«LEARNING TO TEACH PHYSICAL EDUCATION IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS: THE INFLUENCE OF DISPOSITIONS AND EXTERNAL STRUCTURES ON PRACTICE by Ian Pickup, BA (QTS) A ...»
Prior experiences Trainee teachers’ perceptions of practice are likely to be influenced by personal experiences (Goodman, 1986; Calderhead, 1988; Nettle, 1998), thought by some to be the major influence on trainee teacher development during ITT (Brumbaugh, 1987). Personal experiences in PE are also thought to be an important determinant of attitudes to physical activity across the lifespan (Macfadyen, 1999; Sallis, McKenzie, Kolody, Lewis, Marshall & Rosengard, 1999) and where this has been negative, teacher educators must provide trainees with viable and alternative positive conceptions (Pajares, 1992; Rovegno, 1993; Placek et al., 1995; Kinchin, MacPhail & Ni Chroinin, 2011) of PE. Biographies blend with developing practice to create what has been termed an ‘invisible apprenticeship’ (Locke, 1979) and the primary ITT process largely plays a role in confirming (rather than modifying) teachers’ already well developed values and beliefs (Doolittle, Dodds & Placek, 1993; Solmon & Ashy, 1995). A key issue here is whether or not such values and beliefs are positive at the point of entry to the ITT process and the extent to which such dispositions are open to change during ITT. Although it has been acknowledged that such change is difficult to facilitate (Sparkes, 1987), if any change is to be made, then the ITT process would seem to be a good place to focus initial efforts (Capel & Blair, 2007).
The notion that people are socialised into choosing a specific profession has previously been an area of interest in research on secondary school PE specialists (Lawson, 1983, 1986; Dewar & Lawson, 1984; Locke, 1984; Placek & Dodds, 1988), suggesting that PE teachers choose this career as a consequence of positive personal experiences in the subject and in sport and physical activity more broadly. In the primary context, however, it would seem less likely that trainees are attracted to the profession solely through their experiences in PE which may include a very wide range of positive and negative incidents. The limited studies examining personal school experiences of primary trainees suggest that most have poor memories of PE, more often than not combining to suggest a range of negative outcomes (Howarth, 1987;
Allison et al., 1990; Portman, 1996; Clayton, 1999; Morgan & Hansen, 2007; Morgan & Bourke, 2008; Elliot, Atencio, Campbell, & Jess, 2011). It is argued that teachers who hold more positive attitudes towards PE are more likely to deliver frequent and varied programmes, although without a successful first teaching post following ITT, the phenomenon of ‘washout’ (Zeichner & Tabachnik, 1981) is a threat. If this pre-existing positive belief is not supported by immediate and positive experiences in school then the encouraging starting point and commitment to the subject could be lost. The extent to which primary ITT plays a role in this potential ‘wash out’ is currently unclear.
Studies relating to primary PEITT to date have largely focused on what trainee teachers lack in relation to PE (such as confidence, positive prior experiences, time devoted to PE during ITT and subject knowledge) rather than how the ITT process can support the development of primary teachers in PE utilising characteristics and experiences that all trainees bring to the training context. In an Australian study, Moore, Webb, & Dickson (1997) outline concerns regarding the effectiveness of primary PE teacher training identifying an inadequacy of university courses in developing confidence amongst trainee teachers. Others have indicated dissatisfaction amongst practising primary school teachers regarding PE experiences during ITT (Evans, 1990; Hickey, 1992; Thompson, 1996). A succession of studies relating to subject-specific training for primary teachers has repeatedly confirmed that many teachers enter the profession lacking the subject knowledge and confidence to effectively deliver the PE curriculum (Physical Education Association, 1984; Williams, 1985; Walkley, 1992;
Carney & Armstrong, 1996; Moore, Webb & Dickson, 1997; Morgan, 1997; Clay, 1999;
Warburton, 2001). Carney and Chedzoy (1998) discuss primary trainee teacher confidence to teach NCPE, and suggest a positive correlation between personal ability in an activity area and estimated teaching competence. They agree with Brumbaugh’s (1987) assertion that prior experiences are a major influence on what trainees gain from ITT courses. Katene, Faulkner & Reeves (2000) explore the relationship between personal commitments to exercise and sport participation and attitudes to teaching PE amongst final year undergraduate primary trainee teachers and their findings suggest that more physically active trainees are more likely to demonstrate a positive attitude towards the teaching of PE.
Such studies appear to concur with literature concerning identity whereby individuals are thought to behave in ways which maintain a consistency of self (Rogers, 1951). In line with these findings, others (Faucette & Hillidge, 1989; Morgan & Bourke, 2004) argue that the majority of primary teachers prefer to teach subjects other than PE and that the notion of the subject being taught by a specialist ‘other’ is seen by teachers as desirable. Trainee primary teachers are therefore thought to bring a wide range of subjectivities, borne out of prior and personal experiences of the PE context (Garret & Wrench, 2007) suggesting that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to ITT may not be the most effective method of supporting teacher development. The extent to which this is reflected within the design and implementation of ITT is currently unknown, an issue of significance to those charged with supporting primary teacher development.
Teacher knowledge It is therefore pertinent to give consideration to what is meant by ‘teacher knowledge’, particularly in the context of primary ITT. A review of literature suggests that there is a multitude of definitions of this concept, the nature of its construction and its link to practice in schools. Different theorists categorise teacher knowledge in different ways, although most include three types of knowledge in their classifications. The first category includes ‘context free knowledge’ (Hoyle & John, 1995; Tickle, 2000). Although this type of knowledge can relate to both subjects and learners (Turner-Bissett, 1999), it has generally been produced through positivist research. The second broad category represents personal (Eraut, 1994) and personalised knowledge (Hoyle and John, 1995), practical knowledge (Hiebert, Gallimore, & Stigler, 2002) and knowledge of self and educational contexts (Turner-Bissett, 1999). Day (1999) links this knowledge to ITT standards and a trainee teacher’s ability to meet requirements for QTS. The third commonly used category sees externally constructed, context free knowledge combining with personalised and experiential knowledge to create professional knowledge (Hiebert et al., 2002) or what Shulman and others (Shulman, 1986, 1987; Grossman, Wilson & Shulman, 1989; Cochran, King, & DeRuiter, 1993; van Driel, Verloop, & De Vos, 1998) term pedagogical content knowledge. The concept of pedagogical content knowledge seeks to combine the previously separately conceived domains of pedagogy and subject knowledge. Shulman (1987) claimed that an emphasis on teachers’ subject knowledge and pedagogy were being treated as mutually exclusive domains in research concerned with these domains, leading to teacher education programmes in which either subject matter or pedagogy dominated. In pedagogical content knowledge, teachers develop an understanding of how particular aspects of subject matter can be organized, adapted, and represented for teaching, representing and formulating the subject that make it comprehensible to others (Shulman, 1986p. 9). This view of knowledge is highly relevant in the context of this research regarding primary PE and ITT; the nature and content of the NC, trainee teachers’ and teachers’ perceptions of what PE actually is and levels of understanding of how best to teach the subject are all aspects which may impact on teacher development in the subject. Some studies have shown that the way in which teachers present knowledge to pupils in the classroom context is more important than teachers’ own subject knowledge (Askew, Brown, Rhodes, Wiliam & Johnson, 1997). In PE, where it is thought that primary teachers lack subject knowledge to teach the prescribed NCPE, Shulman’s conceptualisation of knowledge is highly relevant.
Hoyle and John (1995) also suggest a fourth category of knowledge which is constructed politically, economically and socially and which relates to how schools and teachers are inspected and reported upon. The government-led introduction of standards for teacher competence and a national curriculum in schools seemingly favours such a ‘paradigmatic’ view of knowledge (Bruner, 1986, 1990), in which knowledge is seen as finite and certain.
Such a ‘technical rationalist’ view of knowledge (Schon, 1983) suggests that trainee teachers can be provided with proven methods or ways of working which they subsequently apply in practice. This does not accept a link between professional knowledge and each teacher’s personal and contextualised world through which knowledge is internally identified (Hoyle & John, 1995) and appears to ignore the literature which highlights the important relationship between identity, knowledge and professional development. Despite recent policy developments, relatively little is known about how teachers themselves actually learn. As
Poulson (2001, p.52) suggests:
Instead of highlighting, and attempting to remedy, apparent deficits in primary teachers’ subject knowledge, the educational research agenda of the twenty first century would do well to include investigation of teachers’ learning … There is still much to be learned about the knowledge which successful primary school teachers do possess; about the conditions and circumstances in which teachers’ knowledge has been generated and developed throughout their careers; about the relationship between knowledge, values and classroom practice; and about the ways in which teachers can be encouraged to articulate and develop their knowledge and, in the process, making connections between the individual/personal and wider social and cultural dimensions of teaching.
Knowledge construction and today’s policy context The complex and dynamic qualities of teacher identity development discussed here suggest that trainee teachers are actively involved in constructing their own knowledge, drawing upon personal narratives and experiences to build their own values and practices. The extent to which each trainee is active in this construction of knowledge is also thought to be governed by trainees’ relationships with institutional structures and subjects. As Woods (1984) explains, ‘self-coordinates’, ‘subject coordinates’ and ‘institutional coordinates’ are mediators of the development of teachers’ knowledge. Trainee teachers actively reconstruct knowledge from a range of sources (Borger & Tillema, 1996) including their own work, others’ practice, digestion of information from university tutors, reading of literature, and talking to peers and pupils (Duquette & Cook, 1999; Oosterheert & Vermunt, 2001); in essence, a variety of factors interact in different ways at different times to impact on each trainee teacher’s unique development. This is a ‘co-constructivist’ view of knowledge creation (Hedges, 2000; Katz,
2000) whereby trainee teachers are active agents in developing knowledge through interaction within their professional and personal environments. This view is popular amongst teacher educators who assert that trainees make meaning from their own contexts and experiences through critical reflection on and in practice (Schon, 1983, 1987; Olson, 1995). The ‘reflective practitioner’ model of teacher development was commonly applied in university-based teacher training programmes from the mid-1990s (Furlong et al., 2000) where trainee teachers were afforded the time and in-course requirements to reflect on practice, to explore personal life histories and to critique educational policies. The extent to which trainee teachers are encouraged to reflect in this way has since been thought to have diminished as school-based experiences have taken on an increased importance (and time allocation) as a consequence of government reform. Some teacher educators have recently reported shifts in the practices of trainee teachers away from reflection towards a heightened focus on meeting the centrally imposed standards (Lunn & Bishop, 2003).