Novice Teachers' Thinking Development from Practicum to Early Career
Teacher education programmes have focused on training student teachers with knowledge of teaching methodologies and good teaching performance. What is going on inside student teachers’ minds in their processes of learning to teach is more difficult to observe and sometimes overshadowed by this primary focus. This study sets out to gain a deeper understanding of student teachers’ developing cognition while learning to teach. The existing literature on teachers’ critical thinking, reflection, and cognition provides various frameworks each of which presents different levels or stages of teachers’ development in the respective domains. Each level or stage is characterised by certain concerns, beliefs, skills, discourse, or teaching behaviours. However, underlying processes of change – i.e. how teachers move from lower levels to higher levels of such development, what triggers such movement – and how such movement enhances their teaching effectiveness are under-researched. In addition, those existing frameworks describe major stages of teachers’ development during the whole of their professional journeys. Little research zooms in novice teachers’ thinking development. This research takes an exploratory approach, without relying on any existing frameworks, to investigating and theorising the unseen thinking development processes of novice teachers during the important transition from teaching practicum to early career teaching. The research included three stages of inquiry in which one stage was developed from the previous stage and its results were constantly compared to those of the previous one. The first stage involved in-depth individual interviews with nine early career teachers. The second stage involved working closely with a cohort of five student teachers during four months of their teaching practicum in the same teacher training program. The third stage involved my following one of the cohort members into the first two years of his teaching through online communication about their experiences and thinking about language teaching in real-life contexts. The close interaction with the novice teachers incrementally constructed a clearer picture of the complexity and dynamics of their thinking. The stories of the three groups revealed and confirmed a hierarchy of attention to core aspects of effective teaching. However, the movement across the hierarchy was not linear but fluctuating and causing dissonance between their cognition and practice. Moreover, the novice teachers’ thinking development also involved the development of generic thinking skills – from “either-or” thinking to “both-and” thinking, from single-perspective to multi-perspective thinking, and from a focus on the detail to 'big picture' thinking. Thinking development was found to go hand in hand with the development of teaching effectiveness, understanding of teaching methodologies, and awareness of professional identity. This research proposes a tentative framework of novice teachers’ thinking development from teaching practicum to early career teaching. The framework presents both content and processes of their thinking changes, both internal and external factors influencing their thinking changes, and both teaching-domain-specific and general thinking skills. This framework suggests reconsidering the over-emphasis on surface teaching methodology and teaching performance in teacher education programs and calls for more attention to the thinking, emotions, and self-awareness which strongly influence novice teachers’ teaching performance and professional identity.