Teaching for understanding: Exploring preservice science teachers' beliefs and practices

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


John W. Tillotson


Preservice teachers, Teaching, Science teachers, Beliefs

Subject Categories

Curriculum and Instruction | Education | Science and Mathematics Education | Teacher Education and Professional Development


Based on the assumption that teachers' practices are influenced by their beliefs, this dissertation examined preservice science teachers' beliefs about teaching for understanding and how these beliefs are reflected in their classroom practices during the full-time student teaching semester. Participants were nine preservice science teachers enrolled at a large northeastern university in the U.S.A. The data were triangulated by using different data sources. The participants were interviewed and observed twice throughout the student teaching semester. Artifacts used by in teaching (unit plans) or for Teacher Development course (videotaped lessons, reflective journals, action research papers) were also collected to as data sources.

Consistent with previous research, results of this study revealed that preservice teachers' beliefs about teaching for understanding do not necessarily influence classroom practice. Indeed, this was the case for this sample of nine preservice science teachers, all of whom possessed beliefs consistent with those advocated by current reforms in science education, but who differed widely in terms of experience and teaching contexts. The results of this research revealed that majority of the participant preservice teachers did not really "understand" what it meant to teach for and assess understanding, although they were aware of effective strategies they could use in their classrooms. Therefore, this study claimed that the preservice teachers' beliefs reported in the first interviews and the rationale papers were the reflections of what they learned in the science methods and other formal education courses. Of critical importance was preservice teachers' lack of preparation for teaching.

It was evident that having the knowledge base, beliefs and intentions to teach for understanding was not sufficient to monitor and promote understanding in the classrooms. Therefore, science teacher education programs need to directly address teachers' abilities to translate their knowledge base about teaching for understanding into classroom practice. A systematic and concerted effort to help preservice teachers develop their knowledge and the classroom skills and abilities that will enable them to transform their knowledge base and beliefs about teaching and learning into classroom practice should be pursued and systematically evaluated.


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