Finding Possibility in Pitfalls: The Role of Permeable Methods Pedagogy in Preservice Teacher Learning

Jul. 01, 2016

Source: Teachers College Record, Volume 118, No. 7, July 2016.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this study was to examine how opportunities to learn to teach writing in preservice preparation mediated candidates’ appropriation of tools for teaching writing.

The author used a qualitative, comparative case approach to focus on two university-based programs, which helped to identify differences in the nature of activity in settings for learning to teach writing.
The participants were the literacy methods course instructors from two university preparation programs (Madrona and Altavista) and 20 candidates enrolled in these courses.
Data were collected through instructor interviews, methods course observations, teacher candidate focus groups, and field placement observations.


In this study, the author compared between tools and processes across two university preparation programs in United States.
The author found that while the candidates in the Madrona program demonstrated a fairly sophisticated appropriation of writing workshop tools, the Altavista candidates appropriated a wide array of tools at a surface level.
As part of their appropriation processes, Madrona candidates thought about the relative merits of tools they encountered by considering them in light of tools they had appropriated in their methods course. Thus, the concentering process mediated candidates’ uptake, revision, or rejection of the tools they encountered in their placements, in the methods course and with writing in and outside of school.
This permeable setting in Madrona program supported candidates to develop habits of thinking about pedagogical tools, habits that facilitated uptake of integrated instructional frameworks.
However, methods activity in Altavista program focused almost exclusively on the tools and tasks presented in that setting. This circumscribed approach did not support sense-making across settings, which was reflected in the fragmented nature of teacher candidates’ pedagogical tool uptake.


The finding that Madrona candidates appropriated methods course tools, suggests that contradictions need not be obstacles to appropriation and, in fact, can function as catalysts for learning. This was certainly the case at Altavista where, absent supported opportunities to engage contradictions across settings, contradictions became obstacles to candidates’ learning.
Sense-making activity in the Madrona methods course also moved fluidly between the conceptual and practical dimensions of pedagogy to answer particular questions of practice while ever-refining answers to the broader questions of the what, how, and why of writing instruction.

The author focuses on implications for methods courses specifically. Two practical implications for creating permeable methods course activity include getting to know candidates and designing activities in which their experiences across settings are engaged in productive ways.
The author argues that in order to learn about candidates’ identities as well as their experiences with the subject matter as students, and in program settings, teacher educators could use formative assessments. Visits to partner schools could help instructors to better understand candidates’ placement experiences and to mediate candidates’ sense-making across settings. In this study, conceptual tools provided this support by anchoring sense-making across settings.
Furthermore, collaborations between literacy methods educators to theorize a curriculum of knowledge, principles, and practices for writing instruction would provide a starting point for the work.


The author concludes that using cultural–historical approach to analysis illuminated how setting activity and processes of appropriation were mutually constitutive, mediating factors in candidates’ appropriation of pedagogical tools. The findings suggest that tensions in teacher education might be reframed as sites for learning by engaging them in ways that honor the complexity of teaching and knowledge from a range of professionals who engage in this work.

Updated: Apr. 19, 2017