Case Studies of Teaching and Learning

Joint project with the Leibniz University, Hannover

Students teachers often describe a wide range of essential aspects to teaching: teacher behaviour and personality, professional, subject-related and pedagogic skills as well as the methodical construction of lessons. Yet here the learners, the main people in the lesson, do not come into view, or they are only on the edge. Teacher trainers seem to retain the perspective of lessons that they experienced as school students, that is the teacher as the main figure. This experience is reinforced by the fact that the development of students’ identity as teachers is often void of significant experiences that can shake and change their previous life’s world views of teaching and learning.

Against the backdrop of the now accepted theories on the acquisition of knowledge and its importance for learning, the significance of observation becomes clear. Moderate constructivist and empirical research (Hattie 2010) stresses that the most important conditions for learning processes rest with the learner. Learners construct their own buildings of thought independently and only they can re-construct, extend or link them (Reinmann-Rothmeier & Mandl 2001). These theoretical assumptions are also supported by neurobiological findings (Roth 2003). The decade-long idea of learning as passive reception has been abandoned and thus a serious rethinking of the design of teaching is necessary.

With this change in the conception of learning, the teacher's role also changes from that of being a teacher to that of being an accompanier and supporter. The teacher opens up learning opportunities and moderates learning processes for the active learners. The primary focus is on the learner. Important is the diagnosis of learning potential and knowledge about how understanding processes can be continuously initiated. Essential for this are studies on students’ conceptions (Gropengießer 2001, Dannemann 2009, Niebert 2010), which describe the prevalent mindsets of learners on different topics and consequently develop guidelines for school practice. An important component of the teaching system is the connection between the pupils' conceptions and learning potential and the relevant teaching subject’s concepts and required competencies. This comparison can point out starting points but also learning obstacles, and thus possible learning paths. Didactic reconstruction provides a methodological framework for the accomplishment of this task (Gropengießer & Kattmann 2009).

In a cross-sectional study Schmelzing et al. (2010) examined the extent to which science education knowledge and the reflexive ability of student teachers, beginner teachers and experienced teachers differed. Classroom situations in which pupils' perceptions led to difficulties in understanding were analysed and assessed. It was shown that the diagnostic competency of teacher trainers surrounding students’ learning potentials was low, only significantly increasing with increased professional experience. However, beginner teachers had the greatest ability to explicate students’ difficulties in a didactically appropriate way, with this capacity decreasing with increased teaching experience.

This shows that it is also necessary to focus on the linking of theory and practice in professional development courses for experienced teachers.

To date student teachers have obviously had insufficient opportunities within teaching degree programs to expand their perspectives from a teacher-centric view towards one also encompassing school students’ points of views. There is a lack of interventions that enable teacher trainers to question their experiences during their time as school students and thus to change their perspective on teaching. This limits teachers’ ability to consistently look at teaching and to understand processes from students’ perspectives. We were able to observe this change of perspective towards the study of the teaching-learning process from the school student’s perspective when teacher trainers were intensively engaged in empirical research about individual learning processes. The discrepancies discovered between the intended and the achieved learning outcomes have the potential to change student teachers' perceptions of teaching in the direction of a professional understanding.

One possibility to make such situations available to student teachers in seminars is through video-vignettes that show exemplary teaching situations. These situations would be selected in such a way that the teacher trainer’s relevant subject-related problems are shown prototypically. Gruber (1999, 2006) showed through the example of expertise research that experiential learning and the acquisition of competencies are, in particular, about the reflection of errors and the categorization and indexing of situations.

In this project, key parts of school lessons are filmed for up to five minutes and can serve as case studies. The videos are to be developed together with students in their teaching placements and in seminars on research methodology. For the design of the teaching situations, preparatory work within the framework of educational reconstruction is used, which draws the school students’ conceptions to the fore, analyses them and enables suggestions for teaching. In teaching experiments the developments of students’ conceptions should be evaluated in small groups with two to three learners. The consent of all parties involved is strictly observed. The created videos can be evaluated by the student teachers with the help of qualitative content analysis (Mayring 2003, Gropengießer 2005). The videos form the basis of the vignettes and the creation of a case study for learning in biology.

The project has two phases – a development phase, in which the filmed teaching experiments are developed, undertaken and filmed, and a research phase, in which the filmed teaching segments are evaluated.

The filmed collection for the learning of biology can be used in the first and second phases of teacher training to promote diagnostic competence and to reflect and discuss the design of learning opportunities in school practice. It is crucial that new teachers learn to take the pupils’ perspectives into consideration in order to understand where the learner in the case study is experiencing difficulty. Thus, based on the conceptual opportunity approach, students teachers perform a constructive re-learning of their previous ways of looking at teaching-learning processes (Strike & Posner 1992). Afterwards the student teachers can develop ideas about what could be appropriate learning possibilities for the school student. In this way - beyond the planning and design skills of teaching - the student teachers are supported to develop reflexion competencies. This method can also be used to support more experienced teachers in professional development settings.