Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, 44:5, 611-626
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
To understand the potential influence of out-of-field (OOF) teaching on the development of newly hired teachers’ enacted pedagogical content knowledge (ePCK), this study followed a group of science teachers during their first 3 years.
The 17 physical science teachers had different in-field or OOF assignments.
Qualitative methods were used to describe the differences and development of their ePCK.
This study specifically asked the question, ‘How does the ePCK of in-field and OOF physical science teachers change over the first 3 years of their teaching careers?’
A longitudinal cross-case study was designed to explain the development and variation of ePCK among in-field and OOF newly hired secondary science teachers.
Looking at in-field and OOF teachers as cases can bring out the similarities and differences between cases and help build a deeper understanding and explanation of the development of ePCK.
This study attempted to provide a rich contextual understanding of the research problem, and the results are not prescriptive.
A cross-case analysis helps increase the potential for generalisability or transferability of the findings (Miles, Huberman, and Saldaña 2020).
The participants in the study were 17 newly hired secondary science teachers in the US Southwest, Midwest, and East Coast regions.
They were a purposeful sample (Bogdan and Biklen 2003), which came from a larger study on beginning secondary science teachers (see Luft et al. 2011).
The sample consisted of teachers who taught physics or physical science as some part or all of their teaching assignments.
A physics course covered physics topics, while a physical science course covered a combination of physics, chemistry, and often earth and space science.
A majority of the participants taught in public schools in urban areas that varied in the number of English language learners (ELLs) and the number of students receiving free and reduced lunches (an indicator of poverty in the US).
Two types of data were collected during the study: classroom observations and reflective semi-structured interviews.
Park (2019) suggested using classroom observations and interviews to identify elements of ePCK.
Classroom observations, in the form of participant observations, involved observing the instructional practices of the teachers.
Classrooms were observed four times during each year of the study.
The observations captured the actions of the teachers, the lesson topic and its enactment, interactions of the teacher and the students, the general atmosphere of the class, and the comfort level of the teacher handling the instructional material.
This observational process was guided by Bogdan and Biklen (2003).
Artefacts like electronic slides and instructional materials used in the class were also collected at the time of the observation.
These artefacts provided additional information about the teachers’ instruction and how they decided to represent the instructional topic to their students.
PCK interviews were done two times a year, at the beginning of the school year and the end of the school year.
The PCK interviews were designed by Lee et al. (2007) and probed the instructional decision-making process of the teachers and explored how the teachers planned a lesson on a disciplinary topic.
Two focal areas guided the interview:
(a) teachers’ thinking about their students, which included teachers’ contemplation of their students’ prior knowledge, their considerations about the students’ various approaches to learning, and their thoughts about students’ difficulties with specific science concepts; and
(b) teachers’ thinking about instructional strategies used in science, which focused on the teachers’ consideration and potential use of practices associated with doing science and representations of the content to scaffold learning (Lee et al. 2007).
These areas were captured by having the teachers discuss a specific lesson they taught, which they felt went well in terms of student learning.
As the teacher discussed the lesson, the interviewer specifically asked probing questions about student learning and instructional design.
These interviews provided insights into the decision making of the teacher (ePCK).
The interviews lasted 30–45 minutes and were ultimately transcribed.
Findings and discussion
The authors’ results suggest three important points about the development of ePCK.
First, this study revealed that OOF teaching impacts the development of a teacher’s ePCK in the physical sciences.
Specifically, the OOF setting kept early career teachers from strengthening their ePCK over time, which pertained to the ways they represented science in their classrooms and how they interacted with students.
In this study, the infield science teachers created instructional environments that helped students see how science proceeds or the complexity of a science concept.
OOF teachers, on the other hand, focused on facts or definitions associated with the instructional topic.
The OOF teachers’ limited ePCK was likely due to their limited subject matter knowledge (SMK) and the time they spent in OOF settings.
SMK is essential in the formation of PCK (e.g. Gess-Newsome 1999; Kind and Chan 2019; Park and Oliver 2008).
Rich SMK has connections between topics, which are emphasised in ePCK and found in pPCK.
A rich SMK helps teachers respond to students’ emerging ideas (Alonzo, Kobarg, and Seidel 2012; Park and Oliver 2008).
Likely, the OOF teachers did not have foundational connections within the disciplines they were teaching.
These connections are likely in the reservoirs of pPCK.
In the absence of these connections, OOF science teachers had a limited representation of the topics in their classes. For OOF teachers, the sum of the variations within their SMK and the duration of OOF teaching events impacted their ePCK.
Second, in-field and OOF teachers had fluctuating ePCK that signalled they were building their knowledge of student learning and instruction in their early years of teaching.
Most in-field and OOF teachers revealed higher levels of ePCK in their 2nd year of teaching, with lower levels of ePCK in their 1st and 3rd years.
This fluctuation demonstrates that newly hired teachers are just building their teaching knowledge.
This finding is similar to other studies that have revealed changes in the general PCK of newly hired science teachers (e.g. Lee et al. 2007; Luft et al. 2011).
More importantly, this fluctuation in PCK may be attributed to the different experiences of the teachers, as suggested by Kind and Chan (2019).
For newly hired teachers, their ePCK is just forming and is the result of varying experiences with the content they are teaching in the context of the curriculum and their peers and students.
Different experiences will impact the formation of ePCK.
Over time, these experiences may not have such a significant impact.
A reservoir of pPCK may help decrease but not eliminate the fluctuation of ePCK.
Third, the results of the study suggest that being OOF is important to recognise among newly hired teachers.
The prevailing discourse about newly hired teachers suggests that all teachers generally learn to teach in the same way (Feiman-Nemser 2010).
This view is supported by studies of newly hired teachers that show no significant difference in instruction between early career teachers with a strong physics background and those with a limited physics content knowledge (Angell, Ryder, and Scott 2005) or that the PCK does not change in the first years of teaching (Friedrichsen et al. 2009).
In this study, an examination of ePCK revealed that being OOF mattered among newly hired teachers.
OOF teaching is a complex phenomenon.
Results of this study indicate that when newly hired teachers are OOF they do not build their ePCK at the same levels as their in-field peers. Newly hired OOF teachers are then disadvantaged in developing their ePCK in their early years of teaching.
Teachers are impacted, as well as their students.
From this study, some actions can be taken by those who work with OOF teachers.
Supporting newly hired OOF teachers in their instruction is essential.
In addition to providing newly hired teachers with mentors, there is a need to consider how to specifically support OOF teachers in their instructional assignments.
Providing access to study groups or professional development programmes that emphasise ePCK and pPCK has been shown to be valuable to OOF teachers (Carpendale and Hume 2019; Hanuscin et al. 2020).
The configuration and duration of these programs and similar programs are certainly worth consideration and study.
The most important action, however, is to be aware of the consequence of teaching OOF among newly hired teachers.
While OOF teaching is consequential to the wellbeing of newly hired teachers, it is also consequential to enhancing and expanding new teachers’ knowledge and practice.
Ultimately, the residual impact of OOF teaching may be difficult to mitigate beyond the formative first years of teaching.
By studying the impact of OOF teaching, educators can understand how to better prepare and support teachers who are likely to be OOF.
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