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Problems in Developing A Constructivist Approach to Teaching: One Teacher’s Transition from Teacher Preparation to Teaching

Leslie Susan Cook
Peter Smagorinsky
The University of Georgia
Pamela G. Fry
Oklahoma State University
Bonnie Konopak
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
Cynthia Moore
The University of Georgia


This article reports a case study of an elementary school teacher moving from her university teacher education program into her first full-time job. Using the theoretical lens provided by activity theory, we analyze her conceptualization of teaching as she moves through the key settings of her university program, student teaching, and first job. This conceptualization began with the university's emphasis on constructivism, a notion that diffused as she moved from the formal environment of the university to the practical environment of the schools. Data for the study included pre-teaching interviews, classroom observations, pre- and post-observation interviews, group concept map activities, interviews with supervisors and administrators, and artifacts from schools and teaching. Data analysis sought to identify tools for teaching and the ways in which those tools were supported by the environments of teaching. Results center on two aspects of constructivist teaching: the teacher's use of integrations and the decentering of the classroom. The analysis found that the teacher, rather than developing and sustaining a concept of constructivist teaching, instead developed what Vygotsky calls a complex; that is, a less unified understanding and application of the abstraction. Implications of the study concern ways of thinking about the common pedagogical problem faced by teacher educators when students of their programs abandon the theoretical principles stressed in university programs.

* Elementary School Journal, 120(5), 2002.

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