10 SES 02 B, Research on Programmes and Pedagogical Approaches in Teacher Education
Globally, theory-practice connection has been a longstanding issue challenging initial teacher education (Cabaroglu, 2014; Cochran-Smith, 2001; Darling-Hammond, 2010). In Australia, initial teacher education programs are coming under increasing scrutiny as concerns have been expressed regarding the quality of teachers (Dinham, 2013; Ingvarson, 2014). Most of the recent reviews of initial teacher education (ITE) programs listed the limited integration of theory and practice as a significant issue which is challenging initial teacher education in Australia (Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation [CESE], 2016; Ingvarson et al., 2014; TEMAG, 2014). In response to this issue, in Australia, like many other places in the world, there has been an increasing trend towards restructuring teacher education around a strong school-university partnership. However, most of the initiatives in school and university partnerships centre on enhancing the quality of professional experience and haven’t effectively addressed the issues of how teacher preparation should be reframed in a more democratic and practical way to address theory-practice integration. This highlights the need for further understanding of how to prepare teachers for a better theory and practice integration.
A number of innovations in ITE have been implemented to develop more connections between schools and universities, emphasising their shared responsibility to educate future teachers. These efforts range from the intensively resourced and well-theorised model established by the Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne (McLean Davies et al., 2012) to radical school-based models that accentuate the practice more than the clinical as exemplified by the Teach for Australia program (Teach For Australia, 2009). However, little is known whether the new trend in teacher education in the context of Australia has addressed the issue of the theory and practice divide. Very little attention has been given to the issue of preservice teachers’ theory and practice integration in a school-university partnership teacher education program where their coursework is concurrently linked to their field work and a prolonged and high quality professional experience. In addition, research into theory and practice in teacher education is undertheorized. It is not clear on what constitutes theory and what constitutes practice. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine the impact of a newly implemented collaborative model of practicum placement on the preservice teachers’ integration of theory and practice in a context of Australia.
In the field of teacher education, although the issue of theory and practice integration in teacher education and professional experiences have been researched to a large extent in the literature, a model that depicts the relationship between theory and practice is non-existent. Particularly, there is a lack of a theoretical framework that looks into the process of theory to practice translation in the context of a school placement. In the absence of a pertinent model in teacher education, we adopt the model of theory and practice translation developed by Reason and Kimball (2012). The model consists of four components (formal theory, institutional context, informal theory, practice). An advantage of Reason and Kimball’s model is that it visualises the process of theory to practice translation and allows researchers/ practitioners to think explicitly about the sub-components embedded in this process and to investigate the connection between them. In addition, the fact that this model emphasizes the reflective nature of the theory practice integration process resonates with the essence of the collaborative practicum model that this study strongly advocates.
A qualitative case study research design was used to explore the participant preservice teachers ‘theory-practice integration when they participated in a collaborative model of practicum in a context in Australia. It permits the researcher to study a selected issue in depth and in detail (Patton, 2002) The study was conducted during the first professional experience blocks of a graduate pre-service teacher education program in an Australian university. 20 pre-service teachers were placed in pairs on a class or in a faculty and in most cases in groups of 4-8 students in a school. The PSTs participating in the project were in first year, second semester of the Master of Teaching program. Individual semi-structured interviews, mentoring conversations, final professional experience reports and lesson observation guides were used as the main sources of data. Additional documents from the PSTs’ university program (e.g., professional experience handbook, unit of study documents and program descriptions) and the Professional Teaching Standards (NSWIT, 2005) provided further data. The model developed by Reason and Kimbal (2012) informed the data analysis of this study. The analytical process was on-going and iterative. First, after the initial reading of the transcripts, we started the coding process aiming to find out the linkage between theory and practice in the practicum. This process was guided by a list of questions adapted from those suggested by Reason and Kimball (2012). These questions were altered from the original ones to address the specific context of this study. While each component of the model was treated as a category, units of text (words, phases, sentences or sections) were coded considering these guiding questions (Saldaña, 2009). Secondly, as we intended to analyse the data set specifically to identify the impact of the collaborative model of school placement, particular attention was drawn to the elements reported by the participants as facilitating or impeding the linkage between theory and practice. Different sources of data (interviews with student teachers, school mentors, university mentors and learning conversations between university mentors and student teachers and mentoring conversations between school teachers and student teachers) were compared for the purpose of triangulation (Leech & Onwuegbuzie, 2009). All the codes were discussed among coders and common codes were collapsed where necessary. After refining the list of codes, we co-constructed the analysis and further discussed the interpretations of the evidence until final agreement was made.
The data revealed that the process of theory and practice integration is not linear as illustrated by the one-sided arrows in Reason and Kimball’s (2012) original model. In the context of this practicum, academic input or formal theory was elicited, exemplified and clarified to preservice teachers on the school site through learning conversations between tertiary mentors and a group of student teachers and through mentoring conversations between school teachers and PSTs. In this way, formal knowledge of teaching is informed by PSTs’ teaching practice and their local understandings of the institutional context where teaching occurs. Therefore, it could be claimed that there is a two-way interaction between practice and formal theory and between formal theory and institutional context. The role of the learning conversations organized by tertiary mentors in group meetings with PSTs and the mentoring conversations between school teachers and PSTs is particularly highlighted in the data and is therefore placed in the central place of the process. These highlighted features of the practicum model which influenced all four components of the process including formal theory, institutional context, formal theory as well as practice. The findings of this study lent good support to Kolb’s (2014) experiential learning theory which posits that PSTs’ learning involves concrete experiences of teaching, followed by reflective observation of the experience where PSTs reflect on their experiences personally and collectively. In this study, not only PSTs reflect on their own but also on their mentors and peers’ experiences. Reflection then gives rise to abstract conceptualisation of existing concepts, which resembles the formation of informal theory. The study puts forward to a number of implications for designing an effective practicum, thus enhancing the quality of teacher education programs in the current context and beyond.
Cabaroglu, N. (2014). Re-visiting the theory and practice gap through the lens of student teacher dilemmas. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 39(2), 89–109. Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation [CESE] (2016). Professional Experience in Teacher Education, retrieved from https://www.cese.nsw.gov.au / publications-filter/literature-review-professional-experience-in-teacher-education 15 January 2016. Cochran-Smith, M. (2001). The outcomes question in teacher education. Teaching and teacher education, 17(5), 527-546. Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). Teacher Education and the American Future. Journal of Teacher Education, 61(1-2), 35-47. doi:10.1177/0022487109348024 Dinham, S. (2013). 'The Quality Teaching Movement in Australia: Losing Our Confidence, Losing Our Way and Getting Back on Track', Phillip Hughes Oration,Australian College of Educators, ACT Branch, Canberra, 28 th February. Ingvarson, L (2014, July) Why we don’t have the world’s best, or most respected, teachers. The Conversation Ingvarson, L., Reid, K., Buckley, S., Kleinhenz, E., Masters, G., Rowley, G. (2014). Best Practice in Teacher Education Programs and Australia’s Own Programs. Canberra: Department of Education Kolb, D. A. (2014). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (2nd ed). New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc. Leech, N. L., & Onwuegbuzie, A. J. (2009). A typology of mixed methods research designs. Quality & Quantity, 43(2), 265-275. McLean Davies, L., Anderson, M., Deans, J., Dinham, S., Griffin, P., Kameniar, B., . . . Tyler, D. (2012). Masterly preparation: embedding clinical practice in a graduate pre-service teacher education programme. Journal of Education for Teaching, 39(1), 93-106. doi:10.1080/02607476.2012.733193 Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research & evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE. Reason, R. D., & Kimball, E. W. (2012). A new theory-to-practice model for student affairs: Integrating scholarship, context, and reflection. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 49(4), 359-376. Saldaňa, J. (2009). The coding manual for qualitative researchers. Lontoo: SAGE Publications Ltd. Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG). (June, 2014). What characteristics should be fostered and developed in graduate teachers through their initial teacher education? Australian Government, Department of Education and Training, Australia. Teach For Australia. (2009). Training and Support for Teaching. Retrieved from http://www.teachforaustralia.org/the-associate-experience/training-and-support
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