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Thesis abstract

In Broken Images: A postpositivist analysis of student needs talk in pre-service teacher education

Erica McWilliam
School of Cultural and Policy Studies
Faculty of Education, QUT

This study applies postpositivist theorising to an analysis of how pre-service teachers articulate their professional needs and the implications of these discursive constructions for both teacher socialisation and curriculum theory. It defines postpositivism as an epistemological shift beyond the binary logic of positivist or anti-positivist research. To proceed with this type of inquiry has therefore meant replacing the certainty of either a quantitative or a qualitative framework of analysis, with a methodology that acknowledges its own partiality as a research narrative. Further, it has meant attending to the political issues raised by the social relations of the research act itself. In this study, the theory/ method relationship has been conceptualised as strategic intervention that interrupts traditional research practices, in order to draw attention to the gaps and silences in past analyses of pre-service teacher education experiences. Material is organised within chapters by means of a series of overarching questions which arose for the researcher at particular points in the study, rather than under sub-headings.

The study is as much an attempt to generate educative research with and for undergraduates, as it is an inquiry into pre-service teacher text. It draws on feminist theory and method in order to achieve a more enabling research experience for the participants, and more openness to discrepant data than time-honoured models. Patti Lather's elaboration of postpositivism, and her understanding of deconstructive methodology are central to the study. So too is Nancy Fraser's understanding of the politics of welfare needs interpretation, a framework applied here to the discursive practices of teacher education. Elizabeth Ellsworth's understanding of the repressive potential of critical pedagogic discourse provides for self-reflexivity throughout.

Three research 'moments' are elaborated in the thesis. The first, Making Semiotic Space: The Researcher as Subject, is a 'corrective' moment in which the researcher brings forward her own prejudgments of pre-service teachers for scrutiny. The second 'moment', Producing and Contesting Needs Talk: The Pre-service Teacher as Subject, analyses text, both written and oral, produced by a group of pre-service teachers over their three year course of professional preparation. The third 'moment', Playing our Critique in the Real: The Researcher and the Researched as Co-theorists, is a reciprocal, negotiated phase of the research, a period of collective reflection-in-action on the texts produced by both researcher and researched.

The research challenges the 'findings' of current pre-service teacher literature. It begins by deconstructing the binary articulation which privileges the avant garde or critical tradition in teacher education. What this allows is a critique of the way pre-service teachers are written in the researcher's own discourse. The study then critically examines a folkloric tradition of both presuming and bemoaning 'student conservatism'. Analysis of the 'fractured images' generated in student responses to a conservative agenda suggests a more complex, contradictory and progressive picture than has been traditionally understood.

The next phase of the research is a reading of pre-service teacher needs talk. Metaphors generated within written and oral text suggest multiple, open and competing understandings of the nature of teaching. The researcher generates her own metaphor of 'parent' discourses to account for the ways in which expert vocabularies seem to inform and reworks student needs talk. This contrasts with a tendency in the literature to articulate teacher socialisation through simple binary oppositions as a linear development (e.g. from idealism to realism).

The research is completed through the reciprocal phase in which pre-service teachers and the researcher revisit their texts as teacher education narrative. This phase allows closer scrutiny of the oppositional voices of pre-service teachers by both researcher and researched. Further, it generates a pedagogical process for actually addressing the needs students articulated throughout their course. Student concerns about teaching technique do not appear to be simply 'technocratic', as has been suggested in socially critical (avant garde) literature. Neither does the negotiated curriculum collapse into depoliticised 'recipes' for doing teacher work. The process demonstrates the need for teacher educators to provide qualitative different 'in-servicing' pedagogy at the end of pre-service programs.

This research strategy is not intended for use as a generalisable model. However, the notion of research as a form of strategic intervention has important ramifications. It allows pre-service teacher education research to create 'borderlands' (Giroux, 1991:52), by working at the interface of literary and disciplinary traditions, and of pedagogical and research practices. In this way 'quick and dull' studies of professional socialisation, framed by old certainties, are replaced by 'slow and sharp' analyses of its inherent complexities.

Please cite as: QIER (1992). Thesis abstract - Erica McWilliam. Queensland Researcher, 8(3), 29-31. http://www.iier.org.au/qjer/qr8/mcwilliam.html

[ Contents Vol 8, 1992 ] [ QJER Home ]
Created 6 June 2006. Last revision: 6 June 2006.