Appropriating Tools for Teaching English: A Theoretical Framework for Research on Learning to Teach

by Pamela L. Grossman, Peter Smagorinsky, Sheila Valencia
Appropriating Tools for Teaching English: A Theoretical Framework for Research on Learning to Teach
Pamela L. Grossman, Peter Smagorinsky, Sheila Valencia
American Journal of Education
Start Page: 
End Page: 
Select license: 
Select License

Appropriating Tools for Teaching English: A Theoretical Framework for Research on Learning to Teach


University of Washington


University of Georgza


University of Washington

In this article, we propose that activity theory provides a useful framework for studying teachers' professional development. Activity theory empha- sizes the importance of settings in learning to teach, focusing on the social and cultural factors that mediate development in particular contexts. We outline the central tenets of activity theory, illustrating key concepts with examples from a longitudinal study of beginning teachers. We conclude by exploring the potential of this theoretical framework to illuminate the pro- cess of learning to teach.

We begin this article with a dilemma. Dorothy, an elementary school teacher, and Frank, a middle school teacher, both encountered the prac- tice of writing workshop in their teacher preparation programs. This ap- proach allows students to choose the topic and form of their writing, produce multiple drafts of their papers, and write for audiences of their own choice (see, e.g., Atwell 1998). Teachers serve as both facilitators and instructors, targeting their instruction to the particular needs of the students. Excited by the potential of this approach, Dorothy was eager to try out writing workshop during her student teaching in an elementary school classroom. Her cooperating teacher, however, did not share her enthusiasm, and Dorothy soon discovered that trying to implement a writing workshop approach in an unsupportive environment was not

American Journal ofEducation 108 (November 1999)
O1999 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

November 1999


possible for her. Despite this experience, in her first year of teaching, Dorothy launched enthusiastically into a writing workshop with her first graders. By the middle of the year, Dorothy was implementing a full range of activities associated with this approach.

Frank, too, was inspired by the writing workshop approach he learned about in his methods course. In contrast with Dorothy, Frank had a men- tor teacher who supported his use of a workshop approach during stu- dent teaching. He found, however, that his students resisted coming up with their own topics and found it difficult to stay on task given the open- ended parameters of the approach. His dismay at the resulting chaos led him to reject the approach altogether. In his first year of teaching, Frank did not use a workshop approach, and he struggled with ways to teach writing.

How do we understand the differences between Dorothy's and Frank's experiences? How did the ways in which they initially encountered the concept of writing workshop shape their later experiences? How did the particular settings in which thev first experimented with the approach affect their subsequent decisions? Perhaps most important, what do we learn from their stories about the influence of teacher education pro- grams on teachers' conceptions of teaching? Frank's experience con- forms to both conventional wisdom and some research arguing for the weak influence of teacher education. Dorothy's experience, however, provides a compelling counterexample and suggests the possibilitv that the effects of teacher education programs can only be viewed in conjunc- tion with a varietv of variables having to do with the settings in which teachers learn and practice their work.


is the Boeing Professor of Teacher Education at the University of Washington. Her research interests include teacher education, professional development, and English education. PETER SMAGORINSKY

is an associate professor of English education at the Uni- versity of Georgia. He is co-editor of Research in the Teaching ofEnglish and the 1999 winner of the AERA Raymond B. Cattell Early Career Award for Programmatic Research. SHEILA W. VALENCIAis professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Washington, Seattle, where she teaches classes in literacy instruction and assessment. Her research inter- ests include teacher education and literacy assessment.


American Journal of Education

The Problem: Disjunctures between Settings

Research on learning to teach has consistently revealed a disjuncture between the values and practices in the different settings that com- prise teacher education. These settings include university courses and experiences in schools, including sites for field observations, student teaching, and initial job placement. Studies of teacher education pro- grams (e.g., Borko and Eisenhart 1992; Kennedy 1998; Smagorinsky and Whiting 1995) have found that preservice teachers are, in many programs, exposed to textbooks and methods that follow a reform agenda that includes instruction that is experiential, learner-centered, activity-oriented, interconnected, and constructivist. Writing workshops, which shift classroom authority from teachers to students, exemplify the kinds of approaches frequently endorsed by university faculty. However, observational studies of schools show that the practice of teaching in most schools remains much as it has always been: content-oriented, teacher-centered, authoritarian, mimetic, and recitative (Applebee 1981,

1993; Cuban 1993; Goodlad 1984; Nystrand 1997; Sizer 1984). This in- congruity between the teaching approaches advocated by university edu- cation faculty and those typically practiced in schools-even by their own program graduates-has been the source of much concern and vexation for those whose livelihood centers on the preparation of teach- ers (Grossman et al. 1997; Wideen et al. 1998).

Researchers have offered a variety of reasons for this disjuncture. Some studies suggest that teachers feel that their education course work is too theoretical and that their student teaching provides them with their greatest learning (e.g., Fagan and Laine 1980). Some researchers (Borko and Eisenhart 1992; Ritchie and Wilson 1993) have argued that students learn progressive pedagogies in their presenice programs but that the social environment of schools promotes an ethic more geared toward content coverage and control, thus overcoming the value placed on student-centered teaching methods learned in university programs. Others (e.g., Zeichner and Tabachnik 1981) argue that preservice teach- ers never adopt the values and practices promoted in universities to be- gin with, thus questioning the assumption that presenice teachers ac- cept the values of teacher education programs only to abandon them in the school culture.

The finding that teachers tend to gravitate to the values of the institu- tions in which they are employed, while consistent across studies, is thus explained quite differently by different investigators. The reasons behind these differing accounts could easily have conventional explanations: dif- ferent samples yield different results, researchers' predispositions may

November 1999 3 influence data collection and analysis and thus interpretation, and mul- tiple causes may be responsible for the same effect. These conventional explanations still leave the field without a unified way of viewing this per- sistent disjuncture. In this article, we propose that, by using a different theoretical framework for studying teachers' early career development than has been used thus far-one generally known as activity theory- we can view these findings as less contradictory and more as pieces to a larger puzzle. T.$%ile we illustrate activity theory with examples from our current research, out- primary purpose in this article is to (1) articulate the tenets of activity theory, (2) discuss its potential for understanding the process of learning to teach, and (3) discuss its usefulness in creating dynamic settings to foster early career teacher development.

hctivit) theoil is capable of unifying diverse research findings because of its errlphasis on the settings in which conceptions of teaching develop. Because it emphasizes the social settings in which concept development occurs, activit!. theory has the potential to illuminate how teachers' pro- gression through a series of contexts can mediate their beliefs about teaching and learning and, consequently, their classroom practices. Ac- tivity theol? can, therefore, help account for changes in teachers' think- ing and practice, even when those changes differ from case to case. Rather than seeking a uniforrrl explanation for the reasons behind teach- ers' gravitation to institutional values, an approach grounded in activity theol? is rrlore concerned with issues of enculturation and their myriad causes and effects. From this theoretical perspective, then, the question is not to discover a single cause that accounts for all change, but rather to ask, L7nder what circumstances do particular kinds of changes take place? \$%at led Dorothy to hold on to her commitment to a writing ~vorkshop approach while Frank quickly abandoned it?

An Actzvztv Tlzeorv Framework for Studying TeaclzerEducation

Activity theory (Cole 1996; Leont'ev 1981; Tulviste 1991; WTertsch 1981) is predicated on the assumption that a person's frameworks for thinking are developed through problem-solving action carried out in specific set- tings whose social structures have been developed through historical, culturally grounded actions. Activity theory is useft11 for understanding the process of learning to teach, particularly in illuminating how teach- ers choose pedagogical tools to inform and conduct their teaching. This framework focuses attention on the predominant value systems and so-


American Journal of Education cia1 practices that characterize the settings in which learning to teach occurs.

Activity theory also calls attention to the cultural goals of development (telos) and the ways in which environments are structured to promote development toward these goals (prolepsis) (see Cole 1996; WTertsch 2000). Cultures are infused with notions of ideal personal and societal futures that are promoted through the ways in which cultural activity is structured. A central concern of activity theory is to understand the kinds of culturally defined futures that motivate people's activity and the sorts of tools they develop in order to help mediate one another's progress toward those futures.

Within the context of teacher education, the ultimate goal for pre- service teachers is to assume the professional responsibilities of a teacher and to teach competently. However, the specific images of what profes- sional responsibilities entail or what it means to be a competent teacher may differ dramatically in different settings. Similarly, all participants in teacher education, including school-based faculty and administrators and university-based faculty and supervisors, hold beliefs about how someone learns to teach. These beliefs help shape how they interact with and support beginning teachers. These varying and often conflict- ing belief systems and their relative authority and influence over pre- service teachers often result in both multiple conceptions of the ideal teacher and multiple environmental structures to guide career devel- opment toward those ideals. In short, student teachers often find them- selves tugged in different directions, with university faculty, supervisors, mentor teachers, and school systems encouraging different approaches to teaching.

Illustratiue Data

In this article, we will illustrate the potential of using an activity theory framework for studying how the cultural settings of preservice and in- service environments mediate the process of learning to teach. As part of their development, teachers develop both concepts and practices re- lated to teaching. The research we are conducting through an activity theory framework focuses on how elementary school and secondary school preservice teachers develop both conceptual understandings and specific practices for teaching English/language arts across the disparate settings that make up teacher education and initial job placements.

Our sample includes graduates of three large state university pro- grams in the U.S. Northwest, Southwest, and Southeast. The schools in which these individuals have taught, during both presenice years and

November 1999


firstjobs, have varied in size, structure, grade level, demographics, and pedagogical emphasis. This variety provides us with diverse settings in which to study how concept development is mediated by involvement in activity settings. At this point, we have followed 21 teachers from their last year of teacher education into their first year of full-time teaching. Ten of these teachers are participating in a longer-term study in which they will be followed through their third year of teaching. We next discuss key con- cepts from activity theory that frame our understanding of the transition made by teachers from presenice programs into their firstjobs.

Key Concepts within an Activity Theory Framework

Using an activity theory framework requires the elaboration of the key concepts of activity settings, tools, and appropriation. Wertsch (1985) identifies three themes as central in Vygotsky's theoretical framework: a reliance on a genetic (developmental) method, an assumption of the social origins of consciousness, and a claim that mental processes are mediated by tools and signs. All three of these themes are implicated in the sections that follow.

Activity Settings

Activity theory is fundamentally concerned with the contexts for human development. Borrowing terms from Sarason (1972), Wertsch (1985), and others, we refer to the contexts that mediate the development of consciousness as activity settings. The need to identify these mediating contexts is implied by the Vygotskian tenet that the origins of conscious- ness are necessarily social (Cole 1996; Tulviste 1991; Wertsch 1991). In the research that we use here for illustrative purposes, we examine the relationships within and across the specific activity settings in which pro- spective teachers learn to teach. Bakhtin's (1981, 1984) constructs of dia- logism, hetoroglossia, and multivoicedness-frequently used by activity theo- rists (e.g., Wertsch 1991) to account for the internalization of ways of thinking-are also relevant to our efforts to understand how prospective teachers draw on and use the languages of their professors, cooperating teachers, supervisors, and peers to inform their approach to teaching English/language arts. In the sections that follow, we detail the aspects of activity settings that are relevant to our study of learning to teach.

Motive.-Activin settings encourage particular social practices that presumably participants will come to see as worthwhile means to a better future. Activity settings provide constraints and affordances that channel,

6 American Journal of Education limit, and support learners' efforts to adopt the prevailing social prac- tices. In this sense, a constraint is a positive set of limitations that pro- vides the structure for productive activity (Valsiner 1998). Central to an activity setting is the motive or outcome implicit in the setting. Wertsch (1985) maintains that "the motive that is involved in a particular activity setting specifies what is to be maximized in that setting. By maximizing one goal, one set of behaviors, and the like over others, the motive also determines what will be given up if need be in order to accomplish some- thing else" (p. 212). This motive provides a setting with a sense of pur- pose that implies a code of suitable conduct.

An activity setting has a cultural history through which community members have established specific outcomes that guide action within the setting. The condition of having a cultural history requires that a setting involve, in the words of Sarason (1972), "two or more people com[ing] together in new relationships over a sustained period of time in order to achieve certain goals" (p. 1). Sarason, who is interested in the creation of new settings, foregrounds the ways in which people conceive practices and artifacts designed to sustain their relationships. Wertsch (1985), in contrast, focuses more on how existing practices and artifacts constrain and afford new action, saying that "an activity setting guides the selection of actions and the operational composition of actions, and it determines the functional significance of these actions" (p. 212). Their different fo- cuses aside, both researchers regard the condition of sustained relation- ships as central to an activity setting. These relationships are mediated by tools and artifacts for which participants develop over time a general agreement over purposes and meaning. Without widespread agreement on the motive and mediational means, a setting could not exist. Central, then, to the existence of an activity setting is the condition that action within settings is goal oriented and that a set of practices and artifacts exists to mediate development toward those goals.

Consensus on an overriding motive, however, is problematic. Multiple and competing desired outcomes often coexist within an activity setting, though typically some predominate. The overriding motive for a setting, then, while not specifying the actions that take place, provides channels that encourage and discourage particular ways of thinking and acting. For example, student teaching, as an activity setting, has diverse and sometimes rival goals. From one perspective, student teaching is an op- portunity to experiment, to try out practices in a supportive environment (e.g., Dewey [I9041 1965). On the other hand, student teaching is also a high-stakes demonstration of one's competence as a teacher, success- ful completion of which is prerequisite to graduation or certification. The first purpose, experimentation and learning, might have encour- aged Frank to try out the writing workshop approach he had learned

November 1999 7 in his methods class. However, the classroom management problems he quickly encountered detracted from the second goal: that of demon- strating his competence.

Individual constructions of the activity settings.-A school has properties that are indisputable (e.g., classroom walls physically exist; some class- rooms have access to computers while others do not). In addition, indi- viduals construe the school in particular ways through their internal rep- resentations of the situation. Lave (1988) makes a distinction between an arena, which has visible structural features, and a setting, which repre- sents the individual' s construal of that arena. Thus, while two teachers may work at the same arena (e.g., a school), they may have distinctly different understandings of the school setting based on their own goals, histories, and activities within the school arena.

The experiences of one university supervisor with a group of elemen- tary school student teachers illustrates well how one activity setting is open to multiple construals. The university supervisor, Imelda, was a na- tive of the Philippines and was working toward a Ph.D. in mathematics education. Her style of supervision was to observe a class (preferably a math lesson, although for our study she agreed to observe some lan- guage arts lessons) and then, rather than providing an assessment of the lesson, to ask the student teacher how the lesson had gone. The sessions were designed, she said, to get the student teachers to reflect on the lesson and think about how it had worked. Student teachers consistently said that they would have preferred a direct critical evaluation of the lesson that pointed out their mistakes and suggested methods for im- provement. M%en asked for the rationale behind her method of re- sponse, however, Imelda said that American students do not like direct feedback and prefer a less critical approach; she noted that if she were in her native country, she would respond with a critical appraisal. If the relatiorlship between university supervisor and student teacher is viewed as an activin setting, then the setting was constructed and interpreted quite differently by each participant. The cases in our research yielded a number of instances in which activin settings were construed differently by different participants.

Resistance can also take place within settings that have officially estab- lished goals. The two faculty in one program we studied, for instance, tearn taught a block of presenice courses in planning, inquiry and young adult literature. They were unified in their advocacy of a process- oriented pedagogy that involved students in extensive reflective writing. The mediating practices and artifacts of their program-including the grades assigned to their work-channeled students toward adopting and implementing such a pedagogy. One African-American participant in the study,,ever, was highly resistant to this pedagogy, frequently con-

8 American Journal of Education testing the professors by citing Delpit's (1995) advocacy of explicit teach- ing for minority students who are not fluent in the codes that are re- quired for school success. His refusal to adopt their reflective pedagogy was a consistent theme of interview data provided by him and his profes- sors. This example illustrates how the existence of a formal motive, while suggesting to participants an ideal conceptual outcome, does not guar- antee that it will be realized by all, even with the prospect of the profes- sors' formal evaluation being potentially coercive. To understand this situation in terms of activity theory, it is necessary to take into account the history that each participant brings to the setting (Smagorinsky and O'Donnell-Allen 1998a). Focusing solely on the setting would overlook the ways in which it is constructed by each person within it, making dis- crepant cases difficult to explain because they defy the motive of the set- ting. The question of individual history and identity within settings, then, becomes part of the consideration of their dynamic and evolving nature.

Sociocultural history of activity settings.-One of the contributions of sociocultural theory is its emphasis on the ways in which human activity is embedded within a sociohistorical context. The very existence of struc- tures such as student teaching or university course work in pedagogy is rooted in history. Similarly, many prospective teachers enter teacher edu- cation imbued with cultural beliefs about the dubious worth of their for- mal preparation for teaching. As one of our participants commented, she had heard from a friend that teacher education was redundant, so "that's what I was expecting, a lot of redundant information."

In trying to understand the ready dismissal of the formal study of peda- gogy in learning to teach, one must look not only to the ultimate goal of teacher development but to the past. The tools of teacher education that most take for granted (e.g., lesson and unit plans, courses on educational psychology and foundations, and supenision) all have histories that are linked to their current forms and utility. We have found that in our inter- views with mentor teachers and other school-based supervisors, teacher education programs in general are not highly regarded, a view routinely expressed in recurrent condemnations of university education programs (e.g., Conant 1963; Kramer 1991). One assistant principal from our sample, for instance, was a former English teacher who presided over an innovative series of professional development opportunities in her school, which included literature book clubs for faculty and workshops on student-centered teaching methods. She commented, "I had great English/language arts teachers in college, but I have no pleasant memo- ries of my undergraduate college education experience. . . . You know I still remember sitting in those [education] classes and I don't think it was the education I got there as much as it was my own excitement at what I was about to do as to what made me the teacher I was." Her com-

November 1999 9 ments echo the cultural emphasis on the dismissal of professional edu- cation as a factor in learning to teach. Sociocultural theory helps focus attention on the culture existing within schools that often disregards the irriportarlce of university preparation for teaching, a culture that strengthens the authority of the school as the venue for learning to teach.

\Ve should note that the emphasis on cultural history presents a co- rlundrurri for activin theorists because, while considered essential, it is often difficult to document clearly. Although some efforts have been made to study classrooms over time in order to understand the develop- ment of the prevailing practices, routines, and values (e.g., Gutierrez and Stone 2000; Smagorinsky and O'Donnell-Allen 1998a, 1998b, 2000), a deeper sense of individual or institutional history is available primarily through interviews and suggestive artifacts rather than through direct, empirical studv.

Roundnri~s.-Activity settings typically overlap. That is, they do not ex- ist as insular social contexts but rather as sets of relationships that coexist with others. Sorne exist side by side, while others are subsumed within larger settings. Each classroom participant, for instance, acts within an activity setting bounded by the classroom, which is a subset of different, coexisting settings: the classroom is part of a school, which is part of a district, \vhich exists within a statewide system. At the same time, an En- glish class is situated within a set of departmentally governed English classes that are typically responsive to local and state English/language arts frameworks (Grossman and Stodolsky 1994).

The questioil of a cultural history and its enduring relationships and practices needs some modification when considering the time-limited boundaries of some settings. For instance, during student teaching, two participants from one university program carpooled with a third student teacher to and from the school, a trip of over 30 minutes each way. This carpool had a ~vell-defined duration and se~~ed

a significant purpose within their teaching lives, but it had no life beyond the last day of school. TZ'e consider the carpool to be a key setting for these three women, who used the drive as a way to discuss many different aspects of their student teaching experience. In Sarason's (1972) terms, the car- pool would sene as a created setting in which the participants needed to develop their own practices and artifacts to develop and sustain their relationships. The setting was not entirely discrete, however, in that it evolved out of their prior experiences in the university program and, thus, inherited the conceptual vocabulary they had learned for teaching as a way to mediate their discussions about their student teaching. They also generated new goals and mediational means to achieve them, some related to their personal lives outside teaching (e.g., two of the three

10 ArnericanJournal of Education women were getting married in the summer following student teaching). The setting was dissolved, however, when it no longer served its purpose and the three women dispersed for the summer.

Settings can, then, have temporal, conceptual, and physical bounda- ries. They are rarely discrete, however, typically overlapping in some way with other settings in dynamic ways.

Activity settings of preservice teaching.-Teacher education is composed of a number of distinct activity settings, including university course work and the specific classes that make up the program curriculum; field experiences, including initial observations as well as full-time student teaching; supervision; and the overall program, including the ways in which students are admitted and organized and the ways in which all participants relate to one another. Each of these activity settings has its own specific motive, structural features, sets of relationships, and re- sources for learning to teach. These examples are illustrative rather than comprehensive. The likelihood is that the more activity settings that are available, the greater the prospects are for incompatible goals to coexist, each competing for primacy. With each participant involved in overlap- ping activity settings, the likelihood that all will wholeheartedly pursue the same goals is diminished. In cases where there is consistency of pur- pose across activity settings, the overall congruence is likely to be much stronger.

Activity theory can help illustrate the two-worlds pitfall (Feiman-Nemser and Buchmann 1985) because it draws attention to the ways in which individuals develop goals within settings that themselves suggest particu- lar goals and activities. In the setting of the university, preservice teachers are exposed to one set of conceptions and practices related to the teach- ing of English. These conceptions may or may not be consistent with their prior experiences and beliefs (Agee 1998). In addition, the univer- sity setting reinforces a student role for preservice teachers; both profes- sors' and preservice teachers' goals in the university involve success in this student role.

Simultaneously, preservice teachers are being exposed to conceptions and practices for teaching English when they enter schools for field ex- periences and student teaching. Again, these conceptions may or may not conform to their prior beliefs or experiences or to the university's conceptions. In contrast to the university, the school setting reinforces the teacher role of the preservice teacher, albeit as an apprentice and mentee. Since the ultimate goal of the presenice teacher's development is to assume the role of teacher, the teaching role impressed by schools is likely to supersede the values and practices that are stressed in the university. Preservice teachers' goals in the school setting have little to do with success in course work and much to do with establishing oneself

November 1999 11 as a teacher, winning the respect of the cooperating teacher, developing relationships with students, and being deemed competent within the value system that governs the school. While the student role is still in effect during visits from university supervisors, these occasions are rela- tively infrequent compared to those involving the influence and guid- ance of the cooperating teacher and school institution.


Activity theory also focuses on the ways in which individuals begin to adopt particular practices and ways of thinking to solve specific problems or challenges within a setting. Learning to teach poses a number of chal- lenges for novices, many of which have been amply described in the lit- erature. These problems, or concerns as they are sometimes labeled, in- clude but are not limited to developing a conception of the subject matter and how to teach it (e.g., Grossman and Stodolsky 1994), devel- oping a conception of teaching and learning and their role as a teacher

(e.g., Grossman 1990), learning to manage student behavior (e.g., Bul- lough 1989), and learning to work with colleagues (e.g., Smylie 1994). These problems all contribute to the development of an identity as a teacher (e.g., Britzman 1991). Lave and bTenger (1991) emphasize the way in which an identity both results from and contributes to a set of broader relationships, such as those we have reviewed above: "Activities, tasks, functions, and understandings do not exist in isolation; they are part of broader systems of relations in which they have meaning. These systems of relations arise out of and are reproduced and developed within social communities, which are in part systems of relations among persons. The person is defined by as well as defines these relations. Learning, thus, implies becoming a different person with respect to the possibilities enabled by these systems of relations. To ignore this aspect of learning is to overlook the fact that learning involves the construction of identities" (p. 53).

While there is a general set of problems involved in learning to teach, individuals will encounter specific variations of these problems in their own practice. Part of our effort is to understand how prospective teach- ers and those around them define the problems they face and how they engage in solving these problems, using the resources around them. This process contributes to the identities that they develop as teachers. Be- cause of the conflicts in motive that we have outlined (e.g., different roles expected in universities and schools, different conceptions of teaching favored in universities and schools), learning to teach can cre- ate confusion over which goals and mediating practices to follow. Stu-

12 American Journal of Education dent teaching in particular provides one of the most difficult contexts in which to develop identity because the student teacher is evaluated by both school-based mentor teachers and university-based supervisors, who may have competing goals for the student teacher and different as- sumptions about how someone learns to teach. The situation may be even more complicated when, within either of these settings, there is further conflict over motive and its mediating practices.

For example, Donna, a secondary school English teacher from one of our research sites, struggled to define her own teaching style and vision of teaching as she moved between two cooperating teachers during stu- dent teaching. One of these cooperating teachers emphasized content coverage, particularly understanding the historical context of required literature; the other's primary goal was to incite the entire class to discuss and challenge the literature they read. Donna spent the year assuming one identity for the first three periods of the school day and another for the last three. Although both cooperating teachers thought that Donna was a very competent student teacher, Donna knew that neither teacher was who she wanted to be. What is more, she knew that she had to be- come each one to succeed in their classes. "I used to have to take the lunch hour to completely rethink my whole self so that I could then switch," she said.

While she worked hard to teach in ways that would please each coop- erating teacher, Donna longed to try out ideas and methods of her own and to experiment with the kinds of pedagogical tools and small group activities she had experienced in her teacher education program but that were difficult to implement in either student teaching classroom. After her first year of full-time teaching, Donna asserted that student teaching was much more difficult than her first year. Although she readily acknowledged that she learned from her cooperating teachers, she felt that she had not truly developed her own identity and style until she was free from her cooperating teachers.


An activity theory framework for studying teacher learning would need to be concerned with identifying the tools that teachers use to guide and implement their classroom practice. Psychological tools, like the more familiar tools of handiwork and construction, enable people to act on their environments. In our research, we are concerned wiih the tools through which teachers construct and carry out teaching practices. We distinguish pedagogical tools of two types, conceptual and practical, which we define next.

November 1999 13

Conceptual Tools.-Conceptual tools are principles, frameworks, and ideas about teaching, learning, and English/language arts acquisition that teachers use as heuristics to guide decisions about teaching and learning. Conceptual tools can include broadly applicable theories, such as constructivism or reader-response theory, and theoretical principles and concepts, such as instructional scaffolding, that can serve as guide- lines for instructional practice across the different strands of the cur- riculum. A good illustration of a conceptual tool comes from one of our research sites, a preservice program that stressed attention to assess- ment. One course in this program emphasized the need for the align- ment of goals, curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Students gave evidence of internalizing this framework for alignment. One secondan school preservice teacher, for instance, described the broad applicability of this assessment framework for developing goal-oriented instruction in a variety of areas: "[The assessment class] really made me realize that every single thing I do, ever). little activity that I do should have a pur- pose, and it should be working [toward] some kind of an educational goal. I think knowing that I had to always focus on what I wanted them to get out of the lesson before teaching it. Like don't think afterwards, well what did they learn, but think ahead of time, what are they going to learn from this?"

A second preservice teacher from this program also articulated the need for assessment to be aligned with instructional goals and practices: "[The instructor says] you're going to stand up in front of people and teach. M'hat are you teaching them? Why is it important? How is it important? . . . Are you assessing your students on the thing that you say you're teaching them, or are you assessing them on some other thing? Have you taught them the thing you're about to test them on? And if you are, ~vell, why is it important, and if you're not, well why are you going to do it anyvay?"

Both of these statements illustrate how these preservice teachers used the alignment framework as a conceptual tool for thinking about plan- ning, instruction, and assessment. For many of the students in this pro- gram, this framework became an implicit part of how they thought about and critiqued their own teaching.

Practicttl Tools.-Practical tools are classroom practices, strategies, and resources that do not sen'e as broad conceptions to guide an array of decisions but, instead, have more local and immediate utility These in- clude instructional practices, such as journal writing and daily oral lan- guage exercises, and resources, such as textbooks or curriculum materi- als that provide such instructional practices. One example of a practical tool used by participants in our study was a unit plan for the teaching of

14 American Journal of Education writing that came complete with peer feedback sheets and other ready- made resources. One of the teachers used this unit plan several times for quite different writing assignments, never adapting the peer feedback sheet for the different genres or purposes for writing. While she eagerly used the practical tool of this unit plan, she did not necessarily have a conceptual understanding that guided her use of it.

In activity theor? parlance, this process of adoption carries the name of appropriation (Newman et al. 1989; Wertsch 1991). We next elucidate what we mean when we refer to appropriation of pedagogical tools for teaching, again using our current research to illustrate how the concept of appropriation helps illuminate teacher learning.


One of the central concepts of activity theor? is that of appropriation (Leont'ev 1981; Newman et al. 1989; Wertsch 1991). Appropriation re- fers to the process through which a person adopts the pedagogical tools available for use in particular social environments (e.g., schools, pre- service programs) and through this process internalizes ways of thinking endemic to specific cultural practices (e.g., using phonics to teach read- ing). Wertsch stresses the ways in which appropriation is a developmen- tal process that comes about through socially formulated, goal-directed, and tool-mediated actions.

The extent of appropriation depends on the congruence of a learner's values, prior experiences, and goals with those of more experienced or powerful members of a culture, such as school-based teachers or univer- sity faculty (see Cole 1996; Newman et al. 1989; Smagorinsky 1995; Wertsch 1991). Fundamental to appropriation is the learner's active role in these practices. Through the process of appropriation, learners recon- struct the knowledge they are internalizing, thus transforming both their conception of the knowledge and, in turn, that knowledge as it is con- strued and used by others. Cazden's (1988) idea of performance before com- petence is useful to our understanding of the concept of appropriation because it emphasizes the role of active participation as a means of be- coming competent in social practices.

From an activity theory perspective, then, the central questions about learning to teach include these: How do activity settings mediate teach- ers' thinking? What kinds of social structures are prevalent in different settings, and in what manner do they mediate the appropriation of particular pedagogical tools for teaching? To what extent are different tools for teaching appropriated for use in different settings? To answer

November 1999 15 these questions, we first differentiate among five degrees of appropri- ation, each representing a depth of understanding of a particular tool's f~i1lnctions.'

Appropriation can take place in varying degrees, illcluding a lack of ap- propriation. We next define different levels of appropriation, beginning with a discussion of why a person might not appropriate a particular tool at all.

Lack ofnpj!wopritttion.-Learners might not appropriate a pedagogical tool for several reasons. A concept may be too difficult to comprehend at the point ill someone's development that it is initially encountered. Alternatively, the concept may be too foreign to the learners' prior frame~vorks at that point in their development. Learners might also understand the concepts as intended but reject them for avariety of rea- sons. For instance, there was a cultural mismatch between Penny, a stu- dent teacher, and her cooperating teacher (see Smagorinsky, 1999).The cooperating teacher was a highly efficient, well-organized, nine-year vet- eran who encouraged Penny to teach within the confines of the overall school schedule and within the boundaries of time scheduled for each lesson. Penny resisted her mentor's efforts to become more efficient, ho~vel-er,because she preferred to explore each lesson in depth, even if that meant running over the scheduled time and infringing on the next lesson's allotment.

111 intenie~vs, she located her conception of time in both her univer- sih's constructivist philosophy, which viewed kno~vledge as collnstructed over time rather than readily transmitted, and in her Native American up- bringing, where precise adherence to scheduled time had not been em- phasized. She understood the conception that her cooperating teacher was urging her to appropriate but rejected it as an alien way to regard time and as an impediment to implementing process-oriented instruc- tion. She was, therefore, at odds ~vitlln her cooperating teacher's daily planning, which moved crisply from lesson to lesson. She was much more likely to allow a lesson or discussion to extend ~vell beyond its scheduled limits, and thus, in the cooperating teacher's eyes, compromise the 01 erall coverage goals of the curriculum. In this example, the concept of ef- ficient instruction was resisted and not appropriated because of Penny's different framework for viewing time and curricular goals.

.ipj~ro/)rinting n 1aDrl.-The most superficial type of appropriation comes when a person learns the name of a tool but knows none of its

I6 American Journal of Education features. For instance, one cooperating teacher in our sample was famil- iar with the term whole language and knew vaguely that it involved noisy classrooms but was not aware of any specific whole language practices or their conceptual underpinnings.

Appropriating surface features.-The next level of appropriation comes when a person learns some or most of the features of a tool, yet does not understand how those features contribute to the conceptual whole. Here, we assume that the authoritative version of the concept has a par- ticular, officially articulated meaning and that this meaning has been of- fered as a conceptual tool by a teacher of some kind. As we describe this level of appropriation, then, we are assuming that the learner is making some effort to grasp the official conception, yet is succeeding in doing so only at the surface level.

As an example, we offer a case from a prior study (Smagorinsky 1996) in which a student teacher claimed to be engaging her students in coop- erative learning, a pedagogical tool she had been exposed to in her pre- service course work. Her implementation of cooperative learning in- volved having the students work in groups and share their work. The assignment, however, consisted of a three-page summary of a story with blanks provided for students to fill in missing information. Students were placed in groups of three and told that each student should do one page independently and, when finished, the group should read the three pages consecutively for a whole understanding of the story. The teacher, thus, grasped some features of the tool of cooperative learning, at least as ar- ticulated in professional literature, yet did not understand or promote the overall concept of cooperative learning's emphasis on interdependence.

Another example of surface understanding appeared in our current research during one beginning teacher's use of the practice of peer re- sponse groups. She used the term to describe breaking students up into groups to read each other's papers. She also used a guidesheet borrowed from a prepackaged unit to focus students' responses. However, she seemed less clear about what students could gain from the experience or how to structure the response groups to fit the genre of writing in which students were engaged.

Appropriating conceptual underpinnings.-At the conceptual level, one grasps the theoretical basis that informs and motivates the use of a tool. Teachers who grasp the conceptual underpinnings of a tool are likely able to make use of it in new contexts and for solving new problems. A person could conceivably understand and use the conceptual under- pinnings of a tool but not know its label; a teacher could also conceivably understand the conceptual underpinnings without knowing its peda- gogical applications. For instance, in one elemental? school preservice

November 1999 17 program we studied, the university faculty emphasized constructivism as its umbrella concept, reinforcing it across a block of five teaching meth- ods classes. Preservice teachers whom we interviewed were able to pro- vide textbook definitions of constructivism, contrast different professors' versions of it, critique professors who espoused constructivism but did not practice it, critique cooperating teachers for teaching in traditional rather than constructivist ways, and plan and carry out lessons and units that were faithful to their definitions of constructivism. They, therefore, demonstrated an ability to apply the concept to a variety of new situa-

tions and to classify various teaching practices as constructivist or not.

Another example of conceptual understanding involved Dorothy's use of writing workshop. Although she had been introduced to the concept in her teacher education class, she had not had the opportunity to try out the ideas in her student teaching. Her frustration with her cooper- ating teacher provided an opportunity to explore more deeply aspects of a classroom that facilitated writing workshop and those that got in the way. By her first year of teaching, she was able to create an environment that supported her writing workshop and to discuss how the various fea- tures of her approach supported her first graders' writing.

Achieuing mastery.-Preservice teachers in our study also gave evidence that they had appropriated the conceptual underpinnings of a peda- gogical practice but were not yet able to implement such assessments in their own classrooms. Several of the presercice teachers in our study were able to use their conceptual understanding of performance assessment, for example, to critique their current practices, but found themselves unable to actually develop and use performance assessments in their classes. This example raises the distinction between appropricction and mastery (Herrenkohl and NTertsch 1999).If masten means the skill to use a tool effectively, then this more fully realized grasp of a concept most likely would take years of practice to achieve. This distinction argues for a longitudinal look at teachers' development, since they may only be able to master some of the pedagogical tools after several years of classroom practice.

Summccry.-Appropriation can occur at different levels for pedagogi- cal tools. A conceptual tool such as constructivism may be appropriated as a label only or can be grasped in terms of conceptual underpinnings. A tool such as writing workshop can also be understood at each level. NTe should stress that a lack of appropriation does not necessarily involve a lack of understanding; one might understand the conceptual underpin- nings of writing workshop but reject the premises that support it. One might also understand a tool but find that the environment makes it dif- ficult to use effectively, such as when Dorothy embraced writing work- shop values yet was discouraged from using them during her student

18 AmericanJournal of Education teaching. Grasping and appropriating a tool and using it, then, do not necessarily co-occur for a variety of reasons.

Factors Affecting Appropriation

Through the process of appropriation, learners may alter the surface fea- tures or conceptual underpinnings of the tool and perhaps relabel its features to account for changes in the way in which they use it. Whether the reconstruction is consistent or inconsistent with the authoritative or official conception depends on the social context of learning and the individual characteristics of the learner.

Social context of learning.-The social context of learning provides the environment in which one learns how to use tools. The notion of context is often associated with a physical structure (e.g., an arena such as a school, a university, a university department) that embodies a set of hu- man values (Chin 1994). The sense of context that we are concerned with here primarily refers to the related set of social practices in and through which learning takes place among people whose lives intersect in a particular activity (in this case, learning to teach) -what we previ- ously referred to as a setting. Drawing on activity theory, we view social contexts as structures that are products of cultural history in which indi- vidual histories converge. Social contexts are thus inherently relational and value-laden. The social contexts of learning to teach include the imagined outcomes, relationships among participants, underlying phi- losophies of a program, and kinds of activities that engage the different participants.

The social context of a setting also includes how, and by whom, tools are introduced and used. A tool may be presented through a text, in- structor, school-based teacher, or classmates in varying degrees of faith to its authoritative conception and in varying degrees of complexity cor- responding to the levels of appropriation we have outlined. If a tool is presented without its conceptual underpinnings, students may appropri- ate only what is available, that is, the label and surface features. Some textbooks are written with the intention of providing an overview of teaching ideas without their conceptual underpinnings, and, thus, they create situations in which teachers' initial learning of tools is potentially limited to labels and surface features (Smagorinsky and Whiting 1995). We hypothesize that such approaches limit teachers' likelihood of under- standing the conceptual underpinnings of the tool and their chances of applying it to handle new situations or to solve new problems.

Pedagogy represents another layer of the social context of learning to teach. Students may have opportunities to understand conceptual

November 1999 19 underpinnings of a tool, but the pedagogy of teacher education itself may run counter to the conception of teaching being espoused. A truism in teacher education and teacher development concerns the need for teachers to experience a pedagogical approach from the standpoint of a learner before they are able to implement this approach in their own classrooms (Duckworth 1987; Feiman-Nemser and Featherstone 1992; Schifter and Fosnot 1993). The opportunity to experience a peda- gogical tool in the social setting of teacher education may also affect appropriation.

Once teachers join the work force, the school becomes the primal? activity setting for developing conceptions of teaching and learning. Re- searchers have found that the culture of the school mediates teachers' thinking in powerful and lasting ways. We see the strong influence of the school culture throughout our data. One example illustrates well the power of the social context of schools. Sharon, a student teacher from a constructivist elementar). school preservice program, was placed with Caroline, an extremely authoritarian mentoring teacher who also served as the school's head teacher. As head teacher, she was the school's de facto assistant principal, and in this role had great influence over the teaching approaches used throughout the school. Caroline's teaching was conducted almost exclusively through basal readers and their ac- companying ~vorksheets; she routinely eliminated any generative ques- tions on the worksheets, requiring students only to do those problems that had definite answers.

Caroline's rnentoring style was consistent with her teaching style. Her method was for Sharon to follow her lesson plans and imitate her teach- ing style as faithfully as possible. In Sharon's view, there was little oppor- tunity for constructing a personal teaching style within Caroline's mi- metic rnentoring approach. She often expressed frustration at the lack of opportuni~ she had to teach according to the principles she had learned in her preselvice program. During one interview, she said in frustration, "Sometimes I'm afraid I'm going over to her side." Men asked to elaborate, she said that because she had been provided so little opportuni~to practice the methods learned in her university program, she was afraid that she would lose that knowledge altogether.

Of particular concern to Sharon was the prospect of getting her first teachingjob in a school with values similar to those of her student teach- ing site where the prevailing practices would pressure her to teach with basals, with an emphasis on classroom management and ~vith a curricu- lum built around isolated literacy building blocks. Such an environment, she said, would likely lead to further erosion of the constructivist prin- ciples she had learned. Without an opportunity to engage in construc-

20 Americall,Journal of Education

tikist practices, she might find herself using classroom practices that she had learned a conceptual basis for critiquing and avoiding.

The culture of the school, however, is not always in opposition to the culture of the university. Another preservice teacher, Allison, was placed with a cooperating teacher whose practices and beliefs closely mirrored the perspectives of the university course work. Seen from the context of this student teaching experience, the influence of the university paled in comparison, and Allison came to believe that she had learned virtually everything of importance during her student teaching, even when the university program had been her first point of contact with the ideas she attributed to the school site. It may be that the contrasts between the two cultures help students further articulate and define their own beliefs (Hollingsworth 1989). When a preservice teacher's prior beliefs, univer- sity course work, and student teaching experience are all in concert, the influence of the university may become invisible (Grossman and Richert 1988). We see here the importance of seeing the roles that presenice teachers are expected to assume in the contexts of university and school. Allison's attribution of knowledge about teaching to the school experi- ence suggests that her role as teacher in that setting had powerful con- sequences for her locus of learning.

Individual characteristics of the learner.-Activity theory focuses primary attention on the cultural-historical setting in which the development of both individuals and their social groups takes place. Our discussion thus far has focused on the settings of development and how they mediate individuals' (e.g., preservice teachers) and social groups' (e.g., faculty, student, and cohorts) conceptions of teaching. MTe also see the need to attend to individual characteristics as factors that are implicated in the process of appropriation. MTertsch (1998) has argued that debates about human development typically cast the individual and society as antimon- ies in ways that caricature one position or the other; he argues instead for the need to view the individual as fundamental to the construction of social groups, rather than as a separate entity. Doing so requires that we take into account how individuals act within social frameworks. We next review important characteristics of individual teachers that, in conjunc- tion with contextual mediators, affect the ways in which teachers develop conceptions of teaching.

1.Apprenticeship of observation. A teacher's apprenticeship of obser- vation is the set of experiences accrued through years of being a student. Grossman (1991), Lortie (1975), and others have discussed the influ- ence of the apprenticeship of obsenlation on teachers' beliefs and class- room practices. Prospective teachers emerge from their own schooling with strong views about what it means to teach. These views will constrain

November 1999 21

how prospective teachers are able to appropriate new ideas about teach- ing and learning.

For example, one preservice teacher in our sample, Dale, described his most influential teachers as being charismatic, and he believed that a teacher's personality was the dominant factor in his or her success. This belief overrode his methods course professor's emphasis on thematic units taught chrough scaffolded engagement in inductive activities. Dale's student teaching was highly problematic because he eschewed the need to plan thematic units involving scaffolded learning and in- stead relied on his witty personality to sway students to his way of think- ing, as his own favorite charismatic teachers had done with him. Stu- dents, however, did not find him amusing, and his student teaching was troubled throughout by his failure either to captivate his students or to effectively plan instruction.

Dale's cooperating teacher was highly regarded for her constructivist approach (she was the reigning Teacher of the Year for a large school district and finalist for State Teacher of the Year hollers), and she was in strong agreement with Dale's methods course professor's approach of teaching through thematic units of instruction. However, Dale's own positive experiences with charismatic teachers and his misplaced confi- dence in his oTvn personal magnetism led him to underestimate the im- portance of preparation. Ultimately, his student teaching received low evaluations from both his cooperating teacher and his university super- visor. An apprenticeship of observation, then, can influence both the types of assumptions teachers have about the way schooling ought to oc- cur and the success of those practices in particular institutional contexts.

2. Personal goals and expectations. Teachers teach for a variety of rea- sons. Many prospective teachers may focus primarily on the relationship bebveen student and teacher and overlook the academic dimensions of the job. Conversely, others may see teaching as a way to continue their involvement with and love for the subject matter. Still others may be at- tracted to teaching as a means toward social justice. M%atever the spe- cific goal or expectation that leads someone to teach, it is likely to medi- ate what prospective teachers expect to learn from their professional preparation.

Teachers in our sample described different goals for their teaching. One secondary school teacher, for instance, distinguished bebveen her best and worst teachers as being "fun" and "boring"; her goal was to conduct classes that the students found fun so that they would enjoy school. .Inelementary school teacher, on the other hand, had entered teaching following careers in both the U.S. Marines and the local police force. Her decision to teach resulted from her observation as a police officer that most criminals she encountered were illiterate. Seeking to


.imerican Journal of Education intervene in a positive and constructive way early in children's lives, she decided to go into teaching as a way to provide students with tools for productive civic life and to make lives of crime less likely. These different sets of goals-one to make instruction fun, the other to provide produc- tive tools for literacy-led to different degrees of value on pragmatic literacy skills and their role in the language arts curriculum.

3. Knowledge and beliefs about content. Another critical factor affect- ing the appropriation of conceptions and practices for teaching English/ language arts concerns teachers' knowledge and beliefs about both the content and teaching of language arts. Conceptions of how to teach language arts invariably draw on knowledge of the specific content of the discipline (Ball and McDiarmid 1990; Cohen 1990; Grossman 1991; Shulman 1986). It would be difficult, for example, to appropriate the conceptual underpinnings of teaching a literature-based curriculum without having a conception of literature and literary understanding. Similarly, how one teaches writing depends heavily on one's prior under- standing of the nature of writing processes and of how writers employ dif- ferent strategies in their work. These assumptions then inform whether instruction should follow a workshop approach, rely on the imitation of model essays, or emphasize expressive or analytic stances, as well as affect other decisions about how to teach writing.

For example, Jesse, one of the elementary school teachers in our sample, was a strong and committed writer. Drawing on his own experi- ence as a writer, he was able to successfully base his writing instruction on a writing workshop model, modifying the structure throughout the year to meet his young writers' changing needs. Jesse provided many opportunities for writing and frequently gave individual in-depth feed- back to his students as well as minilessons based on his appraisal on their needs. His students rewarded his efforts by developing a love of writing so strong that they were observed spontaneously continuing their writing at lunch on more than one occasion. For Jesse, writing was the one subject where he felt he was "not following any curriculum. It's coming from me."

His teaching of reading, however, stood in stark contrast to his fluid and creative approach to his teaching of writing. He struggled to incor- porate skill lessons for different levels of readers into his instruction. In the midpoint of his first year, he turned to a commercial skills program as a way to meet the needs of his students instead of assessing his students and teaching to their strengths and weaknesses, as he was able to do in writing. In addition, many of his reading activities were based on proce- dural concerns as opposed to instructional concerns (e.g., asking stu- dents to read aloud in literature circles so that the groups would stay on task). While Jesse's background in writing gave him a deep understand-

November 1999 23 ing of desirable learning outcomes in writing, he lacked this same clarity in reading.

Potential Benefits of Using Activity Theory to Study Professional Development

Activity theory, like other perspectives evolving from the work of Vygot- sky (1978, 1987), is fundamentally concerned with socially mediated hu- man development (Wertsch 1985). Its developmental focus makes it a powerful framework for studying teachers' professional development, particularly in longitudinal studies that follow teachers as they progress through different social contexts. We see this perspective as particularly beneficial for illuminating a number of perplexities posed by research on teachers' professional development.

Activity theory highlights the importance of context in learning to teach. Just as research on teaching has begun to focus on context (Mc- Laughlin and Talbert 1993), research on teacher education needs to take up the analytic challenge of portraying the features of settings that matter most in learning to teach. Much of the research in teacher edu- cation has been focused 011 the individual teacher (e.g., Bullough 1989) and has offered individualistic explanations for presenlice teachers' suc- cess or failure in appropriating approaches to teaching. With this prem- ise, the profession is offered little hope for change if changing teaching requires changing teachers one at a time. The prospect is daunting to say the least.

A focus on social contexts, however, shifts attention from the individual to the setting. Changing settings is much more possible than changing hosts of individuals. Studies that focus on the settings for professional de- velopment can reveal the kinds of social structures that promote the ap- propriation of pedagogical tools that, in turn, result in particular kinds of teaching. An activity theory perspective allows for an analysis of the con- sequences of different approaches to professional development, includ- ing university programs, district-wide inservice programs, voluntary par- ticipation in professio~lal organizations, school-based activities, and other structures with particular goals and supportive practices. Identifying the consequences of different activity settings can help generate hypotheses about effective preservice and inservice settings.

A second advantage afforded by activity theory is that it provides a rich theoretical basis for the importance of field experiences. All too often, research on teacher education has polarized the university and school settings and bemoaned the university's lack of influence. From an activity theory perspective, however, the predominance of school values seems

24 American Journal of Education

eminently reasonable. The ultimate goal of the enterprise of teacher education involves identification with the role of teacher, not with the role of university student. Similarly, teachers cannot learn to teach with- out engaging in the activities of teaching. From this perspective, the de- sign of field experiences is absolutely critical to the enterprise of learn- ing to teach. At the same time, activity theory allows researchers to look at the ways in which teachers have appropriated pedagogical tools from their experiences in teacher education that frame how they construct their actions and beliefs once they are in the school setting.

To return to our opening example, understanding why Dorothy em- braced the practice of writers workshop while Frank rejected it requires us to look at both the teachers' individual differences and the differences in their teacher education programs. Activity theory provides a frame- work for attending simultaneously to individuals and the settings in which they learn and develop. Ultimately, we hope the tools from activity theory not only can help us to understand better the process of learning to teach but also will help us, as teacher educators, to rethink our own practices and programs.


Work on this article was supported by a grant from the Office of EducationalRe- search and Improvement to the Center on English Learning and Achievement (CELA).Additional funding was provided by a grant from the Research Council at the University of Oklahoma and matching funds provided by the University of Georgia and the University of Washington. Special thanks are due to the teachers whose generous contributions of time have enabled us to do this work. We alsowish to thank our CELA colleagues at SUNY-Albany and the University of Wisconsin- Madison for their contributions to our thinking, in particular Arthur Applebee, Judith Langer, and Martin Nystrand; Kate Evans, Miriam Hirschstein, Susan Mar- tin, Nancy Place, Marsha Riddle, Pamela Sutton, and Clarissa Thompson for their contributions to the research conducted at the University of Washington; Pamela Fry, Jennifer Hastings, Pamela Kluver, Bonnie Konopak, and Cindy O'Donnell- Allen for their contributions to the research conducted at the University of Okla- homa; and Leslie Susan Cook, Alecia YJackson, and Cynthia Moore for their con- tributions to the research conducted at the University of Georgia. W7e would also like to thank Renee Hayes, Leslie Rupert Herrenkohl, Timothy Lensmire, Eugene Matusov, and George Newell, plus the anonymous reviewers enlisted by AJE, for their critiques of an earlier draft of this manuscript.

1. As part of our discussion of appropriation, we should clarify our under- standing of a concept. A concept is a social construction, not an autonomous ideal. Typically, a concept has some official, sanctioned, or authoritative meaning that within a community of thought is regarded as ideal. How one attributes meaning to this concept, however, might vary depending on the kinds of cultural schemata already in place for organizing ideas. In our discussion below, we will treat concepts as they exist within thought communities, that is, as having

November 1999 25

authoritative or official definitions. We recognize that different thought com- munities have different conceptions associated with the same term; different con- ceptions of student-centered teaching, for instance, attribute varying degrees of authority to both students and teachers (see, e.g., the various interpretations de- scribed by Cuban [1993]). In our account of five degrees of appropriation, we are considering the appropriation of a tool as it is being conceived in the context of learning, typically as it is represented by university faculty, authoritative texts, or school-based mentors. In doing so, we recognize that these conceptions are social constructions rather than ideals.


Agee, J. "Negotiating Different Conceptions about Reading and Teaching Lit- erature in a Preservice Literature Class." Research in the Teaching ofEnglish 33 (1998): 83-120.

Applebee, A. N. Writing in the Secondary School: NCTE Research Report No. 21. Urbana, Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English, 1981.

Applebee, A. N. Literature in the Secondarj School: Studies of Curriculum and Instruc- tion in the C'nited States: NCTE Research Report No. 25. Urbana, Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English, 1993.

Atwell, N. In the middle: Nezu Understandings about Writing, Reading, and Learning. 2d ed. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1998.

Ball, D. L., and G. W. McDiarmid. "The Subject-Matter Preparation ofTeachers." In Handbook of Research on Teacher Education, edited by W7.R. Houston. New York: Macmillan, 1990.

Bakhtin, M. M. The Dialopc Imag2nation: Four Essay @ IM. IM. Bakhtin, edited by

M. Holquist and translated by C. Emerson and M. Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981. Bakhtin, M. M. Problems ofDostojeuskjk Poetics, edited and translated by C. Emer- son. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 1984.

Borko, H., and M. Eisenhart. "Learning to Teach Hard Mathematics: Do Novice Teachers and Their Instructors Give Up Too Easily?" Journalfor Research in 1Vfathematics Education 23 (1992): 194-222.

Britzman, D. Practice Makes Practice. New York: Teachers College Press, 1991. Bullough, R., Jr. First-Ear Teacher: A Case Study New York: Teachers College Press, 1989. Cazden, C. Classroom Discourse: The Language of Teaching and Learning. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1988. Chin, E. "Redefining 'Context' in Research on Writing." Written Comfnunication 11 (1994): 445-81. Cohen, D. "A Revolution in One Classroom: The Case of Mrs. Oublier." EducationalEualuation and Policy Analysis 12 (1990) : 327-43. Cole, M. Cultural Psjchology: A Once and Future Discipline. Cambridge, Mass.: Har-

vard University Press, 1996. Conant, J. The Education ofAm~rican Teachers. New York: McGraw Hill, 1963. Cuban, L. How Teachers Taught: Constanq and Change in American Classrooms,

1890-1990. New York: Teachers College Press, 1993. Delpit, L. Other People's Children: Cultural Con$ict in the Classroom. New York: New Press. 1993.


American Journal of Education

Dewey,J. "The Relation of Theory to Practice in Education." In TeacherEducation in America: A Documentary History, edited by M. Borrowman. New York: Teach- ers College Press, 1965. Originally published in 1904.

Duckworth, E. The Having of Wondeful Ideas and OtherEssajs on Teachingand Leam- ing. New York: Teachers College Press, 1987. Fagan, E. R., and C. H. Laine. "Two Perspectives on Undergradute English Teacher Preparation." Research in the Teaching ofEnglish 14 (1980): 67-72. Feiman-Nemser, S., and M. Buchmann. "Pitfalls of Experience in Teacher Prepa- ration." Teachers College Record 87 (1985) : 53- 65. Feiman-Nemser, S., and H. Featherstone, eds. Exploring Teaching: Reinventing an Introductorj Course. New York: Teachers College Press, 1992. Goodlad,J. I. A Place Called School: Prospectsfor the Future. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984. Grossman, P. L. The ,\faking ofa Teacher: Teacher Knowledge and Teacher Education. New York: Teachers College Press, 1990.

Grossman, P. L. "What Are W7e Talking about Anyhow? Subject Matter Knowledge of Secondary English Teachers. In Subject Matter Knowledge, vol. 2, Aduances in Research on Teaching, edited by J. Brophy. Greenwich, Conn.: JAI Press, 1991.

Grossman, P. L., and A. E. Richert. "Unacknowledged Knowledge Growth: A Re- examination of the Effects of Teacher Education." Teaching and Teacher Educa- tion 4 (1988): 53-62.

Grossman, P. L., and S. S. Stodolsky. "Considerations of Content and Circum- stances of Secondary School Teaching." In Reuiezu of Research in Education, vol. 20., edited by L. Darling-Hammond. Washington, D.C.: American Educa- tional Research Association, 1994.

Grossman, P. L., S. W. Valencia, and F. Hamel. "Preparing Language Arts Teach- ers in a Time of Reform." In A Handbookfor Research on TeachingLitmq through the Co~n~nunicatiue

and Visual Arts, edited by J. Flood, S. B. Heath, and D. Lapp. New York: MacMillan, 1997.

Gutierrez, K. D., and L. D. Stone. "Synchronic and Diachronic Dimensions of Social Practice: An Emerging Methodology for Cultural-Historical Perspectives on Literacy Learning." In Vjgotskian Perspectives on Literaq Research: Constructing

meaning through Collaborative Inquiry, edited by C. D. Lee and P. Smagorinsky. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Herrenkohl, L. R., and J. V Wertsch. "The Use of Cultural Tools: Mastery and Appropriation." In Development and Mental Representation: Theory and Applica- tions, edited by I. Sigel. Mahwah, N.J.: Erlbaum, 1999.

Hollingsworth, S. "Prior Beliefs and Cognitive Change in Learning to Teach." American Educational Research Journal 26 (1989) : 160-90. Kennedy, M. M. Learning to Teach Writing: Does Teacher Education Make a Dijference? New York: Teachers College Press, 1998.

Kramer, R. Ed Schoolfillies. New York: Free Press, 1991.

Lave,J. Cognition in Practice. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Lave,J., and E. Wenger. Situated Learning: Legtimate Peripheral Participation. New

York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Leont'ev, A. N. ~Gblelns ofthe Deuelop~nent ofMind. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1981. Lortie, D. C. Schoolteacher: A Sociological Study. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975. McLaughlin, M. W., and J. E. Talbert. Contexts That Matterfor Teaching and Learn- ing: Strategic Opportunzties for 'Ifeeting the LVatzon's Educational Goals. Stanford,

November 1999


Calif.: Stanford University, Center for Research on the Context for Secondary School Teaching, 1993. Newman, D., P. Griffin, and M. Cole. The Construction Zone: Krking for Cognitive Change in School. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Nystrand, M. Opening Dialogue: Understanding the Djnamics of Language and Learn- ing in the English Classroom. New York: Teachers College Press, 1997. Ritchie, J., and D. Wilson. "Dual Apprenticeships: Subverting and Supporting Critical Teaching." English Education 25, no. 2 (1993): 67-83. Sarason, S. B. The Creation of Settings and theFuture Societies. San Francisco: Jossey- Bass, 1972. Schifter, D., and C. T. Fosnot. Reconstructing mathematics Education. New York: Teachers College Press, 1993. Shulman, L. "Those L$lo Understand: Knowledge Growth in Teaching." Educational Researcher 15, no. 2 (1986): 4-14. Sizer, T. R. Horace's Comnpromise: The Dilemma of the American High School. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984.

Smagorinsky, P. "The Social Construction of Data: Methodological Problems of Investigating Learning in the Zone of Proximal Development." Review ofEdu- cational Research 65 (1995): 191-212.

Smagorinsky, P. ".Appropriating Tools for Teaching and Research through Col- laborative Independent Study." English Education 28 (1996): 127-42.

Smagorinsky, P. "Time to Teach." English Education 31 (1999): 50-73.

Smagorinsky, P., and C. O'Donnell-Allen. "The Depth and Dynamics of Con- text: Tracing the Sources and Channels of Engagement and Disengagement in Students' Response to Literature." Journal of Literacy Research 30 (1998): 515-59. (a)

Smagorinsky, P., and C. O'Donnell-Allen, "Reading as Mediated and Mediating i2ction: Composing Meaning for Literature through Multimedia Interpretive Texts." Reading Research Quarterly 33 (1998) : 198-226. (b)

Smagorinsky, P., and C. O'Donnell-Allen. "Idiocultural Diversity in Small Groups: The Role of the Relational Framework in Collaborative Learning." In Vygotskian Pprspectiues on Literaq Research: Constructing Meaning through Col- laborative Inquirj, edited by C. D. Lee and P. Smagorinsky. New York: Cam- bridge Cniversity Press, 2000. Smagorinsky, P., and M. E. M'hiting. How English Teachers Get Taught: hlethods of Teaching the hlethods Class. Urbana, Ill.: Conference on English Education and the National Council of Teachers of English, 1995.

Smylie, M..A. "Redesigning Teachers' Work: Connections to the Classroom." In Review of Research in Education, vol. 20, edited by L. Darling-Hammond. Wash- ington, D.C.: American Educational Research Association, 1994.

Tulviste, P. The Cultural-Historical Development of Lkrbal Thinking, translated by M.J. Hall. Commack, N.Y: Nova Science Publishers, 1991. Yalsiner, J. The Guided 'Mind: A Sociogenetic Approach to Personality. Cambridge, Mass.: Hanard University Press, 1998.

Vygotsky, L. S. 'Mind in Society The Developnlent of Higher Psychological Processes, edited by M. Cole, 1'.John-Steiner, S. Scribner, and E. Souberman. Cambridge, Mass.: Hanard vniversity Press, 1978.

L'ygotsky, L. S. "Thinking and Speech." In L. S. @gotsky: Collected Works, vol. 1, edited by R. Rieber and '4. Carton and translated by N. Minick. New York: Plenum, 1987.

Wertsch,J.V "The Concept of .Activity in Soviet Psychology: An Introduction." In

28 American Journal of Education

The Concept of Activity in Soviet Psychology, edited and translated by J.V Wertsch. Armonk, N.Y.: Sharpe, 1981. Wertsch,J.V Vygotsky and the Social Formation of Mind. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985. Wertsch, J. V Lbices of the Mind: A Sociocultural Approach to Mediated Action. Cam

bridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991. Wertsch,J.V Mind as Action. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Wertsch, J. V "Vygotsky's Two Minds on the Nature of Meaning." In bgotskian

Perspectives on Literacy Research: ConstructinglMeaningthroughCollaborativeInquiry,

edited by C. D. Lee and P. Smagorinsky. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Wideen, M., J. Mayer-Smith, and B. Moon. "A Critical Analysis of the Research on Learning to Teach: Making the Case for an Ecological Perspective on In- quiry." Review ofEducationa1 Research 68 (1998): 130-78. Zeichner, K. M., and B. R. Tabachnik. "Are the Effects of Teacher Education "Washed Out" by School Experience? Journal of Teacher Education 32, no. 3 (1981): 7-11.

November 1999 29

  • Recommend Us