Teacher educators’ conceptions of modeling: A phenomenographic study attention allocation

August, 2020

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education. 2020, Vol. 94.

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The present study investigated the conceptions of modeling held by teacher educators. In order to create a deeper understanding of the modeling practices enacted by teacher educators, this article reports the results of a phenomenographic study that explored the conceptions on modeling in twenty-four teacher educators.
The author thinks that exploring this particular issue from this research approach will help expand a more comprehensive and holistic understanding of the modeling practices enacted by teacher educators, by understanding how these conceptions of modeling are expressed and how they influence the teacher educators’ modeling teaching practices when teaching about teaching. 


Research questions
The purpose of this research is aimed at exploring the conceptions of modeling held by mathematics teacher educators.
The following research questions guide this study:
• What are the conceptions of modeling held by mathematics teacher educators?
• How are these conceptions linked to the pedagogical reasoning that underlies their teaching practices?

Research approach
This study used a phenomenographic research approach directed at exploring the conceptions of modeling held by teacher educators (Åkerlind, 2018; Lam, 2018; Rovio-Johansson & Ingerman, 2016; Tight, 2016).

Participants were selected using purposive sampling, and a total of twenty-four teacher educators working in three Chilean primary teacher education programs participated in this research.

Data collection
Data were collected through semi-structured interviews, as this method allows participants to describe and reflect on their own experiences regarding the phenomenon under study (Åkerlind, 2005b).
Open-ended questions were used in the interview to understand the positioning of the teacher educator, allowing the participants to focus on those aspects of the issue which appear most relevant to them.
The interview protocol included questions about their experience as a teacher educator, their role as a teaching model, the way they modeled teaching for their students, and the types of pedagogical reasoning they shared with their students, among other factors.

Findings and discussion
This study explored the different conceptions that teacher educators have regarding modeling.
The findings identified four categories of description: modeling as a means for
(A) teaching pedagogical strategies;
(B) recreating a teacher-student relationship;
(C) enacting a congruent teaching approach, and
(D) developing teaching linked to the school classroom.
Besides, four dimensions of variation were found among the categories of description: the role of the teacher educator, the role of the student teacher, the teacher educator focus, and the expected impact.
Furthermore, these categories of description of modeling and its dimensions of variation were present similarly in teacher educators who teach courses with an emphasis on content or pedagogical knowledge.
In other words, the experience of modeling is a common phenomenon across the board in the work of teacher educators, and they, as a professional collective, experience challenges, concerns, and tasks related to the practice of modeling alike.
The author notes that what is relevant about these findings is the evidence that conceptions of modeling vary from the notion of the role of teacher educators as a transmissive practice, aimed at delivering specific pedagogical strategies that student teachers reproduce in the classroom, to perceiving teacher educators as agents of change who encourage student teachers to produce knowledge about teaching within a specific school context.
Also, the more complex conception of modeling strengthens the student teachers’ professional learning and allows for the improvement of school teaching.
Another interesting aspect worth noting is that the conceptions of modeling present in this study are in line with the definition of the types of modeling proposed by Lunenberg et al. (2007), which vary depending on the degree of explicitness, the connections made between theory and practice, and the student teacher’s role in the process.
For example, the results indicate that within a conception of modeling focused on teaching pedagogical activities, teacher educators encourage their students to replicate these activities, which could be ultimately understood as explicit modeling (Lunenberg et al., 2007).
On the other hand, other conceptions about modeling are not as transparent in terms of how explicit they are, and the teacher educator’s description does not evidence this clearly either.
Regarding the link between theory and practice in teaching, the findings suggest a need to rethink how conceptions of modeling can impact the way teacher educators teach and, consequently, the way they develop knowledge for teaching on student teachers.
For example, a conception of modeling focused on teaching pedagogical activities places greater emphasis on enhancing the students’ teaching repertoire.
Therefore, the learning of teaching may become limited to a preconceived idea of what teachers should learn as ‘tips and tricks’ (Korthagen, 2017; Loughran et al., 2016).
Similarly, a conception of modeling aimed at recreating pedagogical interactions underscores the relationship that teachers should establish with their students to achieve learning.
To this end, teacher educators model empathy and respect for their students, so that student teachers can transfer those characteristics into their own teaching.
From this perspective, the learning of teaching is restricted to the notion of a socialization process aimed at developing a professional relationship with learners.
On the other hand, a conception of modeling as a way of enacting congruent teaching starts considering the knowledge that supports the practice of teaching, allowing student teachers to learn how to teach by linking theory and practice.
Finally, a conception of modeling aimed at establishing a form of teaching linked to the school classroom makes it possible to learn how to teach by unpacking the knowledge and pedagogical reasoning at the core of school teaching.
The gap between theoretical knowledge and practical work in the classroom is overcome when student teachers develop knowledge for teaching from a situated perspective, which implies a more realistic pedagogy and approach to the teaching endeavor (Korthagen, 2017).
In this regard, Grossman et al. (2009) argue that teacher educators prepare student teachers for their future decision-making in the classroom; therefore, they are responsible for developing both conceptual and practical aspects in the teaching models learned by student teachers.
Concerning the degree of student teacher involvement in the modeling they experience, this study encourages us to rethink how conceptions of modeling influence the perspective and role assigned to student teachers.
For example, in the first three conceptions of modeling, the teacher educator places greater emphasis on student learning inside the university classroom, putting them in the role of passive apprentices.
On the other hand, the conception of modeling that articulates teaching linked to the school classroom positions students as future teachers who analyze, discuss, and reflect on school teaching to improve it.
From that perspective, student teachers realize the challenges they will encounter as future teachers, receiving feedback on their decisions and the teaching strategies they adopt (Grossman et al., 2009; Janssen et al., 2015).

Åkerlind, G. (2005b). Variation and commonality in phenomenographic research methods. Higher Education Research and Development, 31, 321e334.
Åkerlind, G. (2018). What future for phenomenographic research? On continuity and development in the phenomenography and variation theory research tradition. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 62(6), 949e958. 
Grossman, P., Hammerness, K., & McDonald, M. (2009). Redefining teaching, reimagining teacher education. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 15(2), 273e289. 
Janssen, F., Grossman, P., & Westbroek, H. (2015). Facilitating decomposition and recomposition in practice-based teacher education: The power of modularity. Teaching and Teacher Education, 51, 137e146. 
Korthagen, F. (2017). Inconvenient truths about teacher learning: Towards professional development 3.0. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 23(4), 387e405.
Lam, H. (2018). The phenomenography tradition in the study of classroom teaching. International Journal of Research and Method in Education, 45(5), 513e524.
Loughran, J., Keast, S., & Cooper, R. (2016). Pedagogical reasoning in teacher education. In J. Loughran, & M. L. Hamilton (Eds.), International handbook of teacher education, ume 1 pp. 387e421). Singapore: Springer Singapore. 
Lunenberg, M., Korthagen, F., & Swennen, A. (2007). The teacher educator as a role model. Teaching and Teacher Education, 23(5), 586e601.
Rovio-Johansson, A., & Ingerman, Å. (2016). Continuity and development in the phenomenography and variation theory tradition. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 60(3), 257e271.
Tight, M. (2016). Phenomenography: The development and application of an innovative research design in higher education research. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 19(3), 319e338. 

Updated: Oct. 20, 2020