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The Educational Approaches of Turkish Pre-Service Elementary Mathematics Teachers in Their First Teaching EJ1041869

  • Text
  • Approaches
  • Constructivist
  • Beliefs
  • Mathematics
  • Educational
  • Opinions
  • Classroom
  • Practices
  • Elementary
  • Australian
  • Turkish

Australian Journal

Australian Journal of Teacher Education Conclusion and Suggestions The PTs that were observed during their first teaching practice in a real classroom setting generally used traditional teaching approaches. This was evident in the ways they used equipment, the ways they included students in the process and the teaching strategies they employed. Although some PTs made weak efforts to use the constructivist approach, these PTs failed to overcome the influence of traditional approaches and struggled to properly integrate constructivist practices into their lessons. In interviews conducted to determine the reasons for this, the PTs’ epistemological beliefs and views regarding mathematics teaching were largely in line with the constructivist approach and the guidelines of the math curriculum. Individuals’ epistemological beliefs, defined as their subjective beliefs about what knowledge is and how knowing and learning occurs (Deryakulu, 2004), largely influence their attitudes towards the teaching and learning process (Bozaslan, 2012; Schommer, 1990). There are studies in the literature that show that teachers’ beliefs related to math teaching and learning influence their TP (Calderhead, 1996; Pajares, 1992; Thompson, 1992). However, this influence is rather complex and inconsistencies can be observed between teachers’ mathematical beliefs and teaching practices (Raymond, 1997; Teo et al., 2008; Thompson, 1984; Toluk Uçar & Demirsoy, 2010). In this research, similarly, although PTs opinions regarding knowledge, learning and effective mathematics education bear traces of the constructivist approach and conform to the requirements of the math curriculum, it was observed that they tended to implement traditional approaches in their TPs. One of the reasons behind this inconsistency may be related to the quality of university education. The prioritization of the theoretical side of the constructivist approach over the practical side may make integrating the teaching approach they believe in into their classroom practices a struggle for PTs. To solve this problem, as suggested by Aldrich and Thomas (2005), in PT training programs the PTs’ experiences as learners in constructivist environments should be prioritized as much as the meaning of constructivism. Since these experiences will conflict with their prior knowledge, it is important to enable them to reflect on constructivist knowledge thorough their own experiences. In line with previous research findings (Ahlstrand & Nilsson 1999; Aldrich and Thomas, 2005; Gibbs and Coffey, 2004; Klein, 1998; Krull, et al., 2013; Struyven et al., 2010), a small portion of PTs considered that the university education was influential in the tendency towards using constructivist approaches to some extent. However, this positive effect on teachers’ beliefs may not always translate into classroom use (Rafferty, 1992). Handal (2003) suggested that teachers’ inability to transfer their beliefs about mathematics and mathematics teaching into the classroom may stem from factors out of teachers’ control. Some of these factors are the current examination system, school administrations, parental pressure, and students’ learning habits. In addition, teachers may tend to share the same opinions in an environment where student-focused teaching and new approaches are prevalent. In this study, too, external factors such as the examination system, the environment in the practice school and the prejudices of cooperating teachers about constructivist approaches played roles in the PTs’ tendency to prefer traditional approaches in their TPs. In addition, PTs were also affected by internal factors such as their educational backgrounds, taking the easy way, and being inexperienced in constructivist practices. Although a few PTs mentioned the positive effect of university education on leading them to use the constructivist approach, most of them think that the university’s effort to help them surpass the traditional approach was inadequate. Furthermore, some PTs stated that constructivism is only presented theoretically in faculties of education, while in practice traditional approaches are prevalent. These criticisms parallel Baştürk’s (2011) findings. PTs also think that they are not well trained in the content knowledge they will use in their Vol 39, 10, September 2014 127

Australian Journal of Teacher Education professional lives, and that necessary education about what they will teach in school is not provided by the university. Similarly, Eraslan (2009) found that PTs struggle to link university mathematics courses with the mathematics that they teach in schools. Departing from this point, it could be argued, as Stylianides and Stylianides (2006) suggest, that PTs’ undergraduate math education should be related to the concepts they will use in their professional lives. It would be better to teach math to PTs using the methods and techniques they are expected to use in their professional lives (Baştürk, 2011). In addition, PTs are confused by the traditional approaches used in some of their university courses. For this reason, professors in teacher training programs should teach by designing learning environments that involve student-focused approaches and activities. Loughran and Berry (2003) argued that PTs will use these methods when they become teachers, so innovative practices should not be presented in traditional styles. Instead, exemplifying the use of constructivist methods will enhance PTs’ experiences. Raymond (1997) argued that math teachers’ teaching styles are affected by their own learning experiences and their former math teachers. The pre-existing pedagogical beliefs can become barriers in attaining the goals of innovative teaching approaches (Fennema & Franke, 1992; Gregoire, 2003 Struyven et al., 2010). Similarly, this study found that nearly all the PTs said that the predominance of traditional approaches in their educational backgrounds had led them to use these approaches in their TP. As Baki (2002) puts it, in their professional lives PTs implement the same practices they experience in their educational lives. Although they encounter theories and practices that contradict their prior beliefs and attitudes about learning and teaching mathematics in their teacher training programs, they still tend to merge their old beliefs with what they learn from the university, rather than completely getting rid of them. In other words, the core teaching/learning approaches that PTs have when they begin their university education grow during their university years, and the traces of their own school days remain undiminished. Given the fact that this study’s PTs completed their elementary school education before 2005, when the new curricula were instituted, this influence can be regarded as normal. However, studies show that an important factor that paves the way for an imperfect transfer of theoretical learning into teaching practice is the inadequacy of teacher training programs to cope with PTs’ previously held beliefs (Korthagen & Kessels, 1999; Wubbells, 1992). As one of the pre-service teachers stated in the interview, it is not impossible for PTs, who change and grow during their university years, to overcome their previously held negative beliefs with effective training on the implementation of the constructivist approach. If a serious effort is not made, this situation will turn into a vicious cycle, because the future students of PTs who fail to replace traditional approaches entirely will also inherit these negative influences. In interviews, the PTs reported that they tended to use traditional approaches because of their lack of experience with the practices required by the constructivist approach. Others stated that practical courses are not given sufficient importance at the university. Similar findings were obtained by studies in the literature (Arslan & Özpınar 2008; Büyükgöze Kavas & Bugay, 2009). Thus, it can be argued that PTs unfamiliarity with constructivist teaching practices might have stemmed from the insufficient time allocated by the university to practical courses. Belcheir (1998) reports that new teachers wish they had acquired more experience in classroom environments during their university education. As Toluk Uçar and Demirsoy (2010) suggests for teachers who struggle to implement new approaches, PTs should be familiarized with ample teaching examples in order to learn what a constructivist teaching style is like. In addition, professors who teach theoretical knowledge in teacher education courses should present their practical aspects as well. It can be inferred from some of the PTs’ statements that they are concerned about losing control over the classroom if they use student-focused, activity-based practices. Vol 39, 10, September 2014 128

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