Telling the Stories of Teaching: Reflective Writing for Preservice Teachers
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Telling the Stories of Teaching: Reflective Writing forPreservice TeachersDavid J. Langley a & Terry Senne ba Department of Physical Education , Indiana State University , Terre Haute , IN , 47809b Department of Kinesiology , Elmhurst College , Elmhurst , ILPublished online: 22 Feb 2013.
To cite this article: David J. Langley & Terry Senne (1997) Telling the Stories of Teaching: Reflective Writing for PreserviceTeachers, Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 68:8, 56-57, DOI: 10.1080/07303084.1997.10605008
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07303084.1997.10605008
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Telling the Stories of Teaching:Reflective Writing for Preservice
TeachersDAVID t. LANGLEY TERRY SENNE
T he basic structure underlyingstories or narratives can beused to guide the process ofreflective writing for preserviceteachers. Reflective writing is com-monly used in undergraduatepracticum courses to help preserviceteachers critically examine theirteaching experiences. In particular,the structure of stories can be usedto show how significant events areconnected and how problems orconcerns are approached and (per-haps) resolved.
The Value andStructure of StoriesStories are a universal means to orga-nize and express personal experi-ence (Bruner, 1986). A broad litera-ture base has developed in educa-tional research on the practicalknowledge of teachers as revealed inthe stories they tell (Carter, 1993,1995). Stories function to informboth the reader of a knowledge baseand to transform the reader by com-municating new ideas and concepts(Doyle, 1997;Jackson, 1995). Inphysical education, researchers havebegun to use a storied approach tounderstand the life histories ofteachers (Sparkes, Templin, &Schempp, 1993) and to examinehow students describe and explain theskill learning process (Langley, 1995).
Carter (1993) suggests that storiesconsist of three basic elements: (1) aprotagonist/set of characters, (2) aproblem or situation involving con-flict, and (3) a sequence of con-nected events (a plot) that attemptsto resolve the conflict. The broad useof stories to understand personal ex-perience is evident in Scholes' state-ment that "any set of events that canbe sequenced and related can alsobe narrated" (1981, p. 205).Huberman (1995) agrees and sug-gests that it is common for teachersto connect teaching events into astory that has a beginning, middle,and end. Thus, stories are a vehiclefor delivering an ordered, coherentaccount of one's teaching experience.
Stories and TeacherReflectionReflecting on teaching can be viewedas a storied process. Reconstructingan event through stories helps usmake sense out of what has hap-pened (Mattingly, 1991) and therebylearn from that experience.Gudmundsdottir (1995) affirms thisconnection between reflection andthe stories produced from reflection:
Reflection involves thoughtful ex-planation of past events. Mere mo-ments and happenings have no sys-tematic cognitive connection. Theystand behind one another in a tern-
poral sequence and it is onlythrough reflection that they begin totake on the form of a story and ac-quire meaning. (p. 33)
The usefulness of stories for un-derstanding reflection is also impliedin Huberman's comment that "somepeople have nothing to tell us abouttheir past (experiences) ...perhaps,because they have told themselveslittle along the way" (1995, p. 136).
In the physical education litera-ture, Siedentop (1988) suggestedthat reflection requires a structuredapproach to examine events in thegymnasium as well as teacher/stu-dent relationships. We contend thatstories provide a structured contextto decipher the meanings thatpreservice teachers construct fromtheir practice teaching.
Connecting Stories andReflective Writing: Methodand ExamplesIn a recent field experience class forundergraduate preservice teachers,we explored the value of using sto-ries as a tool to understand whatpreservice teachers gained fromtheir teaching. Four different sites(two middle schools and two highschools) were used in the class. Four-teen students were enrolled, andeach student independently taughtsix or seven 40-minute classes for a
Vol. 68 No.8' JOPERD October 1997
six week period. One group of eightstudents provided lesson content forbasketball at the middle school leveland either badminton or selectedtrack and field events at the highschool level. A second group of sixstudents provided lessons for volley-ball and badminton (middle school)and softball (high school).
As the practica drew to a close, wepresented the students with instruc-tions for their reflective writing. Thebasic focus of the paper was on eachstudent's experience as a preserviceteacher at the middle school andhigh school level. We suggested thatone way to talk about these eventswas to tell a story. Three basic partsof a story were revealed in our in-structions (Carter, 1993):
1. a main character and/or a set ofrelated characters. In this paper, youare the main character, while yourstudents, fellow teachers, supervisingteacher, or other individuals mayserve as related characters.
2. a problem orconflict that needsresolution. You will decide, on an in-dividual basis, the major problemthat you have had to resolve duringyour teaching experience. Try to fo-cus on one primary concern ratherthan a series of problems.
3. a setof related eventsthat lead toa resolution of the problem. Again,the way in which you resolve theproblem and the events that led tothe resolution will differ among stu-dents because of your diverse teach-ing experiences.
The preservice teachers wereasked to weave together a true storyabout their teaching that includedthe elements described. The explicitdescription of the structure helpedto avoid methods ofwriting that maynot have been directly comparableacross different individuals. The pa-per was valued at 10 percent of thecourse grade, and evaluation wasbased on content, organization, andappropriate length (2 to 3 double-spaced pages).
Three examples of reflective writ-ing using the suggested story struc-ture are presented here. The storieshave been reduced in length while
October 1997 JOPERD Vol. 68 No.8
retaining the basic three-part struc-ture. All preservice teachers providedinformed consent, and pseudonymsare used throughout this section.
Steve's Story. Steve began by de-scribing his elementary schoolpracticum experience in a previoussemester as "a fantasy. The childrenwere fun, polite, listened, andworked hard." This experience wascontrasted with his first field settinginvolving basketball at a middle school,labeled "Nightmare on Elm Street"
I arrived at Nightmare on Elm Street
and met 15 horror students lead by
Simon Krugger...Simon Krugger was
out of control, and when he was out of
control, his disciples were out of con-
trol. From the first day of class, Simon
was running around yelling, ignoring
the teacher and causing chaos...I had a
very hard problem keeping his crea-
tures on-task doing what they were sup-
posed to do.
Steve separated Simon from hisfriends and paired him with a highlyskilled male athlete during basket-ball practice activities. As a result,"he calmed down a bit, a verylittle...Krugger was still a terror thenext lesson, but I got stern with himand he calmed down a little."
Simon's friends were low skilled,and the constant off-task behavior ofthis group concerned Steve. Con-tinual vigilance by Steve in his moni-toring plan and a progressive set ofbasketball game-like activities paiddividends:
This was a genius plan. I now had all of
my class on-task almost the whole time
and they began to enjoy basketball.
The best move I made was separating
Simon Krugger from his disciples and
putting him with his angel Treybo. I
outsmarted Simon Krugger and his dis-
ciples and turned the class around
from a nightmare to a bad dream.
Tom's Story. Tom had not attendedthe university during the fall becausehe played professional football for aCanadian Football League team. Hereflected on his return to school in apractica setting:
I felt like something was totally missing
from my life. I realized how much I
missed working with students during
this break...Sitting out for a semester
really affected my ability to work with
students and caused problems during
my teaching this semester...During my
lessons I didn't feel as secure as I imag-
ined I would be.
The primary instructional prob-lem faced by Tom involved his ten-dency to show favoritism toward thehigher skilled students during a bad-minton unit at the high school:
When I went back and reviewed my
daily lessons on videotape, I noticed
that 75 percent of my comments were
directed toward the students who were
successful at the task I had planned...I
had left the lower skill level girls alone
on one task for at least 20 minutes. Af-
ter severa1lessons and constant film ob-
servation, I was not at peace with myself
because of my inability to develop an
appropriate lesson for the high and low
skill level students.
In reaction to this situation, Tomdeveloped a specific and measuredapproach to counter the teachingbehaviors he had observed from hisvideotape.
The first step was to spend more time
on my written lesson plans. I thor-
oughly revised each written lesson and
created proper progressions for success
and failure at each task. The second
area that I concentrated on was gather-
ing information on proper mechanics
of each skill. This allowed me to give
constructive feedback whenever a stu-
dent had a problem of performing a
skill...I feel that these experiences
helped me mature and rekindled the
fire for my desire to be a teacher. I
learned that you must be patient with
students. I think because I am an ath-
lete I expect my students to be flawless.
Kevin's Story. Kevin's story involvedthe importance of understandingthe meaning behind off-task behav-ior and the need to develop appro-priate communication skills. Early in
Continued on page60
Stories of TeachingContinuedJrom page 57
the high school practica, Kevinpaired his female students togetherbecause "there was something tellingme that they would work well to-gether and learn from each other"across the teaching sessions.
Yes, this was considered my lower
skilled group and they had problems at
times...At first! thought this group just
was not listening. Then it hit me. My
cues and directions for lower skill stu-
dents are just too complex. They were
easy to me and easy for the higher
skilled students but these cues just are
not for beginning students...! told my-
self to stay simple and lead each activity
into another similar activity to keep in-
terest up ...This worked as it did in
middle school for my lower skillievel...!
found that when the lower skill students
are challenged by competition they
tend to work together better and ex-
tend their abilities. The main moral of
this story is to remember the things you
learn through experience. Experience
is the best way to learn and! forgot
how to communicate to the lower skill
group... Communication is the key to
helping the lower skilled students be-
come confident and willing to participate.
Carter (1995) argues that storiesare well-suited for understanding thepractical knowledge of teacherswithin a particular teaching environ-ment. What do we consider illumi-nating in the stories and the processused to portray preservice teacherreflections?
First, the structure implied instorytelling-a series of connectedevents over time-forced thepreservice teachers to view their de-cisions and actions in light of theirpersonal histories. For example, Tomfelt that his background as a highlyskilled athlete initially compoundedhis inability to deal effectively withhis low skilled female students. In amore immediate sense, Kevin usedhis previous experience with lowskilled middle school students toguide the corrective process with hislow skilled high school female stu-
dents. Finally, the language Steveused to describe his middle schoolfield experience (a "nightmare") wasbased on his previous experiencewith elementary-aged students (a"fantasy"). Steve's subsequent actionswith the middle school studentsseemed focused on developing stu-dent behavior that paralleled his el-ementary students who were "fun,polite, and listened well."
Second, writing stories gavepreservice teachers an opportunityto show their adaptive capabilities inresponse to perceived concerns. Ex-pressing these capabilities on papercements the message in the mind ofthe writer and illustrates Anderson'scontention that "stories are first andforemost for the teller, not the lis-tener" (1997, p. 135).
Third, although the constructionof stories is considered a universalway of expressing knowledge(Bruner, 1986), we believe it is valu-able to provide specific instructionsto preservice teachers on the ele-ments of a story. In reading the com-pleted stories of our preserviceteachers, it was apparent that the es-sential, three-part story structure waspresent. We view Carter's (1993) sug-gestions as a simple tool to keep thewriter focused and to ensure that thepapers are comparable in structure.
In summary, preservice teachersneed to reflect and write on their ex-periences in a structured, repeatableway in order to compare the value ofpast and future teaching events. Wesuggest that stories of teaching mayhelp to clarify past experiences andlead to a more systematic and deeperunderstanding of teacher decisionsand actions.
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David Langley is an assistant professor in
the Department of Physical Education at
Indiana State University, Terre Haute, IN
47809. Terry Senne is an assistant profes-
sor in the Department of Kinesiology at
Elmhurst College, Elmhurst, IL.
Vol. 68 No.8 JOPERD October 1997