Organizing physics teacher professional education around productive habit development: A way to meet reform challenges

Jan. 30, 2017

Source: Physical Review Physics Education Research. Volume 13, Issue 1, January - June 2017

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Teaching as a Habitual Activity

In addition to the widely agreed upon characteristics of effective teacher preparation, the authors propose that another important, yet often underconsidered component of teacher preparation is the formation of habits.
This echoes the perspective taken by John Dewey (1922), when he considered habits as playing a central role in human thought and behavior.
The authors adopt the following definition of “habit” as the starting point of their discussion: “an automatic reaction to a specific situation.”
The aim of the authors in this paper is to allow teacher educators to consider habit formation as it relates to more established ways of conceptualizing teacher preparation.
In line with their aim, they propose, for the purpose of this paper, that a teacher’s habits have their roots in her dispositions, knowledge, and skills—three established concepts in the teacher education literature.

Development of habits in preservice teachers
The authors claim that one of the goals of a teacher preparation program should be to give attention to the development of productive habits and phasing out (or replacing) unproductive ones that preservice teachers (PSTs) may bring with them into the program. Some habits will be productive for all teachers, some may be particularly important for teachers in specific disciplines, and some will only be present in specific disciplines, such as physics.
If one of the goals of a teacher preparation program is to affect PSTs’ habits, the authors claim that programs need to set up conditions that will allow for the emergence of productive and phasing out of unproductive habits.
In order for prospective teachers to acquire new habits, conditions need to be set up in which their existing but unproductive habits will not function anymore and in which new habits will emerge.
New habits need new conditions, different from those that invoke and cement the old habits.
This means that if a program takes habit formation in PSTs seriously, it should aim to provide PSTs with a suitable physical, social, and intellectual environment—a community of practice — that sets up, sustains, and perpetuates conditions for the formation of productive habits, which will serve new teachers well when they leave the program.

Productive Physics Teacher Habits Informed by New Standards

The authors describe the habits that they think are important to be formed before a newly minted physics teacher goes out into the world.
These habits should help the teacher create a classroom consistent with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), where all students are engaged in the exploration of disciplinary core ideas by practicing science and building their knowledge on cross-cutting concepts.
This new 21st century learning environment that needs to be created demands different habits compared to the habits of a teacher in the 20th century.
Not only do the recommendations of the NGSS call for different teaching but everything that is known about brain structure and function, conditions for learning, and specifically how people learn physics, makes it necessary to reconceptualize the teaching of physics and other subjects and consequently, the habits that a physics teacher (or any other teacher for that matter) needs to develop.
The authors outline productive habits of mind, of practice, of maintenance, and of leadership,which a physics teacher education needs to inculcate in PSTs.
They outline the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that undergird such habits.
They note that some of those habits are useful for all teachers; some others, for all science teachers.

Three Mechanisms for Productive Habit Formation
The authors then discuss the mechanisms through which physics teacher preparation programs can help future physics teachers. 
Starting from the perspective that learners of all kinds bring a rich fund of ideas, PSTs bring to the program their own views of what constitutes physics learning and good teaching.
Unfortunately, often these views are based on the experience with traditional instruction.
Thus, if educators wish that future teachers develop the habits described above, the authors propose that a program needs to integrate three components:
(a) extensive apprenticeship-based clinical practice,
(b) in-depth coursework on the learning and teaching of high school physics, and
(c) the care and feeding of a rich community of practice (Wenger 1998).

Implications and Research Agendas
The authors emphasize that a major goal of this paper has been to make the case for the importance of organizing physics teacher education programs around the development of productive habits by future teachers.
Thus, taking this organizing principle to its logical conclusion, a testable implication emerges: physics teacher education programs that do not provide adequate opportunities for prospective teachers to develop the requisite habits are unlikely to produce novice teachers who can handle the demands of the classroom in ways that are consistent with the vision of the NGSS.
The authors point out that several research questions emerge from this premise:
What are some of the most significant habits for physics teachers to develop, and toward which desired outcome?
How will we measure the degree to which the knowledge, skills, and dispositions underlying these habits are being attained?
How may habit development be operationalized and measured?
What are some efficient ways in which programs can provide opportunities for students to develop these habits? What constitutes an adequate number of opportunities to develop these habits?
In conclusion, the authors invite the PTE community to engage with the substance of their major claim, namely, that ensuring the development of productive habits is an important goal of physics teacher education and, consequently, that an intentional enumeration of the specific central habits that are valued by a given local instantiation should guide the very design of the corresponding PTE program.

J. Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct (Henry Holt and Company, New York, NY, 1922)
E. Wenger, Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 1998) 

Updated: Sep. 12, 2019