PSTs: asset and deficit perspectives

Examining preservice science teachers' knowledge and learning    Ron Gray, Scott McDonald, and David Stroupe

Two years ago, Dr. Ron Gray,  Dr. Scott McDonald, and I began to wonder why so many studies framed preservice science teachers (PSTs) from a deficit perspective in terms of their knowledge and learning. By deficit perspective, we mean that PST learning is often described in terms of lacking or gaining knowledge. The overarching message of such research is clear: many researchers equate PST learning with the knowledge they lack or fail to acquire. For the authors, this brought to mind Dillon and Avraamidou’s (Dillon & Avraamidou, 2020) question: ‘Do we really need another study that pre-service teachers don’t know much about anything?’ (p. 4). The message about PSTs also sparked a question of our own – is there an underlying structure in these research studies that guide the way researchers position PSTs and their learning? 

To answer our question, we conducted a literature review of 146 empirical peer-reviewed journal articles. We found many studies using a cognitive learning perspective positioned PSTs from a deficit perspective, whereas studies using sociocultural learning theory perspectives framed PSTs from an asset perspective. By asset, we mean that researchers attempt to understand how PSTs’ knowledge, experiences, and identities serve as resources as they learn through sense-making and participation in varied and valued cultural practices. 

From our analysis, we have three questions/suggestions for colleagues to consider:

1)     Why are cognitive deficit studies still a primary means to frame research about PSTs’ knowledge and learning?
2)    We wonder what, if anything, research about PST knowledge domains can still provide our field that might help advance science teacher preparation. While the recognition and advocation of teacher knowledge was crucial for helping teaching grow as a profession, we worry that positioning learning to teach as successfully completing ‘correct answers’ on assessments creates a culture in which PSTs are perpetually positioned as deficit and outside the norm given how powerful researchers choose to frame them.
3)    We wonder about the future of PST knowledge and the daily work of teacher preparation. Looking across the literature for this review, we noticed that framing teacher preparation around knowledge domains alone, especially from a deficit perspective, does not result in substantive shifts in  PST thinking or actions, but places blame on them for a lack of success. If PSTs do not develop the knowledge and practices that help students learn, blame and responsibility falls on us, the teacher educators, and not on novices who are desperately needed in classrooms and who look to us for guidance in learning to teach. 

*If you would like more information about this research, please contact the corresponding editor - David Stroupe @

Ron Gray, Scott McDonald & David Stroupe (2021) What you find depends on how you see: examining asset and deficit perspectives of preservice science teachers’ knowledge and learning, Studies in Science Education, DOI: 10.1080/03057267.2021.1897932