Changes in thinking and pedagogical content knowledge in learning to teach English as a second language
Purpose This study examines how student teachers for whom English is a second language develop their professional knowledge in learning to teach ESL. The focus of the research is on their change in thinking and pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) during teacher education. PCK, as defined here, includes the following four domains: Knowledge of the subject content, knowledge of lesson planning, knowledge of instructional strategies and knowledge of the teaching context. The study also seeks to find out how student teachers' pre-training beliefs and conceptions affect their attitudes towards professional preparation, and to identify the factors which influence their professional development. Procedures The subjects were eight student teachers taking English language teaching as one of their two major elective subjects in the full-time Certificate in Education (Secondary) Course in the Hong Kong Institute of Education. The full period of data collection covered two years - the length of the CE Course during 1996-1998. The methods of data collection included a blend of qualitative techniques: semi-structured interviews, journals, classroom observations, pre-observation interviews, stimulated recall procedures, and field documents such as lesson plans. All together, five sets of data were collected at different stages of the CE Course to plot the changes in the eight student teachers' thinking and PCK. In analysing the data, constant comparisons, coding and conceptual analysis of data were made as the aim of the research is to develop into a grounded theory (Glazer and Strauss, 1967) on the cognitive change of ESL student teachers during training. Major Findings In general, the student teachers' thinking, knowledge and practices did change during the course, and sometimes critically. The findings support the contention that student teachers' instructional actions are closely related to their conceptions of teaching. This study also suggests that, given appropriate contextual conditions, the student teachers who considered themselves linguistically deficient and whose knowledge on entry to the course was far from subject specific could be engaged in pedagogical thinking and learn ideas they did not bring to the teacher education programme. The study further suggests that the development of the student teachers’ thinking and PCK appeared to be integral to their professional development. While such development is influenced by various factors, some are more effective than others in preparing them to be fully-fledged classroom teachers. Seeing it as an initial study along this line of inquiry in Hong Kong, the findings have added to the literature as to how and why the thinking and pedagogical content knowledge of student teachers change during training, and have provided clues to explain discrepancies in teacher behaviour between teacher education and teaching years, from which implications were drawn for teacher education curriculum. Although these findings show possible patterns of ESL student teachers’ development during teacher education, they do not imply any linearity in the nature of the trend. However, they contribute to the ongoing endeavour to construction of a theory of student teachers' development.