The Twisting Path Of Concept Development In Learning To Teach

ASU Author/Contributor (non-ASU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Leslie Susan Cook, Associate Professor (Creator)
Appalachian State University (ASU )
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Abstract: Teacher education is often viewed as too theoretical and not sufficiently concerned with the realities of classroom practice. From this perspective theory and practice are cast as distinct realms whose only connection comes when theory influences practice. We argue that the theory-practice dichotomy lacks the richness of Vygotsky's notion of concepts, in which abstract principles are interwoven with worldly experience. More specifically, Vygotsky distinguishes two types of concepts, spontaneous concepts and scientific concepts. Spontaneous concepts are learned through cultural practice and, because they are tied to learning in specific contexts, allow for limited generalization to new situations; scientific concepts are learned through formal instruction and, because they are grounded in general principles, can more readily be applied to new situations. Vygotsky argues that while spontaneous concepts may be developed without formal instruction, scientific concepts require interplay with spontaneous concepts; hence the problematic nature of the theory-practice dichotomy. He further identifies two types of generalization that approximate concepts yet do not achieve their theoretical unity: complexes, in which some members of the set may be unified with others but all are not unified according to the same principle; and pseudoconcepts, in which members of the set appear unified but include internal inconsistencies. We argue that teacher educators should strive to teach concepts, though the overall structure of teacher education programs makes it more likely that their students will learn complexes or pseudoconcepts. We illustrate these problems with examples from case studies of teachers making the transition from their teacher education programs to their first jobs.

Additional Information

Smagorinsky, P., Cook, L., & Johnson, T. (2003). The Twisting Path of Concept Development in Learning to Teach, Teachers College Record, Volume 105 Number 8, 2003, p. 1399-1436. Publisher version of record available at:
Language: English
Date: 2003
teacher education, college teaching, teacher development, concepts, theory-practice dichotomy, spontaneous concepts, scientific concepts

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