Making Practice Problematic: Listening to student interviews as a catalyst for teacher reflection

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  • This article was downloaded by: [The University of Manchester Library]On: 02 November 2014, At: 13:50Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number:1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street,London W1T 3JH, UK

    Asia-Pacific Journal ofTeacher EducationPublication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/capj20

    Making PracticeProblematic: Listeningto student interviewsas a catalyst for teacherreflectionGarry HobanPublished online: 09 Jun 2010.

    To cite this article: Garry Hoban (2000) Making Practice Problematic: Listeningto student interviews as a catalyst for teacher reflection, Asia-Pacific Journal ofTeacher Education, 28:2, 133-147, DOI: 10.1080/713650685

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    http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions

  • Asia-Paci c Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 28, No. 2, 2000

    Making Practice Problematic: listening to studentinterviews as a catalyst for teacher re ection

    GARRY HOBAN, University of Wollongong

    ABSTRACT This paper describes a two-year professional development programme in which

    three secondary science teachers listened to audio-tapes of interviews conducted with their own

    students describing their school experiences. The audio-tapes were compiled from interviews

    with 30 year 9 students who identi ed aspects of teaching and learning across different subjects

    in their secondary school. This study shows how listening to student data on the tapes provided

    teachers with a different perspective on classroom practice which con rmed or challenged their

    assumptions about student learning. The student data were a catalyst for the three teachers to

    re ect on their practice and to consider changes in their teaching.

    Introduction

    Fullan (1993, 1999) argues that it is only through re ection at the personal, group andorganisational level that teachers will begin to question their practice and thinkdifferently about teaching and learning. This notion of re ection originated in thewritings of John Dewey (1933) as a way of thinking about a problematic situation thatneeds to be resolved:

    The function of re ective thought is, therefore, to transform a situation inwhich there is experienced obscurity, doubt, con ict, disturbance ofsome sort, into a situation that is clear, coherent, settled, harmonious.(pp. 100 101)

    Dewey argued that this process commenced with pre-re ection in which an individualbecame perplexed about a situation followed by ve phases to resolve the problem:(1) suggestion; (2) intellectualisation; (3) hypothesis; (4) reasoning; and (5) testing.Over the last 50 years, researchers have extended Deweys notion and highlighted thevalue of re ection for teacher education (Brook eld, 1990, 1995; Ghaye & Lillyman,1997; Hull sh & Smith, 1961; LaBoskey, 1993; Loughran, 1995; Zeichner & Liston,1987). Others have articulated levels of re ection to include contemplating about thesocial and political dimensions of actions (Carr & Kemmis, 1986; Elbaz, 1988; Hatton& Smith, 1995; Smyth, 1992; van Manen, 1977).Scho n (1983, 1987) saw re ection not only as a way of thinking, but as a hallmark

    of being a professional. He contended that professionals need to recognise the `com-plexity, uncertainty, instability, uniqueness, and value-con ict (1983, p. 39) of a worksetting and frame the context in which a problem is situated. Re ection (re ection-on-action or re ection-in-action) is then an iterative process involving (1) a trigger forre ection being the awareness of a problematic situation; (2) framing of the problemsetting; (3) reframing of the setting in light of past knowledge or experience; and(4) planning to develop future actions.A common feature that permeates these different interpretations of re ection is a

    ISSN 1359-866X print; ISSN 1469-2945 online/00/020133-15

    2000 Australian Teacher Education Association

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  • 134 G. Hoban

    self-awareness that a problem exits within ones work practices. This is highlighted inDewey s phases of `pre-re ection , `suggestion and intellectualisation as well as inScho n s phases of `trigger and `framing . It is this recognition of uncertainty or of aproblematic situation that initiates and drives the re ective process. If a solution isobvious, then the need for re ection is reduced. If there is no perceived problemembedded in one s practice, then there is little motivation for re ection at all. Incontrast, the framing of a problematic situation is a catalyst for re ection and change:

    To achieve change, teachers need to discover that their existing frame forunderstanding what happens in their classes is only one of several possibleones, and this, according to Scho n, is likely to be achieved only when theteachers themselves re ect critically upon what they do and its results.(Barnes, 1992, p. 17)

    An implication is that teachers and trainee teachers need to develop a better under-standing of the nature of teaching, not as a simplistic recipe-driven occupation, but associal, political and ethical work that is permeated with dilemmas and shaped bycultural and social in uences (Hatton, 1998).But what will trigger teachers thinking to perceive their practice as problematic to

    initiate re ection? Brook eld (1995) argued that teachers need to become criticallyre ective to `identify and scrutinise the assumptions that undergird how they work

    (p. xii). This means viewing teaching practice from different perspectives and seekingnew ways of thinking about classroom instruction. He identi ed four main ways thiscan occur. First, teachers can re ect individually by using a critical-incident technique(Brook eld, 1990), by participating in personal action research (Carr & Kemmis, 1986)or by documenting their personal biographies (Grundy & Hatton, 1998). A second wayto support re ection is to seek different perspectives from colleagues by working insmall groups. For instance, Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1993) contend that universityresearchers should support teacher researchers to build their own knowledge withempirical research using journals, oral inquiries and classroom/school studies or withconceptual research using essays which draw upon teachers experiences and assump-tions that underpin their practice. Similar collaboration involving teachers and teachereducators has been conducted in Australia in the Project for Enhancing EffectiveLearning (PEEL) using collaborative action research as a methodology for classroomresearch (Baird & Mitchell, 1986; Baird & North eld, 1992; Baird et al., 1987) and inthe Perspectives and Voice of the Teacher (PAVOT) Project (Mitchell, 1999).A third way to initiate re ection involves teachers reading educational literature

    which may provide alternative ideas for their instruction. In one study, researchliterature on children s thinking was introduced to science teachers in light of theirdiscussions about teaching strategies, which they subsequently experimented with intheir practice (Bell & Gilbert, 1994). Alternatively, in the Reading Instruction Study(Richardson, 1994) a staff developer videotaped a teachers lesson, followed by ameeting to view it together. At certain stages the teacher was asked to provide arationale for a particular action, followed by the introduction of formal knowledge bytrained staff developers in context with the discussions. A fourth avenue for seekingalternative perspectives is through the views of our own students. Rhine (1998) recentlyargued that the main value of educational research is to provide teachers with differentways of tapping into the thinking of their own students as a source for personalre ection. Brook eld (1995) used a classroom critical-incident questionnaire in whichstudents could write anonymous comments about his practice after a lesson and make

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  • Making Practice Problematic 135

    suggestions to improve his teaching. The use of re ective journals by students alsoprovides teachers with insights into student learning and has been explored in variouscontexts (Bain et al., 1999; Ghaye & Lillyman, 1997; Wilson et al., 1995; Zeichner &Liston, 1987).This paper describes a study in which a teacher educator interviewed year 9 students

    to ascertain their views about teaching and learning across different subjects at theirhigh school. A small group of teachers then listened to these audio-tapes as a centralfeature of a two-year professional development programme. This paper will focus onthe role that the student tapes played in the study to initiate and sustain teacherre ection.

    Methodology

    Participants and Procedure

    As a teacher educator working at a rural university, I approached three science teachersat a small high school at the end of 1994 to invite them to participate in an innovativeprofessional development programme. The high school was 240 km from Sydney,Australia and 50 km from the university. The three male teachers constituted the entirescience department at the school. At the beginning of the study, one teacher was in his rst year of teaching, another was in his fth year of teaching, and the third (head ofdepartment) had taught for 14 years. The focus of the programme was getting theteachers to re ect on their practice in light of listening to student interviews concerningtheir perceptions of teaching and learning across different subjects in the school. Theteachers listened to the tapes in monthly meetings after school during 1995 and 1996.Most of the meetings lasted 90 minutes, during which time the teachers stopped theaudio-tape when they wanted and discussed implications for their own practice.I had three main roles in the professional development programme. One was to

    interview the teachers students, categorise the data and re-record sections of theinterviews onto thematic audio-tapes for the teachers to listen to during their meetings.Another role was to interview the teachers to ascertain how they framed their under-standing of their practice and if this was in uenced by listening to the student tapes.For this study, the concept of frame refers to the `underlying assumptions thatin uence teachers actions (Barnes, 1992, p. 10). A change in how the teachers framedtheir practice was an indicator that re ection had occurred (Scho n, 1983, 1987). Athird role was to assist the teachers in any direction for change that they decided uponas a result of the professional development programme.A case study methodology (Yin, 1994) was used to monitor how each teacher framed

    his understanding of his practice during the study. In the rst year of the programme,three data collection methods were used to ascertain if listening to the student tapes wasa catalyst for teacher re ection. At the beginning of the programme teachers were askedto select a year 9 science class and to document in a diary their thoughts as theyconsidered the question, `Why do you teach the way you do? over a period of a month.At the end of this time, the teachers participated in two informal conversationalinterviews (Patton, 1990) to ascertain how they framed their understanding of theirpractice. The teachers then participated in a conversational interview every six monthsto ascertain if there was any change in how they framed their practice. After eachinterview, the teacher was provided with a transcript and my summary of the mainpoints to discuss as a member check of my interpretation of the data. Second, the

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  • 136 G. Hoban

    teachers completed a survey at the beginning of the study and 12 months later thatasked them open-ended questions about their practice. This survey had previously beenused in a large scale professional development programme for secondary scienceteachers (Bell & Gilbert, 1994). Third, at the end of the programme each of theteachers sketched and explained a diagram that showed any features of the programmewhich in uenced any change in how they framed their practice. Data from theinterviews, surveys and diagram were monitored to note how the teachers framed theirpractice and any change which may have occurred during the programme (McMillan& Schumacher, 1993).

    Gathering and Coding Student Interview Data

    At the beginning of the study, 10 students were interviewed from each teachers year9 science class using a standardised open-ended interview (Patton, 1990). This con-sisted of a six interview questions but with exibility to probe students to get them toexplain their responses (see Appendix 1 for interview schedule). In all, 30 students wereinterviewed and each student was asked to describe his/her interests and then answerseveral questions which attempted to elicit student data about their perceptions ofteaching and learning across different subjects in the school. First, students were askedto describe their learning experiences in science by nominating science concepts theyunderstood and then probed in the interview to ascertain `What helped you to learnthat concept? In their responses some students described personal in uences on theirlearning, such as what they knew before the lesson (prior knowledge), and also socialin uences, such as strategies used...

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