Making Meaning in Student Teaching

May. 02, 2012

Source: Action in Teacher Education, Volume 34, Issue 2, p. 146-158, 2012.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article examines the way the teacher candidates used their understandings of their roles and relationships to construct instances of success.

This qualitative study used the Subject Object Interview (SOI), an instrument developed by Kegan and colleagues (Lahey, Souvaine, Kegan, Goodman, & Felix, 1988) to measure an individual's order of consciousness and use analytic induction.
The author used Kegan's (1982, 1994) theory of constructive developmentalism as a guide to examine themes within and across cases.
Data were collected through focus groups and interviews.
The participants were two female teacher candidates, who enrolled in a nationally recognized Secondary Education program at a mid-Atlantic state university.


These participants had the same content major, took the same teaching coursework, and had the same programmatic expectations for student teaching.
Both deemed their student teaching internship as a successful learning experience, and they received a passing grade.
However, the candidates differed in their personal epistemologies or what Kegan (1982) called orders of consciousness, which referred to the different ways an individual made meaning of everyday events and relationships.

One of the teacher candidates defined success through the lens of external opinions and feedback from her cooperating teachers and university supervisors.
She had a difficult time in a portion of her student teaching because her cooperating teacher was not giving her feedback.
Making meaning from the third order, this lack of feedback left her without a way of knowing whether she was successful: she was unable to define that conclusion based on her own values and evaluations.
Ultimately, she received the feedback she craved from her university supervisor and her students and thus was able to judge her experience as a success.

The other participant also valued feedback, but operating from a 3/4 perspective, she made meaning of this feedback in a different way.
She had goals and standards that she hoped to meet during student teaching.
Showing some third-order perspective, she did not feel confident that she could know that she met these goals successfully without some outside perspective.
However, she also demonstrated development toward the fourth order in that she felt she could use the feedback as a tool or even reject a method favored by her cooperating teacher.
Rather than depending on external sources to tell her if she was doing the right thing, this participant saw herself as an able participant in finding a pathway to her success.

Conclusion and Implications

This study highlighted the differences in meaning making at different orders of consciousness.
The difference in their constructions of success reflected the variance in these candidates' orders of consciousness: one student operated from a perspective in which external feedback and relationships defined the self, and the other was evolving toward an epistemology based on her self-authored interpretation of events and relationships.

The findings of this study have implications for the way teacher education programs encourage and challenge candidates to think about teaching before they enter student teaching.
The author suggests that teacher education programs can foster an awareness that many teacher candidates may be operating from the third order of consciousness; that is, they will be looking for clear explanations of their role and will crave an authority to help them know what they should and should not do.
In this case, a teacher education program must be a strong presence, either by substantial training of its cooperating teachers or by a more constant presence from the program in the student teaching placement.

Kegan, R. (1982). The evolving self. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Lahey, L., Souvaine, E., Kegan, R., Goodman, R., & Felix, S. (1988). A guide to the subject-object interview: Its administration and interpretation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Graduate School of Education, Laboratory of Human Development.

Updated: Mar. 19, 2015