Daniel J. Brahier
Department of Educational Curriculum & Instruction
Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, OH 43403
MUSINGS ON INTERNATIONAL COMPARISONS
In the previous issue of the RCDPM Newsletter, we discussed the case of "Amy," an undergraduate mathematics methods student who surprised her professor during "finals week" when she expressed a lack of confidence that she had always felt toward mathematics and told him that the methods course had still not helped her to overcome her fear of teaching mathematics. We raised the question of what the professor might have done to help her, had Amy's lack of confidence become apparent early in the course.
In response to the questions about Amy, "Doc" Dockweiler responded,
"In an earlier time, I would routinely interview each teacher candidate as they entered the elementary math methods class and as they exited. Those sessions were to get acquainted but also provided a tremendous amount of insight into the disposition of the each of the students. It occurred to me that I might have found out about Amy's difficulties in that early session and could have been more aware. As numbers in the classes grew crazy, it became apparent that individual interview would not be practical, unfortunately. I resorted more to interacting with small groups during lab activities to maintain some element of personal contact, but it was not as helpful."Presently, I am more inclined to think that the Amy dispositions are fixed by her own make-up and previous experience. My suspicion is that the Amys of the teacher education world are influenced by the positive experiences in methods courses and other preservice experiences, but changing disposition is akin to changing your philosophy or belief structure about the teaching act. My observations over 30+ years in teacher education suggest that, for the most part, the classrooms environments out there have not changed, and when an Amy begins teaching it is easier to fall into a more traditional teaching pattern of a neighbor teacher than to strike out on a new 'reform' tack. The frustration of it all is the promise of implementing what we know about how kids learn mathematics and facing the reality that teacher beliefs as held by many creates an impossible situation."
Similarly, David Pugalee writes,
"It [is] essential for teachers and teacher educators to consider how their own viewpoints have developed and how their experiences have shaped their dispositions. The development of positive views and beliefs about mathematics necessitates experiences which foster and nurture positive affective frameworks. Additionally, individuals need to take time to reflect on how these experiences interact with their current belief system and how they can effect change . . . Modeling of appropriate mathematics teaching is imperative if students are to become expert teachers tomorrow. Novice teachers do not have a developed repertoire of appropriate mental scenarios to guide them in making effective instructional and management decisions (Swafford, 1995) . . . It should be the goal of methods courses for students to experience mathematics in meaningful process oriented lessons and that they be afforded opportunities to practice such processes. This is the beginning of a foundation which will impel mathematics reform."David also discussed the importance of the reflective model of teaching, stating that "reflection provides an opportunity for an individual to look at experiences and how these practices and their effects can contribute to a teacher's perceptions about appropriate teaching methodologies . . . Reflection aids teachers, including preservice, in making connections between content and teaching practices."
Dixie Metheny uses journals in her classes to encourage the type of reflection that David talked about. She stated that
"I have a special situation, because I teach both content and methods. I work very hard to help the students overcome their anxieties in the content class . . . In our methods class we have the students talk about their feelings in their journals so we have a good idea whether they feel anxious or confident."It appears that there are two forces at work here -- one is the attitudes and beliefs that preservice teachers bring to the content and methods courses, and the other is the model of teaching that is displayed by both the methods instructor and the teachers with whom methods students (and student teachers) are placed in the field. Even if I can model the teaching of mathematics as embodied in the Standards, what guarantee do I have that the cooperating teacher with whom my students are placed will continue to model the same philosophy? And even if he/she does, will a semester or two be enough to chip away at a personal image of "the teacher" that has taken 15 or 20 years to build in my students? What type of experiences and reflections on those experiences are a "must" in a methods class to have an influence on prospective teachers? What have you done that has worked?
Please address your comments, reactions, or submissions to Bill Speer or Dan Brahier at the addresses listed in the column heading. We look forward to hearing from YOU! E-mail reflections will be distributed to other electronic respondents without delay, rather than waiting for the next newsletter.
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