The importance of becoming a something-ist: Exploring how pre-service teachers fashion theory

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cultural Foundations of Education


Gerald M. Mager


Preservice teachers, Theory, Constructivism, Methods textbooks

Subject Categories

Education | Social and Philosophical Foundations of Education | Teacher Education and Professional Development


The concept of theory, in all of its forms, remains a central fixture within teacher education. However, some scholars have claimed that the multiple ways theory has been represented within the field--from the application of formal mathematical models to the development of reflective personal theories---has consequentially rendered theory meaningless. In line with current constructivist-minded teacher education research efforts, this qualitative study explores how nine graduate preservice teachers, at a large private northeastern research university, construct meaning around notions of theory they formed while proceeding through their preparation program. Chapter 1 discusses how the researcher, a constructivist-minded teacher educator, became interested in how preservice teachers' experiences influence their approaches to teaching and learning. Chapter 2 explores how teacher education research has shifted its focus from teachers' behaviors to teachers' cognitions. This chapter also, through textbook analysis, re-establishes how theory has consistently maintained its central position within teacher education. Chapter 3 describes the design of the study. It describes how participants were recruited to sit for open-ended interviews, submit written drafts of centerpiece coursework assignments, and critique interview summaries subsequently fashioned after each interview session. The interview summaries were iteratively converted into detailed individualized portraits that attempt to represent how the participants fashion their notions of theory. Chapter 4 contains these portraits and represents the study's findings. Chapter 5 while attending to the research literature offers an analysis and discussion of the findings across portraits. The findings from the study suggest that the participants successfully crafted their own theories about teaching and learning while being required to make sense of the various theories and experiences they were exposed to. The findings also suggest that the participants view the creation of educational or "soft" theories, as quite removed from the processes that create more scientific, or "hard" theories. And, in a departure from existing research, the participants did not view theory pejoratively. Implications for teacher education programmatic practices and constructivist-minded teacher education research are included.


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