Mix of Liberal Arts, Pedagogy Is Urged for Teachers

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Monterey, Calif--The inadequacies of courses that combine pedagogy and the liberal arts and sciences are the "weakest link" in teacher-training programs, according to the first report to emerge from an unusual collaboration between education schools and other college departments.

In the preliminary report released here last week, the group, known as Project 30, contends that programs that require prospective teachers to earn an undergraduate degree in the arts or sciences do not go far enough. And it maintains that separate courses providing them with training in educational theory and practice are often too abstract.

What is needed, the report says, is an emphasis on the kind of study known in the field as "pedagogical content knowledge," which provides students with teaching strategies tailored to specific subject matter.

"Teacher-education graduates must know how to convert their knowledge of the subject matter into a teachable subject for a wide range of pupils," it says.

Science teachers, for example, might teach about electrical currents by drawing a comparison with the behavior of water currents in pipes of various sizes.

"Is this a good way to think about electricity?" the report says. ''The answer is not to be found in physics or education, but in a qualitatively different kind of knowledge that will come from conversations between disciplinarians and pedagogues."

A foundation in pedagogical content knowledge is one of several identified by the group as essential to preparing good teachers. The report also notes that teachers need broad liberal learning in order to become "well-informed persons."

And it cautions that all university-level studies must "be accurate with respect to race, gender, ethnicity, and cultural perspective."

That consideration, it argues, "is at the heart of the reform of the courses of study in both education and the arts."

Fostering Closer Ties

The report, "The Reform of Teacher Education for the 21st Century," is the product of a year of conversations between representatives of the education schools and colleges of arts and sciences involved in Project 30, which brings together segments of academe that normally have little contact with one another.

Funded with an $850,000 grant4from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the group includes deans and other faculty members from 32 universities and colleges across the country. The institutions include small liberal-arts colleges, large research universities, historically black schools, and state universities.

"We wanted to deflect some of the kinds of criticism that the Holmes Group was faced with," explained Frank B. Murray, dean of the college of education at the University of Delaware and a co-director of the project. The Holmes Group, a consortium of education deans that produced a widely discussed report on teacher education in 1986, has been criticized because its membership is limited to major research universities.

Much like the members of that group, however, every Project 30 institution is expected to undertake its own efforts to redesign teacher education.

'Historic' Moment

Often considered academically inferior by university arts and sciences faculties, education schools have long been a neglected stepchild of higher education, participants in the conference here said. And, in universities that place a heavy emphasis on scholarly research, there are few incentives for professors in the arts and sciences to engage in efforts aimed at redesigning teacher education.

Despite such obstacles, said Daniel Fallon, a co-director of the project and dean of the college of liberal arts at Texas A & M University, the time is right for a "historic" collaboration to take place.

"Arts and sciences faculty members, like a whole bunch of other people, are parents and citizens and are very concerned about" the quality of teacher preparation, he said.

The meeting here was the last annual conference scheduled to be held by the group. A final report will be published in book form in 1991.

In an effort to inform its dialogue, the group heard last week from a number of prominent researchers in the field.

James Paul Gee, associate professor of linguistics at the University of Southern California, told conference-goers that teachers must become familiar with the distinctive patterns of thinking, acting, interacting, talking, and valuing that are characteristic of children from various social groups--particularly minorities.

Differing Pupil 'Discourses'

This amalgam of characteristics--what Mr. Gee calls the child's primary "discourse"--is often different from the type of "discourse" dominant in schools.

He said minority children may fail not because they are not intelligent, but because the school discourse is foreign to them.

As an example, he described how a black girl told a story in the poetic cadences common to storytellingtraditions in her culture. Her teacher told her that the story made no sense, and she was later referred to special education, Mr. Gee said.

On another topic, Lee S. Shulman, an influential researcher in the field and professor of education at Stanford University, told the group that education schools should take a lesson from law and business schools and make greater use of "case methods" that teach by using real-life examples.

"We as a species are apparently wired to listen to, engage in, and remember stories much better than we do with non-narrative discourses,'' he said.

He said case studies could enhance a prospective teacher's reasoning skills, offer a means of integrating pedagogy and subject-matter knowledge, and expose them to a richer variety of "experiences" than most student-teaching internships.


Vol. 09, Issue 15

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