Preservice teacher conceptualisations of, engagement with, and attitude towards theory in initial teacher education: A comparison of two studies

Year: 2012

Author: Sjolie, Ela, Clayton, Kathleen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


The backdrop for this presentation is the ongoing discussion about the role of theory in teacher education. Much of the literature discussing theory and theory-practice relationships in teacher education has been from an epistemological perspective, and, where focused on preservice teacher learning, has been mostly based on data from students' practicum or beginning teachers' experiences (Jahreie, 2010). Empirical research has been somewhat fragmented (Cochran-Smith, 2005), and insufficient attention has been paid to what happens at the university, or the intersection between the two different learning arenas - university and school.

The aim of this presentation is to discuss preservice teachers' understanding of, and engagement with, theory in initial teacher education from preservice teacher and teacher educator perspectives. The discussion will be based on results from two studies conducted in Norway and Australia. The aim of both studies was to gain a deeper understanding of preservice teachers' engagement with theory. In the Australian study, the question was explored through interviews and lesson observations using Grundy's (1987) 'forms of educational practice' as an analytical lens. In contrast, the Norwegian study focused on following preservice teachers through their education, drawing on neo-Aristotelian notions of 'phronesis' and 'praxis' and the theory of 'practice architectures' (Kemmis & Grootenboer, 2008). In the presentation we will elaborate on how these two studies, although conducted in quite different contexts, and being informed by different but intersecting theoretical frameworks, have given rise to similar conclusions, complementing and shedding light on each other's results.

Both studies highlight the need for more explicit and critical theory-practice dialogue amongst teacher educators and pre-service teachers. A common finding was that there is a significant variation among preservice teachers in terms of how they engage with and understand the nature and role of theory. This ranges from deeper (and less commonly, critical) levels of engagement and understanding of theory-practice relationships, to "applicative" notions of theory as recipes for practice.  Interestingly, in-depth interviews with the Norwegian students show an ambivalence towards theory, and tensions between what preservice teachers think teacher education can and should do, and what they feel they need 'right here and now', to 'survive' in their practice. Implications for future practice in initial teacher education of these and other key findings and conclusions will be considered.