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The Effects of an Half Year Practical Work in School.
Hannelore Schwedes University of Bremen, Germany
In this study we evaluate the outcomes of a half year of practice in a school, in which students are obliged to participate, when they want to qualify for an examination as a teacher. What is unusual for such practical term is, that it has to be absolved just in the middle of the study of the scientific disciplines at university. The idea of this arrangement is to link better together the theory, learned predominantly at university, with the praxis of teaching, which is developed in schools. The gains and deficiencies in students' learning processes are reported and discussed in the light of a whole teacher education curriculum of about seven years not included the first years of professional life in a teachers career. What should be learned, when and where and to what extent?
Subject and background
Traditional cognitive theories led to a conception of teacher training in which knowledge about teaching and subject matter is first transferred to (or constructed by) the preservice teacher to be applied in praxis later, first during the practicum and subsequently during the regular teaching job. However, a considerable body of research in teaching (e.g., Lave, 1996; Roth, 1998a, 1998b; van Manen, 1995) and on other everyday practices-e.g. including mathematics in the workplace (Lave 1988) shows that what makes practitioners competent is not learned in formal institutions but by coparticipating with competent others in a community of practice. However, the domain most concerned with questions of learning and teaching generally does not make use of this mode of professional reproduction which is also in Germany the case.
In Germany the normal curriculum in teacher training requires that students study two scientific disciplines (content knowledge) at university for about 4 to 5 years and take some few lectures in pedagogy during this time including a visit at school for about three weeks in the first and second half of university studies. After having accomplished the university exam Phase 1 is finished, followed by phase 2, where in a preparatory service students act as "trainee teacher" in a school accompanied by some seminar courses, in which they get acquainted with the curriculum for their subjects, get instructions how to plan lessons and reflect students' teaching practice.
This division of teacher education in two parts, one theoretical and one practical, has a long tradition of critique in Germany and other countries as well. It came from all groups being engaged in teacher preparation, especially the 'trainee teachers" themselves complained about the gap between theory and practice (Keuffer & Oelkers 2001). Well known is the so-called "reality shock" which more than half of the young teachers experience when they are confronted with a teacher's daily work (Merzyn 1999).Various ideas for improvement have been discussed, but only some were tried out, especially models integrating the 1. and 2. phase ( i.e. Döbrich 1981).
The municipality of Bremen now has established another model and decided that all students, who have chosen to qualify for a teacher examination, have to practice for five month ( i.e. a full term) in a school for 20 h a week after the first half of their university studies, normally after two years. Students shall experience school life in all its facets, explore co-operative relations within and outside school, communicate with the pupils, learn about school program and development, accompany teachers in their classes, be involved in co-teaching and give lessons on their own. After another two years of studies students finish their university program and step forward in phase two, another two years of teacher training .
Problem and aims
The main question for teacher education in this setting is: what can and what should be learnt to what extent in this half year of practice and how can the university shape adequately the second half of the teacher curriculum so that it builds up on the competencies students had developed in this half year of practice.
The study presented here explores in what sense and how this full term practice in a school contributes to teacher education, and specifies what students really have (not should have) learnt, especially from the view of the students themselves. Have they experienced a shock or are they motivated in becoming a teacher? What has helped students in developing their teaching skills and competencies? Are they content when looking on the realisation of their aims? How will they use their school experience in their future university career?
As we expected, that students will not get too much help and orientation from school (educating student teachers was for the schools a complete new job) we wanted to know which intentions they would follow themselves, what they wanted and didn't want to learn in this half year of school practice. Our hypothesis was, that students would organise their work in school in a way, that they will achieve their learning goals. we could better see, how the input and restraints from the school influenced or even blocked students learning processes.
Design and methods
Sample: Two groups of students having accomplished a half year practical course (HYPCO) in school in two successive years were included in the study. The chosen students came from all over the university but majored at least one of the natural science disciplines. In the group of the first year all ten students participated voluntarily. In the following year we had a group of 56 students, who all were obliged to participate.
Data collection: For finding out what students really learned through HYPCO we took students' perspective in gathering quantitative (questionnaire) as well as qualitative data (interviews) and validated them mutually and with other information from mentors, headmasters and students written reports and reflections.
Analysis and interpretation: Quantitative data were analysed with the statistical program SPSS, for the qualitative data we used various procedures of hermeneutic text interpretation and methods from grounded theory for constructing relevant categories. The data from 2. - 5. were also used for the validation of the questionnaire and for triangulation.
All students of the first group appreciated HYPCO as a an essential learning experience and were very content to have taken this learning opportunity. They all felt confirmed in their decision for becoming a teacher and gained high motivation for finishing their university study. Without any doubt they intended to accomplish phase two of teacher education.
After HYPCO they feel more able to notice contributions from pupils and to react adequately. They have developed a broad range of competencies as the following table shows. But they report no specific gains on science teaching.
For the students it is very important to be welcome in the school and the teaching staff, but most essential is the students' relation with the mentor. Although the time, mentors spent for supervising student teachers, was spare (often shorter than 30 minutes a week) most students were content with the help, they got from their mentors. In most cases the exchange of observations, reflections or feed-back took place in informal ways, for example on the way to the staff room; regularly arranged meetings were rare. Between 50 and 60 % of the students co-operated with their mentor in some classes as Co-teachers. Students as well as teachers judged this arrangement as an enrichment and a relief. Those students, who tried it out, described it as an optimal learning condition.
We let students classify the mentor's lessons as well as their own ones on a two pole graded scale from one to ten. The ends were roughly marked as " teacher centred" and "student centred" but were detailed described in the questionnaire.
The teaching of mentors and students show a strong tendency to the teacher centred pole, whereas students classify their own teaching a bit more student centred, but only 2 students of the first group and 25% of the second group characterise their teaching predominantly as student centred. Students categorisation of their own given instruction as teacher-centred is remarkable in so far as all teacher students wanted to implement group work and self organised learning for the pupils. On the other hand this result is in accordance with the findings of other studies which have shown, that beginning teachers may believe strongly in a more student-centred approach to science teaching even though they do not translate these beliefs into classroom practice (the gap between belief and action). During their first years of professional teaching young teachers become more and more conservative and conformist. Idealistic ideas of teacher - pupil relations are revised, discipline and control become more important. (Jungwirth 1989, Simmoms 1999) The effects of the university studies "are washed out" (Zeichner 1981).
In respect to science teaching students rely on the choices of their mentor, use their repertoire of experiments and worksheets. To create challenging tasks, present impressing phenomena or stimulate pupils to formulate hypotheses as teaching skills hasn't been in the horizon of students or mentors. Nevertheless, especially from the case studies, which involve four cases of co-teaching, we can follow traces of innovation, where student and mentor try together to implement self organised learning and involve students in the choice of issues to explore. Both, student teacher and mentor reported, that they never had taken alone the risk for this change in teaching.
Other areas where students didn't improve well were: the legitimation of tasks and content pupils were supposed to deal with (80%), diagnosis of learning difficulties (72%), smoothly changing phases of instruction (76%), building up tension in the presentation of new information or for problem solving (70%), structuring pupils' discussions productively (54%), resolve pupils' denials productively (60%), make consciously use of the own body language (56%), asking productive questions, which allowed pupils to talk through important and difficult issues especially in the natural sciences (80%).
Inspired by the work of Dreifus & Dreifus (1986) and Benner (1984) we constructed levels of competencies for teaching. Our interview data show, that all students reached the level of an advanced beginner and in the area of teaching sometimes the level of competence. As an advanced beginner a teacher is able to perceives significant elements of a situation and has elaborated a behavioural repertoire to react adequately whereas the level of competence requires to perceive all relevant elements of a situation, bringing them at the same time into a hierarchical order and make a plan to follow with ones actions. When students are able to change their lesson plan in reaction to a pupils contribution, then they demonstrate the level of competence. There were quite a number of narratives in the interviews were students described such events.
The most important gain through HYPCO, as we see it, lies in the development of a teacher adequate habitus (Bourdieu 1992)) and general pedagogical skills. From the interviews and the case studies as well as mentors' remarks we can state, that students have really grown up. They showed a perceivable expansion in their personal qualities, they took more responsibility for classes and their organisation, for pupils' learning as well as their own learning in school and university, they accepted to take the leadership in classrooms, they presented themselves as self-conscious, self-confident and self-assertive people, who had found their way and place. Pupils accepted their authority. All students had effectively developed their ability for classroom management and followed a clear concept of rules and agreements with the pupils that should apply in the classroom.
The half year of praxis brought about the necessary move from being a student to becoming a teacher. This change of sides and point of view was real, hard work and not without conflicts and role-confusion. All students, we interviewed, confirmed that they needed all these months to make these steps and to feel comfortable with this new role. They really acknowledged that they could do so without pressure for arrival on the other side. Co-teaching helped students a lot in acquiring a behavioural repertoire needed in the role as a teacher. By co-teaching, beginning teachers can observe and imitate the more seasoned peer, how he walks about the classroom, calls on students, waits, feels confident, deals with a difficult situation then and there. The student teacher learns with her/his body, how to feel confident about asking questions. This confidence is not merely an affective aspect of her/his knowing, it is the active knowledge itself, knowing what to do or say, and what to avoid doing and saying. (W-W.-M. Roth) .
Curriculum for Teacher
In evaluating HYPCO there are a lot of things, which could and should be improved. In the first run a better cooperation between university and schools, epecially with student's mentors, has to be established. Teachers in schools need an advanced training for their task of being a mentor - and schools and university have to reach a consensus in respect to the aims of HYPCO and the methods to reach them (e. g. co-teaching, integrating students in their teaching with small tasks, showing them different and innovative ways of teaching, reflecting their teaching with students, supervising students in their own teaching)
On the whole however it can be stated, that HYPCO was and can be a successful element in the process of teacher education. Students can make a big step in becoming a teacher, even if their stay in school is not very structured, as it was the case in our study. Students could freely explore the various facets of school life as well as their own teaching abilities. They had the chance and the problem to structure their curriculum themselves. They could choose their learning opportunities and the situations in which to test their qualifications, i. e. teacher student's learning was highly self-organized. The candidates could experience their talents as well as their weaknesses, and fortunately the experiences of selfefficacy predominated.
Students brought with them into the university a high motivation to improve their teaching competencies and to acquire new ones. Students reported e. g. , that they intend to take more courses in educational psychology, pedagogy or pedagogical content knowledge. Hopefully they will find, what they are looking for, but the courses in university have not yet reacted to the needs of those students. The hope of the protagonists of HYPCO is, that students will more precisely choose those courses, that will contribute to their competence in (science) teaching. Better knowing the practical needs of their aspired profession will strengthen the students in demanding appropriate courses. The idea of self organization seems to free the university from the burden to install a program of personal advice to students how to organize their further study and take care that students can find courses they need. (Such a program for personal advice also could help students who better should change their aim of becoming a teacher and think of another career. Students should find there professional advice, psychological or psychotherapeutic help.)
It has to be discussed if the gains of HYPCO come to the right time, if they provide an appropriate base to build on in the following two years of university study and if it is in the university's aims and resources to take up these competencies, develop them and enrich them with scientific insights, for instance help students to construct pedagogical content knowledge (Shulman 1987).
There only will be a profit from HYPCO in the middle of the educational program when the university takes into consideration what students have learned in HYPCO and bears upon students' new competencies, otherwise it may cause only a loss of time since presumably students will forget or loose those competencies not needed.
But how to shape an adequate curriculum an what would be appropriate courses ? More praxis is a general claim in the debate on the reform of teacher education - as well as the connection between or integration of theory and praxis. But what does this mean in a concrete course?.
If we take it for granted, that students have learned the basics of classroom management and know that they can keep up with the kids, it then seems possible to engage the teacher students in constructig innovative lessons, using and reflecting all the theoretical background which the best posibilities to support students learning processes and learn to teach for diversity. A variety of methods should be tried out, which will help to establish self organized learning in the classroom. In case studies students should learn to diagnose learning difficulties of pupils and choose tasks to overcome them.
This approach should be combined with the idea of research in science education. Research is a dimension which is not in the horizon of teachers , neither the young nor the old ones. But it is a necessary dimension for professionalisation. Analysis of teaching situations or diagnosis of learning difficulties are first steps in improving classroom learning, a second step then may be to find a method, an idea or a project, how to deal with a problematic situation or learning difficulty - and to make work these ideas. The last step then is the evaluation and / or reflection of what has been done, grounded on systematic observations. How did it work, what turned out satisfactorily, what needs improving, what should be cancelled next time and why. Much help in exploring the effects of trying out new ideas may come from a video documentation of those trials and enterprises. Altrichter and Posch (1998) have shown how research projects in the form of action research can be combined with the normal job of teaching in a school and how it can inform the own teaching and the praxis of others.
The Bremen educational authorities now have made a proposal for the introduction of a new structure for teacher education. A roughly overview gives the following table in the end.
You can see that this model is oriented by the educational structure of universities in anglo-american areas. This model tries to implement a continuous relation to the practice of teaching and learning and the field of praxis in schools. The weight of practice relevant courses has been drastically increased. The ideas explicated above can be realized in this model. Naturally it doesn't resolve the open question of the relation of theory and practice in teacher education and just so the problem of what sort of practice when , how long, and how intense should be implemented rests as an open question. But this last one can perhaps be clarified empirically whereas the first one will probably occupy next generations of teacher educators up to the position that theory and praxis have a dialectic relation, which means that the tension and difference between them is to be discussed anew in every special case.