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The "physics expert" discourse model: counterproductive for trainee physics teachers' professional identity building?
Linnaeus University, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Department of Languages.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-3244-2586
2015 (English)In: / [ed] Jari Lavonen, Kalle Juuti, Jarkko Lampiselkä, Anna Uitto & Kaisa Hahl, 2015Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

In Sweden, the training of secondary physics teachers generally consists of three parts: subject-specific courses in the physics department, pedagogical core courses in the education department and teaching practice in schools. In this paper we study the different discourse models enacted in these three training environments at a large university in Sweden. What happens when the culture of physics meets the cultures of education and school and what are the potential effects on trainee physics teachers’ professional identity?

Building a professional identity

Teacher training has numerous goals. Apart from learning subject matter, pedagogical theory and practical skills, trainees are also in the process of building their professional identity. Professional identity has been used within educational research in a variety of ways (Beauchamp & Thomas, 2009; and Beijaard, Meijer, & Verloop, 2004). In this paper we use this concept as an analytical tool to help us understand how the value-systems in teacher training affect the future practice of trainee physics teachers. Here we follow Connelly and Clandinin (1999) who view professional identity as a set of narratives teachers tell about what it means to be a teacher.

For narratives to be recognized as professional, they need to fit within accepted discourses (Danielsson & Warwick, 2014; Gee, 2005). Thus, we are interested in the dominant discourses in a Swedish teacher training programme and the professional narratives of physics teaching that these discourses make possible. In this paper we focus on the discourse models enacted in the physics department with respect to teacher training. In this respect Gee (2005, p. 71) describes discourse models as “our ‘first thoughts’ or taken-for-granted assumptions about what is ‘typical’ or ‘normal'."

Our research questions are as follows:

What discourse models with respect to teacher training are enacted in the physics department? How do these models relate to discourse models enacted in other environments of teacher training? What are the potential affordances or constraints of these discourse models on the narratives trainee physics teachers can tell in order to constitute their professional identity?

Data collection and analysis

We conducted semi-structured interviews (Kvale, 1996) with nine teacher educators (three physics lecturers, three pedagogy lecturers and three school placement supervisors). The interviews were guided by a smaller number of overarching themes, such as the informant’s opinion about what trainee physics teachers need to learn. Each of the themes was followed up with open-ended questions in order to elicit the particular concerns of the informant. The interviews lasted around 60 minutes and were transcribed verbatim. The transcripts were iteratively coded using the qualitative data analysis software package NVivo. In the first round, we identified categories related to what was valued in terms of physics teaching and teacher education. These categories were then refined in an iterative process resulting in separate systems of meaning—the discourse models.

Findings

Our analysis resulted in four distinct and potentially competing discourse models that are enacted in the three environments that trainee physics teachers meet. These are: the critically reflective teacher, the practically well equipped teacher, the syllabus implementer and the physics expert. In this paper we focus on the physics expert discourse model (fig. 1). This model dominates not only in our physics department interviews, but also amongst the school placement supervisors we talked to. In this model, the primary goal of physics education is to create future physics experts.

Figure one

In the physics expert discourse model it is the latest research in physics that is seen as exciting and motivating, for both students and teachers. In contrast, secondary school subject matter is viewed as inherently boring—something that needs to be made interesting. The model co-exists with three other discourse models, which were more likely to be enacted in the education department. These models value quite different goals such as the development of practical skills, reflective practice, critical thinking and citizenship.

Discussion and conclusions

We started out this paper by asking what discourse models trainee physics teachers meet in the physics department. Here, we identified the physics expert model. This model dominates not only in our physics department interviews, but also amongst the school placement supervisors we talked to.

The next question is how this model relates to discourse models enacted in other environments of teacher training. We found three competing models enacted in the education department and school: the critically reflective teacher, the practically well equipped teacher and the syllabus implementer. At this stage in our study we can only point out that these models have quite different priorities—whilst the physics expert discourse model values physics for physics sake, the syllabus implementer model for example values physics as a means to an end namely the creation of future citizens.

Our final research question deals with the potential affordances or constraints of these discourse models on the narratives trainee physics teachers can tell in order to constitute their professional identity. We suggest that invoking the physics expert model could make the building of a professional identity problematic for trainee physics teachers in a number of ways. First, becoming a school teacher does not sit very well with valuing a physics expert identity. If cutting-edge research is what is valued, why would anyone choose to work in schools? Second, the underlying premises of many of the courses trainee physics teachers take in the education department are difficult to reconcile with this model—if the primary role of a physics teacher is the creation of future physicists, important parts of the curriculum such as developing a scientifically literate society become relegated to a subsidiary status.

We have identified a number of discourse models that we claim tacitly steer what is signalled as valued (and not valued) in the teacher-training programme we studied. We claim that knowledge of these models is useful in a number of ways. For teacher trainers, a better understanding of these models would allow conscious, informed decisions to be taken about the coordination of teacher education across settings. For prospective teachers, knowledge of these models empowers them to question the kind of teacher they want to become.

Going forward, we intend to focus on the other models we identified in order to see how these relate to the physics expert model. Can similar models be found in other physics teacher training programmes both within Sweden and in other countries? However, we believe the most interesting work will be connecting the discourse models we have identified to the professional identity narratives told by trainees. In what way does the teacher training environment affect the professional identity of future physics teachers?

References

Beauchamp, C., & Thomas, L. (2009). Understanding teacher identity: an overview of issues in the literature and implications for teacher education. Cambridge Journal of Education, 39(2), 175–189.

Beijaard, D., Meijer, P. C., & Verloop, N. (2004). Reconsidering research on teachers’ professional identity. Teaching and Teacher Education, 20(2), 107–128.

Connelly, F. M., & Clandinin, D. J. (1999). Shaping a professional identity?: stories of educational practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Danielsson, A., & Warwick, P. (2014). “All We Did was Things Like Forces and Motion …”: Multiple Discourses in the development of primary science teachers. International Journal of Science Education, 36(1), 103–128.

Gee, J. P. (2005). An introduction to discourse analysis?: theory and method. New York: Routledge.

Kvale, S. (1996). Interviews?: an introduction to qualitative research interviewing. Thousand Oaks: SAGE.

 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2015.
Keyword [en]
Discourse models, Teacher education, Professional identity, Physics, Narrative
National Category
Educational Sciences
Research subject
Natural Science, Science Education
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:lnu:diva-45735ISBN: 978-951-51-1541-6 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:lnu-45735DiVA: diva2:846659
Conference
The 11th Conference of the European Science Education Research Association (ESERA) Aug. 31 - 4 sept, 2015, Helsinki
Available from: 2015-08-17 Created: 2015-08-17 Last updated: 2015-12-15Bibliographically approved

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