Toward the wisdom of practice : curricular decision making among novice primary grade teachers in standards-based schools
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Curricular decision making is foundational to teachers’ practice—every facet of the instructional process is the result of teachers’ decisions. For new teachers, learning to make curricular decisions that will satisfy institutional, public, and professional demands and facilitate learning in their classrooms can be especially challenging given today’s standards-based educational climate. In the primary grades, teachers find themselves having to manage competing demands of accountability and their own beliefs about effective instruction for young children. Despite the field’s renewed interest in studying teachers’ thinking as it relates to post-NCLB curricular decision making, few studies examine curricular decision making among beginning primary grade teachers who share the same accountability issues as their more experienced colleagues. Utilizing case study methodology, this investigation explored how five novice primary grade teachers approached curricular decision making for the core content areas within accountability-driven Texas public schools. Data included classroom observations, interviews and post-observation conversations, lesson planning think-alouds, and curricular documents. Cross-case analyses indicate that participants' curricular decision making was characterized by professional judgment in response to various dilemmas they encountered while attempting to address personal, professional, administrative, and organizational expectations. In many ways, the standards-based contexts in which participants taught made teaching especially difficult for these teachers who were only beginning to accumulate the wisdom of practice. Findings also suggest that participants' curricular decisions were informed by a combination of internal and external influences. Most significantly, curricular decisions were deeply rooted in who teachers are and who they hope to become as professional educators. Professional identity permeated all five teachers' approaches to curricular decision making, from the types of decisions they chose to address to the actual decisions they made in the classroom. Concomitantly, these teachers' conceptions of the teaching profession helped shape the nature of their curricular decisions. The study also reveals that professional colleagues played a strong role in guiding curricular decisions among the participants, although not all support offered to novices was necessarily beneficial for their development as effective decision makers. Finally, the study raises questions about incongruities between teacher preparation programs and the expectations graduates will face as beginning teachers.