Great article revisited

In 2007, Rosella Santagata, Claudia Zannoni and James W. (Jim) Stigler wrote an article that was published in Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education. The article was entitled The role of lesson analysis in pre-service teacher education: an empirical investigation of teacher learning from a virtual video-based field experience, and the authors raised some very important questions in that article, questions that are still highly relevant. I rediscovered this article today, and I am going to share some of my discoveries with you now.

In most teacher-preparation programs, the preservice students are faced with some sort of field experiences (in Norway we call this “practice”, or “praksis” in Norwegian). A focus on the quality of field experiences received a lot of attention when U.S. teacher education was reformed in the 1980s, and there were several recommendations indicating that preservice teachers should have more “authentic experiences to prepare them to handle the complexity and challenges of the school context” (p. 124). Several teacher education programs, including ours at the University of Stavanger (Norway) have strong emphasis on field experiences. According to Santagata et al., two assumptions are underlying:

  1. “exposure to examples of teaching creates learning opportunities for prospective teachers”
  2. “through field experiences preservice teachers meld theory into practice” (ibid.).

Both these assumptions are questioned in the introductory part of this article. A problem is that preservice teachers often focus on irrelevant features when observing practice, and their classroom observations might thereby be of little use. Another issue is that teaching practices appear to be stable, and “It is thus not likely that preservice teachers will encounter reform-minded practices in the lessons they observe. On the contrary, field experiences may expose student teachers to a limited repertoire of strategies and to a narrow and unrepresentative sample of students” (ibid.).

The authors of this article propose the use of videos of classroom instruction as an alternative approach. Videos can be studied over and over, and this allows for a deeper and more reflected analysis than during ordinary “live observations”. The authors argue: “Teaching is a cultural activity, and cultural routines are more easily unveiled when the teaching process is slowed down and critically analyzed” (p. 125).

The use of video is not only “a means to expose preservice teachers to specific behaviors to be imitated” but it is also (or is becoming) “a tool for the development of teachers’ professional judgment” (p. 126). In the article they report from two studies in Italy, where videos from the TIMSS 1999 Video Study (report) have been used in preservice teacher education. I will not go into the results from these studies here, but I recommend reading the entire article for further information!

Santagata, R., Zannoni, C., and Stigler, J. (2007). The role of lesson analysis in pre-service teacher education: an empirical investigation of teacher learning from a virtual video-based field experience. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 10(2):123-140.

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