CAN METHODS COURSES SUPPLANT APPRENTICESHIP OF OBSERVATION AS THE PRIMARY SOURCE OF PEDAGOGICAL CONTENT KNOWLEDGE?

 

Warren Haston, Ph.D.

Georgia State University

whaston@gsu.edu

 

            Shulman (1986) divides the teacher knowledge base into four categories: general pedagogical knowledge, subject matter knowledge, knowledge of learners, and pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). Conway (1999) states, “[PCK] includes an understanding of the problems associated with learning on musical instruments and the strategies connected to successful instrumental music teaching” (p. 344). Students gain PCK from observing teachers, from methods classes, and from subject matter knowledge (Boardman Meske, 1985; Clark, 1988; Gohlke, 1994; Grossman, 1990; Hanley, 1993; Leonhard, 1985; Lortie, 1975; Schmidt, 1998; Shulman, 1986; Wing, 1993).

            Three significant PCK studies in music – Gohlke (1994), Schmidt (1998), and Hodges (1982) – show that pre-service teachers gain the majority of their PCK from apprenticeship of observation (Gohlke 1994), despite the fact that students do not witness teachers’ thought processes, and that personal histories account more for differences in PCK than methods classes (Schmidt, 1998). When placed in a real-world classroom where methods class theories seemed irrelevant, pre-service teachers reverted to models learned before college (Hodges, 1982). Pre-service teachers enter teacher education “with well established perceptions of what teachers do and what teaching is” (Richards & Killen, 1996, p. 31).

            The examination of the effectiveness of methods classes reveals dissatisfaction (Boardman Meske, 1985; Leonhard, 1985; Taylor, 1970). Students cite disengagement between theory and practice (Boardman Meske, 1985; Leonhard, 1988; Taylor, 1970). Do pre-service teachers get little out of methods classes, or do they subconsciously reject much of what methods classes offer due to predispositions and misconceptions from years of observations (Clark, 1988; Grossman, 1990; Wing, 1993; Brinkman, 1995)? These predispositions “may indeed be counterproductive if new insight in teaching is desirable” (Hanley, 1993, p. 10).

            Leonhard (1985) calls for us to broaden our concept of methods courses. Hanley (1993) suggests in order for this to happen, there are three conditions that must be met: 1) The methods class must deliver a theoretical base and practical skills, 2) pre-service teachers must examine their own assumptions and predispositions in such a way that theory and practice become integrated, and 3) methods instructors must constantly monitor their teaching so that they are providing practical advice (p. 11).

            If the methods class is to serve its purpose, reforms may be necessary. Opportunities to unite theory and practice while still in the methods class are necessary. Methods classes taught in a laboratory setting may be the best alternative (Boardman Meske, 1985; Brinkman, 1995; Garmon, 1993; Gohlke, 1994; Hanley, 1993; Leonhard, 1985), or a Professional Development Partnership (Conkling & Henry, 1999). Methods class instructors can take an inventory of their students’ PCK and plan the course accordingly. Brinkman (1995) and Leonhard (1985) suggest that methods instructors teach a laboratory group, implement theories discussed in the methods class, and offer students a new source of PCK through observation.

            Gohlke (1994) echoes the claims of many, that research into the knowledge base of music teachers is a prerequisite to reform. Research must be conducted that more adequately considers the acquisition and role of PCK.