depends for success on monitoring of student thinking about complex problems and relies on ongoing targeted feedback to students.
Windschitl warned that this type of ambitious teaching is unlike instruction in which most teachers have participated or even witnessed. Past efforts to reform teaching have had only a “modest track record,” he said, and the broad trends in science classrooms today suggest that improvements are needed. Classes often focus on activity rather than sense-making discourse (Roth and Garnier, 2006, 2007; Weiss et al., 2003); teachers rarely press students for explanations, use questioning effectively, or take into account students’ prior knowledge (Baldi et al., 2007; Banilower et al., 2008).
In the face of these disturbing trends, Windschitl said, it is important to consider what the research tells us about how teachers learn to teach science. First, content knowledge is very important, and is related to student learning (Magnusson et al., 1992). Teachers with strong content knowledge are more likely to teach in ways that help students construct knowledge, pose appropriate questions, suggest alternative explanations, and propose additional inquiries (Alonzo, 2002; Brickhouse, 1990; Gess-Newsome and Lederman, 1995; Lederman, 1999; Roehrig and Luft, 2004; Sanders, Borko, and Lockard, 1993). Second, he said, preservice teachers come into preparation with deeply engrained theories about what counts as good teaching and what counts as learning. These theories can be resistant to change and may filter out learning of new approaches to science instruction, unless teacher educators surface the theories and work actively to counter them.
Teacher preparation programs capable of addressing these learning challenges have several characteristics, Windschitl said. They center on a common core curriculum grounded in substantial knowledge of child or adolescent development, learning, and subject-specific pedagogy. They provide students with extended opportunities to practice under the guidance of mentors (student teaching), lasting at least 30 weeks, that reflect the program’s vision of good teaching and are interwoven with course work. Short-term interventions have shown little capacity to change teacher preconceptions (Wideen, Mayer-Smith, and Moon, 1998), but longer term approaches that explicitly seek to elicit and work with novice teachers’ initial beliefs have shown some success in fostering reform-based teaching (Fosnot, 1996; Graber, 1996; Windschitl and Thompson, 2006). Other characteristics of effective teacher preparation programs include extensive