10 SES 03 E, Research on Teacher Educators
Teaching is a complex endeavor in which teachers’ intentions do not necessarily correspond with students' experiences of teaching, and where teachers are influenced and obliged to follow educational policy. Labaree (2005) describes teaching as ‘an extraordinarily difficult form of professional practice that looks easy’ (Labaree, 2005, p. 188). In this context, he points out a number of educational choices that go prior to teachers’ actions: ‘Invisible is all the planning, decision making, moment to moment adjustment to student actions, and professional reflection’ (p. 189). Brophy (1988) points out that ‘the individual elements involved in good teaching may not be especially difficult to learn, but during implementation in actual classroom conditions, they are numerous and shifting from moment to moment, so that it becomes very difficult to orchestrate them’ (Brophy, 1988, p. 3).
One way of understanding the complexity of teaching, in the tension between teachers' intentions, students' learning and educational policy, is to recognize that pedagogical activities will always imply doubt or uncertainty (Munthe, 2003; 2001). This uncertainty cannot be removed, but can be met by constantly seeking new didactic insights. According to classical didactic models, teachers should pay attention to and see the connection between categories such as student backgrounds, assessment, purpose, content and frameworks for their work (Gundem, 1998). However, there are some challenges. Firstly, there are many possibilities for combination and relationships between the different phenomena that teaching consists of. The starting point for this paper is precisely an understanding of good teaching as a dynamic interaction between a number of factors, or didactic categories, which are in mutual relation to each other. Secondly, educational policy, as mentioned, will not only set terms for the purpose of the lessons, but also the educational activities in a wider sense.
As teacher educators educating secondary school teachers in Norway, we visit student teachers during their practicum. Over the last decade we have noticed an increased focus on measurable outcomes and the cognitive dimension of learning in schools. Competence aims seem to be at the forefront. What we noticed can be interpreted as in line with the national as well as an international trend (Biesta, 2017; Hargreaves & Goodson, 2006; Lundahl, 2016). If the purpose of the teaching is to achieve measurable outcomes, achievement on tests will not only be the purpose of the teaching, but also the framework for it. In that perspective, teaching is primarily defined from the outside, and thereby only secondarily defined by didactic meetings between teacher, student and subject matter in the current school context. The possibilities that lie in a dynamic interaction among didactic categories are then not used.
In this paper, the students' experience of qualities of good teaching is examined in light of the complexity of teaching and seen in the context of political guidelines for teachers’ work. We decided to ask students in upper secondary school and through focus groups about their perceptions of their teaching. Due to their extensive experiences in school, they have an expertise that should be considered when developing teaching (Kane & Chimwayange, 2014). The research questions are:
What characterizes teaching in Norwegian upper secondary school as students experience it?
What do students perceive as good teaching?
The sample in the study represented different programmes, genders and levels and consisted of 14 focus groups with 5–7 students in each group. We contacted five different upper secondary schools in three municipalities and asked for groups of students. Some schools were big, others rather small; some were urban, others rural. When conducting focus groups it is recommended to bring together people with some shared experiences, but also to include some differences (Kitzinger & Barbour, 2001). We therefore wanted a mix of students in each group, but also wanted the students in each group to come from the same class; it might be easier to exchange ideas in naturally-occurring groups (ibid). We got groups by self-selection from all three municipalities, from all the five schools, and from 13 different classes. We decided to include all students that volunteered to participate. The students were informed about the project and signed an agreement saying that they gave their consent to participate and that they could withdraw from the study at any time. The method, focus groups, is especially suited to examine experiences, attitudes and beliefs (Kitzinger & Barbour, 2001). Diverse points of view may, through interaction, yield more than the sum of the individual points of view. Meaning is created collectively, and the aim is to identify points of view and get insights into how people experience a situation (ibid). In the groups we wanted the students to talk to each other and to tell stories from their schooling. Narratives, more than questions/answers, provide space for subjective experiences. The conversations lasted for about 45 minutes, and the students knew beforehand what the themes for the conversation were supposed to be. They were asked to describe their ideal school and to tell us about when their school lived up to this ideal. In addition, they were asked to describe teaching that had made them want to learn more, and to talk about teaching experiences that made an impression on them (affected them/ changed them/had a ‘wow factor’) and that they would never forget. Finally, they were asked about opportunities for themselves and their peers to use their talents in the lessons. The conversations were audiotaped and transcribed. The data was analyzed thematically based on a constructivist paradigm and from an inductive or data driven approach (Braun & Clarke, 2006; Hatch, 2002).
The study is part of a wider study that involves six researchers and includes a variety of stakeholders. For the purpose of this study, two of the researchers, and authors of this paper, investigated students' perspectives on teaching. We have just started to analyze the data. Our preliminary results are that students in Norwegian upper secondary schools experience lessons as not very varied. They describe a teaching practice where teachers largely follow the same pattern: The teachers transmit a certain knowledge content, then the students do related assignments individually, in pairs or in groups, and in the end there will be a plenary session where the class go through the task. The students demand more variation in the teaching and good teaching is characterized by different forms of student-active working methods, projects that give them opportunities to work in depth on selected topics, excursions and other kind of teaching outside the classroom. They ask for a teaching practice that to a greater extent uses visualization and bring the subject matter to life. Students complaints are partly related to the framework teachers have to work within. However, all the groups tell about individual teachers that despite the framework are able to create interest among students. These teachers seem to make their own independent judgments and to use their agency to teach in ways that meet students’ needs (Oolbekkink-Marchand et.al., 2017). The study addresses a common challenge for teachers, the tension between students’ needs and interests on one hand and demands from policymakers and school leaders on the other. Norway is here used as an example that is discussed in light of international literature and therefore might be of interest to a European audience. The intention is to publish the study in an international journal.
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