Educative Mentoring: How a Mentor Supported a Preservice Biology Teacher’s Pedagogical Content Knowledge Development

Oct. 01, 2015

Source: Journal of Science Teacher Education Vol. 26, Issue 7, p. 647–668, (November, 2015)
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this study is to describe the strategies used by a highly regarded, secondary biology mentor teacher to foster a preservice biology teacher’s pedagogical content knowledge (PCK).

Data were collected through transcripts of audio-recorded, daily meetings between the mentor and the preservice teacher during two curriculum units: DNA/Protein Synthesis and Evolution, researcher field notes from weekly observations of the pair’s conversations during their 46-min plan period, individual mentor and mentee weekly reflections regarding mentoring, and transcripts from six interviews.

The participants were a female teacher mentor, who holds a B.S. in Science Education and a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction. She had 25 years of teaching experience, eight prior student teachers, and participated in a 2-day university-sponsored workshop for mentor teachers.
The preservice teacher was a 23-year-old male undergraduate seeking a B.S.Ed. in biology. He was completing his final semester, a 16-week, full-time student teaching experience in the mentor teacher’s classroom. He was enrolled in a teacher education program at a large, Midwestern university with very high research activity.


In this study, the mentoring was exclusively focused on beliefs about effective science teaching and how students’ learn science. The mentor influenced the PST’s teaching orientation by repeatedly comparing teacher- and student-centered approaches, asking him to consider how students learn, and asking him to self-assess whether his instruction aligned with his teaching beliefs.

The mentor teacher helped preservice teacher understand why he should teach in particular ways. The mentor also helped the mentee develop his topic-specific knowledge of students’ understanding of science by discussing common misconceptions revealed in students’ conversations and examination responses. She modeled ways for the mentee to access students’ misconceptions. Furthermore, she gave him the opportunity to essentially freeze time and consider possible teacher actions.
In reflecting on her action, she made her reflection in action explicit and visible to the mentee. This strategy epitomizes the mentor’s consistent efforts to make her pedagogical decisions and reform-based science teaching strategies transparent. That transparency afforded the preservice teacher the opportunity to consider what his students were saying about evolution and to reconsider how he might have responded.

Conclusion and Implications

This case study revealed an educative science mentor’ strategies for helping a PST develop PCK. Through the use of other mentoring strategies, e.g., critical reflection of instructional strategies, illumination of students’ misconceptions, and discussion of curriculum sequencing, the mentor helped the preservice teacher develop robust PCK for teaching DNA, protein synthesis, and evolution. These strategies allowed her to move beyond the mere advice giving that typifies less egalitarian mentoring and facilitate the PST’s transformation into a practitioner with more sophisticated PCK.

This study offers important implications for research and practice. First, participants’ independent use of audio-recording devices allowed to capture the day-to-day interaction between mentor and mentee without the influence of a researcher. Both participants reported they found this data collection method easy to use, unobtrusive, and non-influential as it became second nature over time. The authors recommend the use of audio-recording devices for capturing daily mentor–mentee interaction.

Second, this study offers practical implications for science teacher educators, particularly those who work with and provide professional development for mentors. This case illuminates mentoring strategies that should be shared with mentor teachers.

Updated: Jul. 04, 2017