“You Are Learning Well My Dear”: Shifts in Novice Teachers’ Talk About Teaching During Their Internship

Mar. 01, 2015

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, 66(2), March/April 2015, p. 150-169.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this article is understanding shifts in the nature of intern teachers' justifications for their appraisals of instruction.

The data consisted of intern and mentor teacher study group discussions of repeated viewings of an animation representing mathematics classroom practice around the solving of linear equations.
The analysis utilizes Toulmin’s framework of argumentation and the construct of professional obligations from the practical rationality of mathematics teaching.


The data reveal that the claims about the teaching depicted in The Great Divide’s first alternative made by the mentor and intern study groups, as well as the combined study group, are not as dissimilar as one might have predicted.
Both groups state critiques of the Animated Teacher’s moves in the first alternative.
However, there are important distinctions in the warrants and backings provided in the arguments of the intern teachers and mentors, particularly in the fall study groups.

In addition, the authors found contrast in the obligations present in the intern teachers’ justifications for claims about teaching from the study group session in the fall to the combined session in the spring, suggesting that the intern teachers had learned, at minimum, ways that practicing teachers frame arguments about teaching.
In the intern fall study group session, the primary obligation that surfaced in the warrants and backings of the arguments made by intern teachers involved a teacher’s obligation to ensure disciplinary standards were upheld.
In particular, the intern teachers emphasized the importance of supporting students’ learning by allowing multiple, correct methods that exist for solving a given equation to surface.
Like the intern teachers, the mentors voiced dissatisfaction with the teacher’s shift to another problem, arguing that this choice blew a “teachable moment,” in a fall study group discussion. However, they did not discuss the need to have students understand that there are multiple correct ways to solve an equation, nor did they express concerns about Red’s perception of the teacher’s move.
In addition, they discussed multiple interpretations of Blue’s question that would shape different reactions from the teacher.

In this discussion, it was clear that the rationality of practice for teaching solving equations involved mitigating confusion so as to not let individual differences outweigh the instructional needs of the majority.
What was unexpected in the findings were the shifts in intern teachers’ arguments about the animation in the spring combined session, after just a few short months of more intensive teaching experience.
The authors want to emphasize that the alignment between interns’ use of warrants in constructing arguments during the spring session and mentors’ use of warrants in the fall session provides some evidence suggesting that interns are developing an understanding of the variety of obligations incumbent on those who occupy the position of teacher.
Whereas the mentors’ contributions in the spring session were not discernibly different from their contributions in their fall study group, interns’ emerging capacity to use the obligations in the spring is in contrast with a lack of understanding in the fall of why teachers so often seem to pursue their “own agenda.”


The results of this analysis of mentor and intern teachers’ arguments about the teaching of solving equations suggest the usefulness of attending to teachers’ justifications for claims about teaching as one measure of an epistemic framework, which guides teachers’ knowledge-in-action.
The findings suggest that attending to the arguments intern teachers make about classroom practice and the obligations of teaching foregrounded in those arguments is one potentially fruitful way to understand change in how intern teachers are orienting to this new institutional position that they are assuming.
In light of the literature on the ways field experiences such as an internship “wash out” the effects of teacher preparation coursework, it is important to note that, in the fall, the intern teachers had not yet assumed full teaching responsibilities in their mentors’ classrooms and in the spring, they had just begun to assume these responsibilities.

By charting the effects of field experience on teacher preparation as shifts in how intern teachers address obligations of teaching evidenced by warrants for particular teaching moves, it is possible to distinguish what obligations of teaching become more salient in the field and how teacher preparation coursework develops intern teachers’ awareness, or not, of these obligations.
For coursework to have a meaningful influence on what intern and practicing teachers do in the field, it must consider how in the- moment demands of teaching will surface and probe what the possible responses might be to manage those demands.
University-based teacher education needs to help preservice teachers come to grips with the variety of obligations they will feel in inhabiting the position of teacher and provide candidates with ways to warrant ambitious teaching in the terms utilized by practitioners.

This study illustrates that what intern teachers learn in the field cannot be measured by simply attending to the claims they make, as reflective about their beliefs about teaching, or observable practices.
Few professions face such pressing institutional demands as teaching, and even fewer professional preparation programs deal with such strong critiques about their inability to make those institutional demands salient for novices as teacher preparation programs.
As university- based teacher preparation programs retool to address increased pressures for accountability, it will become more necessary to provide evidence that intern teachers are developing the capacity to think like professionals even when their enacted practice is immature.
Attending to intern teachers’ justifications for their claims about teaching practice can be a source of such evidence, and the framework of obligations on the position of teacher can be a means for describing these justifications in a way that can be compared and contrasted with models of seasoned practitioners.

Updated: Feb. 15, 2016


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