Many Connections. One U.

Content and Process in Constructivist Teacher Education

Sam Hausfather

In J. Rainer (Ed.) (2002), Reframing Teacher Education: Dimensions of a Constructivist Approach (pp. 63-80). Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt.

Teaching involves the process of leading learners to understand and use content. While content remains the goal of constructivist teachers, the process of learning becomes both method and goal as well. In the process of learning lie the roots of our understanding of content as well as our goal to create independent learners. The dichotomy between content and process disappears as we take a constructivist approach to knowledge and teaching. Content does not exist outside the process of acquiring that content (Tobin & Tippins, 1993). Controversies exist in taking this position. These controversies go to the very heart of our understanding of content and the ability to teach content to students. As teacher educators we take a stand on these controversies in how we approach both the process and content of teacher education programs. Teacher educators face a philosophical dilemma in differentiating content and process and understanding how they are intertwined. We also face a practical dilemma in promoting the collaboration between education faculty and arts and sciences faculty necessary to bride content and process in teacher education. In this chapter I discuss implications of constructivism as a way of thinking about content, approaches to learning content that derive from cognitive research, and pedagogical content knowledge as an aspect of teacher education. Examples that illustrate these elements in the practice of teacher education are then given.

Perspectives of constructivism on content knowledge

Constructivism challenges the core of our understanding of the nature of content (von Glasersfeld, 1993). The nature of content is our beginning point, the philosophical basis of constructivism. Constructivism as an epistemology or way of knowing is based on a theory of the possibility of knowing objective reality (Staver, 1998). Constructivism confronts the wishes of many disciplines to portray ultimate truths in a content area, postulating we can not know objective reality. Constructivism questions the separation between the observer and the observations, the knower and the known. “A constructivist perspective acknowledges the existence of an external reality but realizes that cognizing beings can never know what that reality is actually like” (Tobin & Tippins, 1993, p. 4). Empirical theories of truth postulate that knowledge corresponds to facts in reality. Constructivism views knowledge as being true in relation to other knowledge in an internally coherent network. This coherence view acknowledges that knowledge “works,” without supposing that we can reveal an objective reality outside the individual and social interpretations of reality. Not denying an objective reality, human experience is seen as the only viable connection to the real world (Staver, 1998). Kuhn (1970) showed how understandings of the world progressed through revolutionary paradigm shifts that influenced how we as individuals experience the world. We know the world through our experiences, through the interface of our sensation and our constructed meanings of those sensations. While we would prefer to believe the world corresponds to our experience of it, constructivism posits that humans interpret the world in ways that cohere with reality (von Glasersfeld, 1989). Where a correspondence view implies that reality exists exactly as we perceive it, a coherence view implies we actively build a collective, internally coherent understanding of the world that works to explain phenomena (Staver, 1998). Whether that view actually corresponds with reality is beyond our ability to distinguish since only our collective perceptions inform our understanding of reality.

These views raise the most controversial aspects of constructivist perspectives. If content is a human construction, it can change over time. Although certain content areas are more clearly linked to human experience and interpretation as their source (the humanities, arts, and social sciences), the “hard” sciences including mathematics have the greatest difficulty with constructivist epistemology. The humanities and social sciences derive from human creativity and action and seek to interpret and record human progress, whereas the sciences purport to exactly map objective reality. A constructivist approach to the nature of content knowledge should affect how teacher educators look at content across many disciplines. English, history, and the social sciences can be seen more as process and the result of personal viewpoints. Mathematics is seen as a social construction, and thus open to discourse as a method for understanding. Science is often portrayed less as a social institution than as the pursuit of laws for an independent reality that we can explain, predict, control, and know as true. Constructivism challenges this view, denying our ability to fully know objective reality (Staver, 1998). The nature of science will continue to be debated given the various faces of constructivist thought (Good et al., 1993; Phillips, 1995). If we take a constructivist view of the nature of knowledge then we need to raise questions about the approach teacher educators should take in developing teachers’ approaches to knowledge. At the same time, the natural and mathematical sciences provide some of the greatest support for educational practices related to constructivism. In this dichotomy lies a source for continued exploration and discussion between teacher educators and content-area faculty.

Constructivist Approaches to Learning Content

Constructivism brings important insights that speak to pedagogical approaches to learning content. Research in cognitive science has supported constructivist theory and progressed to the point that clear implications are apparent in educational practice. Gaea Leinhardt (1992) has synthesized the cognitive research on learning that supports constructivism and summarized the implications around three fundamental aspects: multiple forms of knowledge, the role of prior knowledge, and the social nature of knowledge and its acquisition. While each of these aspects has clear implications for school practice, less has been written about how teacher education responds to these understandings about learning.

Institutional Responses

Research on learning has led to the understanding that there are both different types and amounts of knowledge. Declarative knowledge of content concepts and principles becomes powerful for students when it is connected with procedural knowledge of actions and skills (Best, 1995). Knowledge varies across content areas as we examine the different arrangements of facts, notations, and reasoning in different subjects. Knowledge varies within content areas as one looks at how documentation, arguments or explanations are structured in different disciplines. In addition, metaknowledge, knowing what and how well you know, is seen as a powerful factor in developing understanding in students (Schoenfeld, 1987). These multiple forms of knowledge highlight the complexity of learning. Knowledge is seen as not just information, but an active process, retained when embedded in some organizing structure (Bereiter, 1985). When students interact with information, using it in solving problems, answering questions, or discussing their interpretations, the information becomes their knowledge, tied to their unique understandings. The implications of the nature of knowledge for pedagogy point toward teaching that integrates knowing content with using content, dissolving the line between content and process (Leinhardt, 1992). Active, problem-solving approaches should be apparent no matter what the content approach taken. Since knowledge also does not exist in isolation, it must be connected to student prior knowledge and larger contexts in order to be incorporated into the deep understanding of students. Interdisciplinary approaches can connect the richness of separate disciplines while acknowledging their interrelationships and modes of inquiry (Martinello & Cook, 2000).

The separation of schools of education from schools of arts and sciences within the university often creates a situation where content courses are disconnected from courses on teaching methods and learning (NCTAF, 1996). While teacher education has sought to provide more integration of content with process within teacher education courses, the content prospective teachers learn in their arts and sciences courses is left separate and inactivated through the teacher education sequence. Teacher education students often take 50% to 85% of their course work in the arts and sciences (Gollnick, 1996). Traditionally, arts and sciences courses seldom challenge students’ prior knowledge and often reinforce a transmission view of knowledge. A compilation of broad knowledge is emphasized over in-depth study that would challenge student misconceptions. Teacher education faculty can work closely with arts and sciences faculty to plan and implement courses of study that provide strong disciplinary preparation linked closely with the methods and content of pedagogical studies. Brooklyn College of the City University of New York has developed a teacher education program where students take several three-course sequences made up of a liberal arts course, an education “bridging” course, and a pedagogy course (Grumet, 1992). The arts and sciences faculty and the education faculty teaching these paired courses plan syllabi, readings, and discussions together. Other teacher education programs have closely examined their own curriculum to determine the extent to which they model interdisciplinary integration of content areas and pedagogy. For example, Berry College is in the process of blocking its education methods courses to align courses horizontally across a year of similar disciplinary studies (literacy, inquiry, arts and cultures) and vertically so that college faculty can plan integrated experiences for students across disciplinary areas.

Pedagogical Responses

Learning involves combining what you know with what was taught, continually connecting prior knowledge with new information (Leinhardt, 1992). This prior knowledge can facilitate, inhibit, or transform learning. In reading, comprehension has been shown to depend on what you already know or want to know (Smith, 1988). Research into the nature of “children’s science,” the ideas and experiences students bring into class with them (Driver, Guesne, & Tiberghien, 1985; West & Pines, 1985), shows students hold tenaciously to their prior ideas. These alternative conceptions or misconceptions grow out of students’ prior experiences with the world around them, and can interfere considerably with teachers’ attempts to foster learning. Research in mathematics education shows students come to class with effective but alternative routes to mathematics processes that are often confounded by teaching (Carpenter et al., 1989). Research on the construction of history reveal students’ tendency to see historical events in terms of individuals’ personal intentions and interactions and to ignore the role of societal institutions (Barton, 1997).

The acknowledgment of alternative conceptions held by students has led to deeper understandings of the process necessary to deal with student constructions. Teachers need to surface students’ prior knowledge, connect to it or challenge it, and allow students to build from and onto their prior knowledge. Often the results of teaching produce unintended learning outcomes, as students combine existing ideas with the new ideas presented by teachers (Osborne & Freyberg, 1985). In order for students to make use of ideas taught by teachers in the ways teachers intend, knowledge must present itself as intelligible, fruitful, and plausible. Beyond these qualities, students may also have to find dissatisfaction with their current knowledge and its use in understanding (Posner et al., 1982). This is a clear move away from a “discovery” approach, where students construct knowledge solely based on their own experience, to knowledge construction where students have the opportunity to test their knowledge within a social context, teachers challenge some conceptions, and students involve themselves in a process of constructing understanding (Watson & Konicek, 1990). Conceptual change instruction in science has emphasized a lesson format that includes an orientation phase, elicitation of ideas, restructuring of ideas, application of ideas, and reviewing change of ideas (Osborne & Freyberg, 1985). Cognitively Guided Instruction (Carpenter et al., 1989) emphasizes allowing students to surface their explanations of mathematical processes as the teacher leads students to see alternative routes to solving problems. Scardamalia and Bereiter (1985) have developed models for teaching writing that use a combination of modeling, coaching, scaffolding, and fading. The use of narrative has been shown to promote students’ historical understanding and challenge students’ prior conceptions (Levstik & Pappas, 1992).

Teacher education programs are caught in the bind of informing teacher candidates about the importance of prior experiences and misconceptions while also having to deal with these candidates’ own prior experiences and misconceptions about both teaching and content. The “apprenticeship of observation” (Lortie, 1975) through lengthy personal experience with schooling prevents preservice teachers from searching beyond what they already know and from questioning the practices they see (Feiman-Nemser & Buchmann, 1987). Some teacher education programs promote conceptual change in their students toward viewing schools as they could be, not merely as they are. Experiences that challenge student conceptions of schooling include provocative readings and discussion (such as Kozol, 1991, etc.), simulations, and experiences in experimental schools that can give different vision of education. In their content studies, preservice teachers’ own misconceptions can also be challenged. Teacher education programs that work with faculty in arts and sciences to understand the preconceptions students bring to their classes can promote approaches that will challenge these preconceptions. Through both having their own conceptions challenged and learning about the prior knowledge of their students, teacher candidates will be better prepared to provide their students content knowledge linked with student prior knowledge.

Finally, the social aspect of knowledge provides clear implications in practice. As outlined above, learning is seen to be an active process of knowledge construction and sense making. Beyond that, knowledge is understood as a cultural artifact of people. It is created and transformed by each individual and by groups of people (Vygotsky, 1978). As a result, learning should involve talk, public reasoning, and shared problem solving. Too often the social environment of schools is counterproductive to learning (Hausfather, 1996). Instead of a focus on individual achievement, learning involves social interaction that supports thinking, surfaces prior knowledge, and allows skills to be used in the context of content knowledge. Participating in communities of discourse allows students to clarify, defend, elaborate, evaluate, and argue over the knowledge constructed (Brown, 1994). Many teachers use cooperative learning as a route to building communities of discourse in their classrooms. Cooperative learning has been shown to be a powerful vehicle to improve learning outcomes for students (Slavin, 1996).

Teacher education has a clear role in clarifying a vision of a social environment supportive to learning. Preservice methods courses can model collaboration between and among the teacher and students. College teaching has traditionally stressed individual processes over social processes in learning. Teacher education needs to provide opportunities where college students learn within social situations. College students can metacognitively experience zones of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978) within college classrooms by working within cooperative or discourse groups while analyzing their own experiences as a guide to their teaching. Instructional conversations can occur within the classic Socratic seminar, where instructor and students together explore problems as a small community of learners. Pairing students for field experience placements in schools is one way to promote peer collaboration that fosters deeper understandings of classroom situations (Hausfather, Outlaw, & Strehle, 1996). Pairing allows more opportunities for students to get feedback on their classroom behaviors, as partners observe each other teaching, provide different perspectives on classroom events, and collaborate in planning. Pairing allows preservice teachers to see the value of collegial reflection in contrast to the usual individuality prevalent in schools.

These implications from cognitive science research help us to understand the difficulty of separating content from process in learning. Research in teaching has identified the linking of content with the process of teaching; such links occur as the teacher continually restructures subject matter knowledge for the purpose of teaching (Cochran, DeRuiter, & King, 1993). Termed pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), this concept connects research on teaching with research on learning, helping determine constructivist approaches to learning content for teaching.

Pedagogical content knowledge

Lee Shulman (1986) introduced the term pedagogical content knowledge as “the ways of representing and formulating the subject that make it comprehensible to others” (p. 9). This goes beyond knowledge of the content per se to include issues of teaching the content, including typical curricular choices, powerful ideas, common learning difficulties, and student conceptions in the specific subject. Shulman included PCK in the broader knowledge base for teaching, which included content knowledge, PCK, curriculum knowledge, general pedagogy, learners and their characteristics, educational contexts, and educational purposes (Shulman, 1987). PCK involves the transformation of content knowledge by teachers in ways that allow learners to construct knowledge during classroom practice. Teachers derive PCK from their understandings of content, their own teaching practice, and their own schooling experience. As such, PCK is closely intertwined with both content knowledge and pedagogical process knowledge (Van Driel, Verloop, & De Vos, 1998).

Different scholars have included different aspects within their conceptualizations of PCK, although all agree PCK differs considerably from content knowledge and that it is developed through an integrative process during classroom practice (Van Driel, Verloop, & De Vos, 1998). Cochran, DeRuiter, and King (1993) renamed PCK as pedagogical content knowing (PCKg) based on a constructivist view of teaching and teacher education. Their model includes subject matter content and specific pedagogical knowledge but adds teachers’ understanding of students and of the environmental context of learning. Understanding students includes student abilities and learning strategies, developmental levels, attitudes, motivations, and prior conceptions. Context includes teachers’ understandings of the social, political, cultural and physical environment. Teachers simultaneously experience these four components as they prepare for and progress through their career.

Research in pedagogical content knowledge reinforces the research in cognitive science (Cochran, DeRuiter, and King, 1993) and many of the implications listed above (Ashton, 1990). Teacher education programs can enhance the development of PCK in teacher candidates by modeling and sharing teaching decisions and strategies with students, both by education and content-area faculty. Faculty should have opportunities to demonstrate and reflect on how they use PCK in their own teaching (Cochran, DeRuiter, and King, 1993). Contexts that promote active simultaneous learning about the many components of teaching within the content area allow for the development of PCK. These contexts should be similar to classroom environments, which suggest the incorporation of multiple field-based opportunities within the teacher education program. Early, continued, and authentic field experiences include real teaching, much contact with experienced teachers, and reflection and feedback (Hausfather, Outlaw, & Strehle, 1996).

Although it is difficult to separate PCK from content knowledge, it appears as though a thorough and coherent understanding of content is necessary for effective PCK (Van Driel, Verloop, & De Vos, 1998). Teacher education programs can assist preservice teachers in constructing a deep understanding of disciplinary content from a teaching perspective so it can be used to help specific students understand specific concepts (Cochran, DeRuiter, and King, 1993). This involves both working closely with arts and sciences faculty to understand pedagogical perspectives as well as integrating methods courses with or alongside content courses.

A teacher education program which balances attention to the process of learning with the content of what is being learned can ultimately result in helping teachers be better able to understand both their content and the learning of their students. Too often content is taught without any attention to process, or process is taught without a deep understanding of the nature of the content involved. Teacher education programs seek to find the balance. We now turn our attention to examples of program efforts that work to obliterate the lines between content and process.

Elements in Practice

Many teacher education programs throughout the country have identified constructivist principles as foundational to their teacher education mission and goals. As constructivism has taken hold, programs have worked to understand and create the links between content and process that are fundamental in constructivist approaches. We review here several programs at undergraduate and graduate levels that have given thought to these issues, with the assumption we can learn from the lessons of individual programs.

Berry College

There is much in teacher education that is process focused. This makes sense given the process nature of teaching. Generally, there is important content as well, such as the theoretical bases of constructivism in the work of Piaget, Vygotsky, and Dewey. Berry College’s undergraduate teacher education program tries to continually mix content with process, so as theories are discussed, applications can be modeled. The program is structured to involve a back and forth between college classroom and field experience, allowing students opportunities to continually test the content of teacher education against the process of teaching in real classrooms. There are aspects of the theoretical content where mastery is expected, both in demonstrations to faculty and on the national certification tests. Assessments are constructed which allow demonstration, both authentic and traditional.

Subject-matter content (math, science, social studies, phonics, etc.) is a clear part of the responsibility of an undergraduate teacher education program. Faculty strive to model the way they want students to teach this content while at the same time teaching them the content. Because they cannot teach all the content teachers should know, the emphasis goes more to big ideas, inquiries, and the attitudes necessary to help our students become lifelong learners. This starts with an understanding of the nature of knowledge and how knowledge changes through time. It is important to give credence to students’ preconceptions while at the same time understanding the currently accepted conceptions. Teacher education students must understand how to use the tools given to them to continue to learn. They must understand the content deeply in order to teach it. For teacher educators, paying attention to deep understanding of content means you cannot cover everything you hope to. Teachers and teacher educators should not be afraid of exploring their own understandings and delving on their own to understand further. The tools at our disposal are powerful to do this, with the web, electronic encyclopedias, linked communications, etc. Faculty expect students to do the self-learning necessary to prepare well to teach others, both in college classrooms and in their field experiences. Faculty model for students their own attempts to keep up with the burgeoning knowledge in their fields and their continual revision and updating of courses. One group of faculty began a self-study of their attempts to integrate technology in their teacher-education courses (Strehle, Whatley, Kurz,& Hausfather, in press). They openly shared with college students their challenges and learnings as they attempted to use technology in constructivist ways. And faculty honor student expertise as they learn from student explorations into particular content. Content and process become as inseparable as teacher and learner.

What about the teaching of particular content? College faculty depend on their colleagues in the arts and sciences for the content background of teacher education students. Faculty from across the campus were brought together to design the teacher-education curriculum. Discussion and debate helped all faculty understand the perspectives each brought on the role of content and process in teacher education. At first, arts and sciences faculty questioned the content and rigor of education courses. As they participated in the deconstruction and recreation of the teacher education courses, they participated in and came to understand the links between content and process that exist in education courses. Constructivist teacher education cannot occur in a vacuum. Too often students move from teacher education classes to arts and sciences classes where behavioristic techniques prevail. Teacher education faculty continue to struggle with the role of helping colleagues across campus understand changes in pedagogy. Historically teacher education has held a low status within colleges and universities, viewed as a professional school committed to practice instead of research (Schneider, 1987; Goodlad, 1999). This is beginning to change as calls for reform of both teacher education and general undergraduate education are opening to view the entire higher education experience. In smaller institutions such as Berry College, the commitment to teacher education has allowed for long-term curricular and budgetary investments. We continue to struggle with working with our arts and sciences colleagues to understand the process aspects of their content teaching.

Teacher education faculty also deal with teacher education students as we expect them to deal with their own pupils. This involves surfacing students’ alternative conceptions or misconceptions, and then building understanding of the alternative conceptions pupils will bring to the classroom. Content is thus revealed, making it approachable but challenging. In the teacher education classroom, an approach to teaching content is modeled that begins with experiences orienting students to a content issue. Student ideas are then elicited, and a process of restructuring ideas is modeled which challenges student ideas and introduces accepted ideas. Students then have the chance to apply their ideas through experience, and review their change in thinking. This “constructivist teaching model” (Scott, 1987) is taught not as a pattern to be reproduced but as a way of understanding constructivist teaching, allowing for variety based on context. Students then explore the understanding of the pupils they may teach. In science methods for example, students are given the assignment of interviewing a child about conceptions in one area of science. The instructor models surfacing alternative conceptions in several science content areas, providing experiences that challenge student conceptions and then discussing current scientific views. Students then watch and discuss videos of child interviews that reveal specific content misconceptions. Students research a science concept and interview a child. They videotape their interview and write a reflective summary on what they learned about student understandings of science concepts. College students are amazed at how differently children think about everyday phenomena.

Although there is clear need for understanding of disciplinary content, that understanding must become a part of interdisciplinary thinking. Once one steps outside the classroom, there is little in life that narrowly follows disciplines. Berry College is in the process of breaking down course walls, moving all courses to become “blocks” team taught by professors bringing different perspectives together. A literacy block will bring together reading, language arts, and literature. An inquiry block will share math and science. An integrated arts block will allow social studies, art, music, and PE to create integrated units. A foundations block will bring together psychology and education. Curriculum brokers will ensure that technology, child development, special education, and second-language learners are integrated throughout all blocks. Blocks will be integrated vertically through faculty sharing of expertise and the development and modeling of interdisciplinary units, with faculty time and expertise choreographed to “dance” through disciplinary walls. In this way, content areas will be given meaning within integrated blocks emphasizing active/inquisitory approaches to knowledge.

Georgia State University

The Collaborative Master’s Program (CMP) at Georgia State University is a master’s degree program based on constructivist principles and the work of Dewey. The ongoing nature of program allows for the following (Rainer & Guyton, 1999):

  • living the process of a constructivist model is part of the content of the program
  • contextually bound part of work (classroom teaching) gives meaning to content and process
  • integrated content
  • deep engagement with content

The process of teaching is the content of the CMP, as teacher education faculty model constructivist approaches to pedagogy. Faculty lead students to negotiate the content of the program. For example, work in math methods is begun by discussing current professional standards in mathematics education (NCTM) and the relationship of these standards to the teachers’ practice. As the teachers look at both of these in light of constructivist theory, they begin to ask questions of faculty and faculty ask questions of teachers. Together a very ambitious list of topics is generated that the group would like to explore together. Topics are sorted into relevant categories, for example, topics such as problem solving, critical thinking and technology are grouped together with the NCTM standards on communication and reasoning. After narrowing the list to a manageable set of integrated concepts, the ideas are discussed and assigned, including a time line and designation of individuals responsible for discussions and resources. Faculty members prepare a “proposed” agenda based on these decisions. As each class begins, the agenda is presented for additions and revisions. Faculty contributions include providing reflective questions, current research on the topics, and an activity involving children’s literature and physical models. Teacher’s contributions involve demonstrating effective practice, reflecting on changes in pedagogy, and sharing resources.

Teachers select one area about which they want to study in some depth, collaboratively in focus groups. Example topics have been teaching math, the teaching of reading, culturally relevant curriculum, assessment and evaluation. These groups design not only the content they will study, but also the process through which to study it. Each group has a faculty advisor for resources, coaching, and guiding. In addition to documenting the knowledge of mathematics and literacy teachers gain through this process, they are asked to document their own learning process. The goal is for them to be metacognitive and articulate about their own learning process. The learning frameworks help teachers design their current and future studies.

When teachers engage in designing the benchmark, rubric, capstone, and grading process, the understanding of assessment and evaluation becomes personal. These are probably the most challenging experiences of the year for teachers in the CMP. What teachers learn about assessment and evaluation of content becomes important to them personally. Rather than learning about assessment and evaluation mostly by reading, they are living the content through the process of designing assessments of their own learning.

Mansfield University of Pennsylvania

The teacher education program at Mansfield University of Pennsylvania works with inservice teachers in their classrooms to contextualize their content. The program encourages deep engagement with content.

In an emerging literacy course, students are held accountable for content by checking that they have completed a log based on chapters. Five or 10 entries are required depending on the length of the chapter. The entries include one paragraph about an idea expressed in their own words and one paragraph about the reactions. The logs are used in small group discussions and in writing their final philosophy paper. The latter must demonstrate that they have grasped the critical content (the five major topics are specified that the paper must address). The instructor models this process while collaborating with a local third-grade teacher. Students read about emerging literacy, experience it as a learner through simulation and modeling, and then have a third-grade writing partner with whom they experience literacy issues.

Early Childhood Curriculum follows emerging literacy. The course included nine classes where students must work for two hours in second grade classrooms. They are observed on a rotating basis and create lesson plans and reflections after each class. During the rest of the course, content is introduced using parts of several NAEYC texts. Students develop a resource notebook organized around the seven topics and then make a concept map. This helps them link information they have learned in many courses.

Mills College

Inherent in the concept of constructivism are the notions of content and process. The teacher education program at Mills College strives to help students think about this dichotomy as complementary. One program principle articulates this area as “Teaching for the acquisition and construction of subject matter knowledge.” A primary focus of the Mills College graduate-level credential programs is to help candidates think in different ways about the subject matter knowledge they already possess. Opportunities are provided for students to transform their content knowledge into working knowledge often referred to in the literature as pedagogical content knowledge. That is, students analyze and reorganize their subject matter knowledge in ways that will make it possible for them to provide similar opportunities for their students to organize knowledge. In addition, candidates construct and reconstruct their own subject matter knowledge where necessary as a means to obtain and develop more pedagogical content knowledge in the future.

To emphasize the contrast and dichotomy of process and content, students engage with content at an adult level while thinking about the teaching of that content (or process) at the instructional level — whether it be for a child or an adult. For example, all elementary-education students participate in Writers’ Workshop during the second semester. The semester ends with a publishing party where a collection of writing with a contribution from each class member is published. By participating in writers’ workshop, student teachers think about content and process in several ways. First they think about the nature of learning to write; we might consider this content about learner development. Second they think about different aspects of writing, like genre, writing conventions, the process of writing and rewriting. Here, process is the content. Third they think about writers’ workshop as an instructional technique, from the perspective of the learner and the perspective of the teacher. As learners, they connect this aspect with the developmental content, and as teachers they connect this aspect with the process of writing and the pedagogy of writing instruction. This “activity” helps clarify the dichotomy and overlap of content and process.

In both the methodology classes and in child development classes, students examine children’s learning of mathematics and literacy and apply that understanding to thinking about how best to teach the content. Thus, throughout the program there is a goal of coordinating the nature of the discipline, children’s learning, instructional practice and an overall view of the curriculum.


Constructivist approaches to teacher education must deal with the issues of content and process, acknowledging the vital link between content and its acquisition. Constructivism challenges some basic understandings of content knowledge. At the same time, research supporting constructivist approaches brings insights to teacher education practice that makes for more powerful teaching and student understanding of content. An understanding of the nature of pedagogical content knowledge leads teacher educators to work more closely with arts and sciences faculty to help students integrate their experiences in content courses with their experiences in teacher education courses. Examples at several teacher education programs reinforce these understandings.

These program examples share an understanding that content and process are inseparable. Programs consciously link methods courses with content, focusing teacher candidates on thinking in different ways about content. Modeling by teacher education faculty engages students with content while they learn strategies to teach that content. Content is negotiated with students, with an emphasis on concepts over facts. Courses are blocked across content areas to model interdisciplinary teaching and learning. Finally, efforts are underway to increase collaboration with arts and sciences faculty toward creating a seamless teacher education program.

Teacher education provides a multiplier effect. As we model approaches that lead our students to understand content deeply and to view content and process as inseparable aspects of knowledge construction, our students gain the perspectives and abilities to move their students to deeper understandings of content. Powerful teacher education should lead to students at all levels of schooling coming to better appreciations of the world around them. A constructivist approach shows us that content and process are not dichotomous. As more teachers come to that understanding, many more students will benefit.  


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