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Using the Conceptual Change Model of Learning as an Analytic Tool in Researching Teacher Preparation for Student Diversity


by Douglas Larkin — 2012

Background/Context: In regard to preparing prospective teachers for diverse classrooms, the agenda for teacher education research has been primarily concerned with identifying desired outcomes and promising strategies. Scholarship in multicultural education has been crucial for identifying the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed by teachers to respond to student diversity in a morally and educationally sound manner. Less attention, however, has been paid to the theoretical mechanisms by which preservice and in-service teachers are presumed to change their minds about the meaning of diversity in their classrooms. Current efforts to prepare teachers for diverse classrooms are currently only loosely anchored in the now robust knowledge about how people learn. As a result, many of the strategies deployed by teacher educators toward this end would be greatly strengthened by a theory of conceptual change.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The purpose of this article is to argue that drawing on the theory of conceptual change as commonly applied to learning in science classrooms is an appropriate and valuable framework for understanding how teachers change their ideas about the pedagogical implications of student diversity. After a description of two traditions of conceptual change learning, the Teaching for Conceptual Change model articulated by Peter Hewson, Michael Beeth, and Richard Thorley is deployed to analyze two different accounts of teacher learning.

Research Design: This research entails demonstrating the use of the conceptual change framework as an analytic tool for understanding teacher learning. Consequently, this article draws from two different sources of data for this purpose. The first consists of a text content analysis of the opening to Vivian Paley’s book, White Teacher. The second uses data from an empirical qualitative study conducted by the author to examine the experiences of a preservice biology teacher over a semester of full-time student teaching.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The article concludes with a discussion on the conceptual change model as a theoretical framework with explanatory power and outlines the implications for teacher preparation efforts. This view of teacher learning promises a potentially fruitful theoretical framework for explaining those elements of teacher education for diversity that have already demonstrated their power, such as racial autobiographies, cross-cultural tutoring experiences, and various approaches to reflection that are employed in teacher education programs. By bringing the lens of conceptual change theory to examine these practices, we can understand more clearly why they appear to work in some cases and not in others. The conceptual change model of learning, however, suggests that dissatisfaction with one’s current conceptions alone may be insufficient for learning. Teachers throughout the professional continuum commonly engage in reflection about their practice, and the present research suggests that the process of articulating and examining statements of these conceptions may represent a powerful tool for professional growth.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 114 Number 8, 2012, p. 1-35
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16527, Date Accessed: 9/23/2014 10:19:26 AM

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About the Author
  • Douglas Larkin
    Montclair State University
    DOUGLAS B. LARKIN is an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at the Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey. His research interests include teacher education, science education, and multicultural education, with a focus on how new teachers learn to teach science for understanding and equity. His most recent publication is: Larkin, D. B., Seyforth, S. C., & Lasky, H. J. (2009). Implementing and sustaining science curriculum reform: A study of leadership practices among teachers within a high school science department. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 4(7), 813–835.
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