suggest that preservice teachers can demonstrate high-quality reflection skills even without long-term training when the field experience program provides an environment in which they can engage in collaborative oral reflection.”
Mina Min (email@example.com) is an Assistant Professor in Elementary Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Appalachian State University. Her scholarship focuses on teacher agency, motivation, and change in the context of educational reforms, elementary teacher education, teachers’ curriculum practices for students from underrepresented and marginalized populations, and global–local constructions of democracy and citizenship identity. She approaches these topics from comparative, international, socio-cultural and critical perspectives. To contact Mina Min, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org