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The making of a teacher: A narrative study of the impact of an extended practicum on preservice teachersDeborah M. Ingram
Edith Cowan University
Descriptions of the differences between novices and experts can be found in recent accounts of the shift from novice to expert, but how these differences have occurred has not been examined (Desforges, 1995, p. 385). Little is known about how particular experiences as a student teacher contribute to the construction of knowledge about teaching by the student teacher (Jones & Vesilind, 1996, p. 92). Student teacher perspectives have been undervalued and under-researched (Kettle & Sellars, 1993) yet we need to know the student teachers' perspectives to:
Other researchers have found that exposure to experience in the classroom is just as likely to lead to little restructuring occurring in a student teacher's practical theory as it is to the deep analysis which leads to the forging of new beliefs (Beach & Pearson, 1996, p. 11; Desforges, 1995, p. 389). A dilemma can develop for the student teacher when conflicts or tensions arise. A number of conflicts experienced by student teachers have been identified, along with variations in the willingness of student teachers to acknowledge and to learn from such conflict (Beach & Pearson, 1996, p. 11).
Choosing a methodology in which to conduct this study raised interesting issues. How can one know what is going on inside a student teacher's head? My reading pointed to the growing interest in and use of stories and narratives to explore a teacher's beliefs and experiences. My previous research had been predominantly in the empirical, quantitative mode yet narrative continued to grow in appeal as an appropriate method to use for this particular study.
For me, what I hoped to accomplish with my study determined my choice of narrative as a method. Because I was interested in how student teachers learn about teaching on an extended practicum and how the extended practicum impacts on their practical theory about teaching, I needed to 'get inside the student teachers' heads', to find some way to explore their beliefs and their understanding of their experiences. I assume, along with many researchers of teachers' knowledge, that the student teachers' words would represent their beliefs, as well as their thoughts and feelings about their experiences (see, for example, Freeman, 1996, p. 734; Marland & Osborne, 1990, p. 94; Clark & Peterson, 1986, pp. 259 - 260). Student teachers, in trying to make sense of their classroom experiences on practicum, focus on specific events and shape them as stories (Carter, 1993). This process, captured over the period of the ATP, gave insight into what the student teachers in my study were experiencing and how this changed over time. The student teachers' narratives are the student teachers' own interpretation of events within their particular context. Their narratives would help me to discovery their beliefs, perceptions, and experiences (Jalongo, Isenberg & Gerbracht, 1995, p. 77). By using narrative research, I would be able to use the narratives of student teachers to communicate a more holistic picture of their experience on an extended practicum.
However, the nature of the stories the student teachers shared shifted the focus from one audience to another. The participants clearly hoped that their stories w ould contribute to the improvement of the practicum or at least reduce the difficulties some student teachers can experience. Much of what the student teachers shared had implications for the Faculty in preparing student teachers for their practicum experiences and for the placement, supervision and assessment of student teachers on practicum. The more I heard from the student teachers the more I became aware of a need to shift my thinking to seeing the Faculty of Education as my primary audience. My findings are, therefore, oriented to the Faculty of Education as a primary audience.
Three student teachers had work experience before entering the teacher education programme. Two student teachers had entered the programme straight from school. One student teacher was over forty years old. The remaining student teachers were in their early twenties. Two student teachers were in different Catholic primary schools while the remaining three students were in two government primary schools. One government school was in a middle to high socio-economic area, the other government school was a Priority Schools Programme (PSP) school. Two student teachers had been allocated to a year 1 class. The other student teachers had been allocated to year 2, year 3 and year 4 classes (see figure 1).
Figure 1: Participants' settings
In order to track the changes or development of the practical theory of the student teachers over the ten weeks of the ATP, I conducted four interviews (see figure 2 for the interview schedule). Because changes are thought to occur mid-way through extended field placements an interview was included at that point (Jones & Vesilind, 1996, p. 113). My previous experience working with student teachers also pointed to important changes occurring during that time.
|Wk||School term||Timing of interviews|
|Last week of academic term||Interview 1 (John, Christina, Celine)|
|School vacation||Interview 1 (Jodie)|
|School vacation/student exams||Interview 1 (Craig)|
|1||First week of ATP|
|2||Interview 2 (All students except Christina)|
|4||50% teaching load|
|5||Interview 3 (John, Craig)|
|6||Interview 3 (Jodie, Celine, Christina)|
|7||75% teaching load|
|9||Major responsibility for the class, c. 100% teaching load|
|10||Last week of ATP|
|School vacation||Interview 4 (All students)|
Figure 2: Interview schedule
The approach I took to the interviewing drew strongly from the field of oral history. While the tapes of my participants were not intended to be accessible to other researchers, they were "a pool of raw material for ... interpretation" and as such I thought the theoretical standpoint of oral historians would best inform my interviewing technique (Douglas, Roberts & Thompson, 1988, p.3).
Interviews were transcribed from the audio tapes into written texts which became the raw material. As I transcribed the tapes I noted any recurring images or particular themes which arose. At the end of transcribing each set of interviews I grouped and regrouped these images and themes to develop broader themes and to find possible relationships both across the participants and individually. As the intention was that the research be data driven, initial theories, concepts and relationships developed from comparing these themes were contrasted to incoming material from successive interviews and modified or elaborated throughout the course of the study as recommended by Strauss and Corbin (1994).
Once all the tapes had been transcribed, common ideas were grouped and then sorted and ordered from general to specific. The themes which had been identified were divided into a number of categories and subcategories. The diagram built up from this process was then used as a basis for developing a tree index system for use in QSR NUD.IST 3.0 . All the interviews were used to create a document database for a NUD.IST project. Using NUD.IST, sections of each interview were coded into the various categories that had been developed. New categories were created if a section did not fit into an existing category and the index system was modified accordingly. The original index tree was modified and rearranged slightly and some extra categories added as material was coded. Generally though, the main categories remained stable. Rather than providing any new insight, this process confirmed the themes I had identified.
These broad themes were used to begin structuring the final nar ratives. I view time in a linear fashion and value the structure provided by the sequential development of a story. I experimented with various approaches to presenting the narratives, from presenting each of the stories of the five participants individually from beginning to end, to presenting all the stories of the participants together from interview one through to interview 4. I attempted to begin writing from each perspective to find a way into constructing my stories, but it was Gray (1996) who provided the key I was looking for. In her own research, Gray had used the repetition of similar stories by her participants as a culling device, a determinant of the level of importance of the stories (Gray, 1996, pp. 48, 193). I had kept repeating several key stories to others who had asked me about my research study. I realised that the broad themes of what I considered the most important aspects of my study were encapsulated in these stories and thus they provided the structure needed for the narratives.
As Jodie and Christina came to terms with and accepted that they would not be recommended for Outstanding, the focus of their teaching moved from being a performance for assessment to what the children themselves were actually learning. For Celine performing for the assessment continued to the very end of the ATP as she sought to gain an Outstanding mark. Although Celine was "annoyed and so angry because it's not about going out to impress someone on your ATP", nevertheless she stated "all your work you do is just for the assessment, whether you're going to get a good mark or not." There was not the clear switch to thinking about the learning of the children in the same way as occurred for Jodie and Christina. So, whereas Celine acts on her supervising teacher's recommendation to write a programme for the teacher's aide to teach the remedial children in order to enhance her assessment outcome, Christina, prompted by wanting to "help those kids who are falling behind", took the initiative and volunteered to do a programme for the ESL children in the class to help them progress and then taught the ESL children herself. For Christina and Jodie, moving beyond their concern with the assessment meant they were more conscious of thinking about the learning of the children and so more consciously able to test out and confirm or change their practical theory. Being recommended for an Outstanding, Celine remained primarily focused on her performance in teaching rather than on the children's learning.
The stories of Jodie, Christina and Celine provide a challenge to the Faculty of Education. Barry and King ( 1989) have observed "in order to teach effectively, teachers need to know how pupils learn" (p. xii). Once assessment was sidelined, Jodie and Christina focused on the children and what to do to facilitate the learning of the children in their classes. This shift did not occur for Celine who, having been recommended for Outstanding, remained focused on her performance as a teacher and did not make a similar shift to focusing on the learning of the children. The present assessment system, in the cases of Celine, Jodie and Christina, graded the student teacher who produced a good performance for the assessment as Outstanding and the student teachers who focused on the learning going on in the classroom as Highly Competent. The Faculty of Education would do well to consider the role of the assessment in the learning of student teachers. Is the current assessment focusing on the technical skills of teaching, as demonstrated by a good performance, rather than on the learning of the student teacher which encompasses the ability to think reflectively and critically as well as the ability to perform? Is the current assessment encouraging student teachers to focus on technical skills to the exclusion of reflective practice? Does it encourage student teachers to fit into, rather than think about or criticise, current patterns and practices in education? Alternative means for student teachers to demonstrate their learning as a result of their practicum experience need to be explored(see, for example, a study by Antonek, McCormick, & Donato, 1997, in which portfolios were used by two preservice teachers as a means of forming their identities as novice teachers).
Craig's story makes clear the impact the past experience of student teachers can have on their learning during the practicum and on their practi cal theory. Research has shown that people tend to resist changing their beliefs and practice (Desforges, 1995). Even with an initial desire to teach differently and a knowledge of alternative methods, Craig had reverted to the models of teaching he had experienced as a school student. Examining and reflecting on the impact of past experiences on teaching practice would be a helpful activity for student teachers before, during and after practicum experience.
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|Please cite as: Ingram, D. M. (1998). The making of a teacher: A narrative study of the impact of an extended practicum on preservice teachers. Proceedings Western Australian Institute for Educational Research Forum 1998. http://www.waier.org.au/forums/1998/ingram.html|