Understanding the reasoning of pre-service teachers: a think-aloud study using contextualised teaching scenarios

August, 2019

Source: Teacher Development, 23:4, 425-446

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study seeks to understand what informs pre-service teachers’ reasoning, process of thinking through actions, and/or choices made when confronted with the contextualised teaching scenarios.
These scenarios, when presented as SJTs (situational judgement test), can indirectly reveal the beliefs, motivations and feelings underlying reasoning.
Therefore, the authors asked:
(1) What concepts (key themes) describe the reasoning of pre-service teachers when responding to a contextualised SJT scenario?
(2) What inferences can be drawn on what informs the pre-service teachers’ reasoning?


The current study used a qualitative case study research design.
Researchers purposefully selected and interviewed 12 participants at the beginning of a two-year postgraduate teacher education program.
To form the cases, they purposefully selected six elementary and six secondary from a total of 148 pre-service teachers who had previously completed a 60-minute paper–pencil SJT-based questionnaire (elementary and secondary teaching versions). The 12 participants took part in individual think aloud (TA) interviews and were considered typical and representative of the general population.

Data sources and analyses
Data were collected using TA interviews since understanding decision-making requires complex and rich data from individuals (Fonteyn, Kuipers, and Grobe 1993; Kuipers and Kassirer 1984).
The TA interviews were individually conducted, with all interactions with the researcher kept to a minimum so as not to interfere with the participants’ flow of reasoning and to avoid over-influencing participants (Charters 2003).
The process of ‘thinking aloud’ allowed the researchers to gather rich data on the complexity of the decision-making that was occurring for individual participants.
By combining the use of an SJT (a non-academic attribute selection item) with the TA method, the researchers were able to explore the reasoning and motivations/beliefs behind the participants’ choices in response to a contextualised teaching scenario.
The pre-service teachers were asked to respond to two SJT scenarios.
The two scenarios were contextualised to suit the stage of teaching and relevant to the pre-service teachers’ stage of development.
This advanced understanding of what informed the pre-service teachers’ reasoning and choice in all of the three non-academic domains (empathy and communication, resilience and adaptability, and organisation and planning) previously identified as necessary for effective teaching (Klassen et al. 2017).

Conclusions and implications
In conclusion the authors note that the original purpose of using TAs was to gain understanding of the beliefs, motivations and feelings that informed the reasoning of pre-service teachers as they consider engaging in the complex realities of teaching.
The researchers believed this understanding would lead to a greater knowledge of and help to explain the role of non-academic attributes used in solving complex teaching scenarios.
In addition, findings from this study could potentially contribute to the development of a scenario-based method of teachers’ professional learning since SJTs are proving to be valuable training tools (e.g. Cox et al. 2017).
What was revealed was that for pre-service teachers in this study, the non-academic attribute of adaptability was required when acting according to their perception of a prescribed professional manner.
Being able to deal with complex interpersonal relationships and differing expectations meant that resilience became important.
For those pre-service teachers with non-academic attributes in the area of organisation and planning, it seemed that they were more able to reason through a solution to the scenario in a logical and decisive manner.
Reasoning through issues of respect and power in a relationship required the pre-service teachers to possess the non-academic attribute of empathy for others, while the ability to participate in interpersonal communication was viewed as particularly important.

The pre-service teachers’ non-academic attributes became evident when unpacking the reasoning and choices made when responding to complex teaching scenarios.
This is useful information as it indicated that non-academic attributes play a significant role in the preservice teacher’s ability to reason through a teaching problem. Understanding how these nonacademic attributes are applied in complex teaching situations, and what motivates preservice teachers, is important for predicting how pre-service teachers will respond to ‘real’ teaching situations.
This has implications for teacher education programs, selection of candidates into teaching, and the support and professional learning of pre-service and beginning teachers.
The authors note that this research is significant as it draws awareness to the task of teacher education programs in providing an opportunity for pre-service teachers to work through complex reasoning tasks that require key non-academic attributes in order to reach a satisfactory solution.
It has implications on how to support future teachers’ development in nonacademic areas.
Moreover, the research responds to the current call for teacher education providers to understand more accurately the role of pre-service teachers’ nonacademic attributes in developing effective teachers.

Charters, E. 2003. “The Use of Think-Aloud Methods in Qualitative Research: An Introduction to Think-Aloud Methods.” Brock Education Journal 12 (2): 68–82. doi:10.26522/brocked.v12i2.38
Cox, C. B., L. G. Barron, W. Davis, and B. de la Garza. 2017. “Using Situational Judgment Tests (SJTs) in Training: Development and Evaluation of a Structured, Low-Fidelity Scenario-Based Training Method.” Personnel Review 46 (1): 36–45. doi:10.1108/pr-05-2015-0137
Fonteyn, M. E., B. Kuipers, and S. J. Grobe. 1993. “A Description of Think Aloud Method and Protocol Analysis.” Qualitative Health Research 3 (4): 430–441. doi:10.1177/104973239300300403.
Klassen, R. M., T. L. Durksen, F. Patterson, and E. Rowett. 2017. “Filtering Functions of Assessment for Selection into Initial Teacher Education Programs.” In The Sage Handbook of Research on Teacher Education, edited by J. Clandinin and J. Husu, 893–909. London, UK: Sage Publishers
Kuipers, B., and J. P. Kassirer. 1984. “Causal Reasoning in Medicine: Analysis of a Protocol.” Cognitive Science 8 (4): 363–385. doi:10.1207/s15516709cog0804_3 

Updated: Aug. 07, 2020