10 SES 02 F, Special Call: Mapping Teacher Education across Europe and Beyond
While the role of theory and research is perceived as essential in preparing future teachers for the complexity of teaching, realising the theory-research-practice nexus in teacher education has been identified as one “perennial” dilemma (Darling-Hammond, 2006). Current studies from different countries, while acknowledging the shift from a craft-oriented tradition towards a more academic, research-based approach in teacher education, have indicated challenges faced by teacher educators, especially regarding curriculum and the links between university and school (e.g. Marcondes, Finholdt Angelo Leite, & Karl Ramos, 2017; Sancho-Gil, Sánchez-Valero, & Domingo-Coscollola, 2017; Valeeva & Gafurov, 2017).
This paper discusses the development of teacher education courses within a revised primary (English) language teacher education programme at Umeå University, Sweden. It focuses on how teacher knowledge is conceptualised and realised. In line with contemporary research on teacher education, the study argues that an integration between theory, research, and practical training can help student teachers form a sound knowledge and skill springboard. Such an integration enhances their creativity, autonomy, and identity, which is particularly relevant to the Swedish context, and potentially relevant to other European settings in general.
The key mission of the Swedish school, as stated in the Swedish National curriculum, is to “encourage all pupils to discover their own uniqueness as individuals and thereby be able to participate in the life of society by giving of their best in responsible freedom” (Skolverket - The Swedish National Agency for Education, 2018, p.5). Swedish learners are encouraged to become autonomous yet responsible through realising their potentials and developing their identity as individuals and being part of the society. Those fundamental tasks and values promoted in the Swedish education have implications for teacher education. In the Swedish context, if the school is to educate children to become independent and responsible, teachers must embrace and embody these qualities, since teacher beliefs influence their practice and agency (e.g. Biesta, Priestley, & Robinson, 2015; Brookfield, 2017).
The study’s theoretical framework is based on the view that teacher education involves relationships with factors beyond classroom confines, such as authoritative policies, practical wisdom, and teaching professionalism. Our courses’ development is thus informed by contemporary research on teacher knowledge in general and English language teacher knowledge in particular. We adopted the perspective that teaching is not only an apprenticeship of observation (Lortie, 1975); rather, it is an “interplay” (Boyd et al., 2015) between policy, theory, research, and practical wisdom. Education is liberating: it helps students be able to manage daily classroom practices but it also enables life-long learning and empowers themselves as teachers. With this positioning, we build on the framework of teacher knowledge commonly used (e.g. Roters, 2017) that comprises content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, knowledge of context and curriculum, and general pedagogical knowledge. We expand the model with a greater attention to research, theory, and reflection, while promoting the development of a growth mindset. Teachers’ abilities to understand and review theories of learning and teaching is now seen as necessary for professional growth (Richards & Farrell, 2005; Boyd et al., 2015, Farrell, 2016) and this should be the overall goal in teacher education (Ellis, 2012).
We thus acknowledge the complexity of teacher educators’ work (Boyd & White, 2017). Teacher educators should adopt a “researcherly disposition” (Tack & Vanderlinde, 2016) and the development of teacher education content should be grounded in not only practical experience, mandated by policy, but also theory and research. Teacher educators’ engagement with research helps better their practices and also creates new knowledge on teacher education.
The courses in focus are one Theory class, one Methodology class, and one class on Being a language teacher, taught to primary student teachers at Umeå University during a recent academic year. The paper presents how the development of the courses (objectives, rationale, content, delivery, and assessment) is connected to contemporary teacher education theories and research. The designing and development of the courses, based on the objectives and requirements specified in the curriculum, followed Backward design approach (Wiggins, Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). The way we aligned our conceptualisation of teacher knowledge with Swedish national policies, as well as our students’ needs, is also discussed. To gain information on the effectiveness of the approach, we considered end-of-course stakeholder evaluation (Kiely, 2012), in this case students’ feedback and instructors’ reflective insights. Expert peer feedback from our colleagues was also sought. General evidence of learning and change of attitude was reviewed through a portion of students’ submitted assignments. Initial input from students’ reflections from their first teaching practicum is regarded as a gateway to understanding their teacher cognition (Borg, 2015). Ongoing dialogues between students and instructors during the courses are also discussed as a method of course evaluation (Freeman & Dobbins, 2013).
Our research-based approach yielded courses following the “interplay” between policy, theory, research, and practice. Of particular importance were a background of theory and research of second language acquisition for young learners, inquiry-based teacher education, teacher identities and agency, and reflective practice. Results from the student data indicate theory and research still intimidate them. Student teachers tend to imagine teacher knowledge as practical knowledge and skills, such as teaching “tips” and concrete classroom techniques. From our own reflections as course developers, we identified two significant concerns. First, reconciling the paradox between theoretical advocacy and practical guidance needs an explicit and coherent connection between curriculum design, coursework, and field experiences (Darling-Hammond, 2017; Flores, 2017). Second, the programme needs to better prepare students to activate their autonomy. Some dilemmas between design and meeting goals include knowledge interpretations (instrumental vs. liberal), knowledge presentability, materials, teachers and learners’ roles, and the transition from university learning to school professional practices, considering the ‘academic-vocational divide’. However, we also noted changes in our students’ self-awareness, knowledge development, teaching beliefs, and their attitude towards theory and practice. The study has provided more understandings of the design and implementation of teacher education. During this process, teacher educators are both consumers and producers of knowledge. Seeing course development as an iterative cycle (Forsyth, Jolliffe, & Stevens, 1999/2017), our process needs ongoing review and discussions. Overall the courses showed initial positive results in encouraging student teachers to be more aware of the theory underlying their practice and beliefs, while seeing practice as possibilities for transformation (Flores, 2018). We believe this autonomy will help student teachers establish their own professional stance, especially in response to different demands and uncertainties in their teaching career.
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