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A study exploring the factors that shape and continue to influence the personal epistemologies of student teachers of secondary English

Page, Frances Carole (2018) A study exploring the factors that shape and continue to influence the personal epistemologies of student teachers of secondary English. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This thesis explores the formation of personal epistemologies and their impact on the development of professional subject knowledge in beginning teachers of English. The inquiry draws on a small sample of Secondary English student teachers studying for a Postgraduate Certificate of Education qualification (PGCE) at a university in the UK. The research explores the development of student teachers’ ‘personal epistemologies’, or belief systems concerning the nature of knowledge. It emphasises the importance of the affective, as well as the cognitive dimensions of the development of subject knowledge and identity. The thesis shows how autobiographical memory feeds into personal epistemology and argues that as this remembering becomes overlaid with new contexts and pedagogical learning, and permeated by the dominant discourses which surround the subject, a sense of shift emerges, entailing disconnection and reconnection, continuity and disjuncture. These temporal shifts encompass beliefs, pedagogy, context and inter-subjectivity, which meld to provide a sense of dynamism and fluidity in personal epistemology. Whilst such shifting perspectives might generate tension and uncertainty, it is argued that there is also a sense of energy and praxis as new learning emerges. The research identifies the need for spaces which provide opportunities for reflexive and transformative questioning that puts the self at the heart of the inquiry. It is argued that affect, memory, discourse and cognition are intertwined in complex ways in the development of student teachers’ personal epistemologies, and that it is important for teacher educators and policy makers, as well as for student teachers themselves, to understand the complexity of these entanglements and their role in the development of subject knowledge for teaching. The research employs a paradigmatic shift from interpretive, constructivist research methods to post-structural methodology in order to engage with the complexity and multiplicity of the voices emerging. Hope is identified as a powerful concept running through student teachers’ personal epistemologies. However, there is also evidence of what might be termed the ‘limitations of hope’ and the shutting down of hopeful voices through negative discourse. This research argues for student teachers’ hopeful voices to be heard, listened to, and explored as part of the multiplicity of voices emerging in the process of becoming a teacher. The outcomes of this research offer teacher educators conceptual resources with which to examine the process of professional knowledge development. Although the focus is on the personal epistemologies of beginning teachers of secondary English, the conceptual framework underpinning this study could be utilised to explore personal epistemology more widely.

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