Scholarly article on topic 'Learning Lessons on Location'

Learning Lessons on Location Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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{"Teacher Education" / transfer / fieldwork}

Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Anne Weisenberg, Mary Borba

Abstract Teacher training is more important than ever with high expectations by schools and society. This paper describes how two University professors provide training at elementary school sites for teacher candidates that integrates theory and practice. The focus is on developing passionate, engaging, knowledgeable, and well-trained teachers that are prepared for the realities of professional teaching.

Academic research paper on topic "Learning Lessons on Location"

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Social and Behavioral Sciences

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 106 (2013) 1771 - 1777

4th International Conference on New Horizons in Education

Learning Lessons on Location

Anne Weisenberg*, Mary Borba

California State University Stanislaus, Turlock, CA, 95382 USA _California State University Stanislaus, Turlock, CA, 95282 USA_


Teacher training is more important than ever with high expectations by schools and society. This paper describes how two University professors provide training at elementary school sites for teacher candidates that integrates theory and practice. The focus is on developing passionate, engaging, knowledgeable, and well-trained teachers that are prepared for the realities of professional teaching.


Selectionandpeer-reviewunderresponsibilityofTheAssociationofScience,EducationandTechnology-TASET,SakaryaUniversitesi, Turkey.

Keywords: Teacher Education; transfer, fieldwork.

1. Background

This paper provides an overview of two teacher education professors' experiences while preparing teacher candidates for the elementary classroom. Our days as classroom teachers and reading specialists contributed to our present desire to make a difference in the lives of children through teacher training at the university level. With today's pressure on teachers to increase academic achievement for all students, quality teacher training is more important than ever.

We are committed to do what we can, so that all children will become proficient readers and writers to ensure their success in society. Our role is to provide quality training, with teacher candidates leaving our Multiple Subjects Credential Program well prepared to respond expertly to this challenge.

* Corresponding author.

Email address:

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of The Association of Science, Education and Technology-TASET, Sakarya Universitesi, Turkey. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.12.199

As we instruct teacher candidates, our challenge is to assist them in applying the learning from coursework to practice with children. In order to prepare our future teachers for the challenges of teaching, we have provided a unique experience in our literacy methods course that bridges the gap between theory and practice.

2. Introduction

Fieldwork has been found to be the most powerful learning experience for teacher candidates. In their teacher preparation program, Weisenberg, Won, & Roe (2010), found that there was a "mismatch" between what was learned during coursework and what occurred during student teaching. Many students were unable to apply what they had learned during their coursework to their fieldwork. Darling-Hammond and Bransford (2005) found that teacher candidates who learned theory concurrent with fieldwork opportunities were better prepared to see the match between theory and practice. The Blue Ribbon Panel's 2010 report urged, "We must place practice at the center ofteaching preparation" (p. 3).

The heart of instructional reform is for teachers to be able to transfer instructional understandings gained from professional development opportunities into classroom practices that foster increased student achievement (Lyons and Pinnell, 2001). The authors believed that this could also apply to teacher credential programs. Candidates' ability to transfer learning from their coursework to their fieldwork would foster student learning and help them be more successful in the classroom.

Darling-Hammond (2006) found that the most powerful teacher preparation programs included more fieldwork time throughout the program that simultaneously had candidates learning and applying strategies. She reported that research confirmed that "teachers-in-training who participate in fieldwork with course work are better able to understand theory, to apply concepts they are learning their course work and support student learning" (p. 307).

Levine's Educating School Teachers (2006) report was a wake up call for teacher preparation programs. His extensive study surveyed alumni and principals across the nation and revealed that sixty-two percent of alumni did not believe their teacher preparation program prepared them for the real classroom, their administrators corroborated this. "Many students seem to be graduating from teacher education programs without the skills and knowledge they need to be effective teachers" (p. 3).

Kagan (1992) cites that lack of transfer from teacher candidate to professional teacher is the gap between theory and practice. Candidates learning about theory and then not seeing it demonstrated or having the opportunity to practice it was the problem. In order to alleviate this, we had to ensure that our students had ample opportunities to participate in their own learning and work with students, not just simulate their work with each other. Wlodkowski (2003) stated, "Unless adults participate, they cannot learn, and without learning there is no possibility for transfer" (p. 40). Wlodkowski (2003) perceived transfer as part of a logical triangle including participation, learning, and transfer to the classroom. This triangulation was what we sought for our methods courses.

Teacher education must shift "to programs that are grounded in clinical practice and interwoven with academic content and professional courses" (p. ii, Blue Ribbon Panel, 2010). Aspiring teachers will be most successful when they are learning about theory and pedagogy and putting into practice what they learn

immediately. At our University methods courses typically emphasize coursework loosely linked to school-based experiences. We sought to find a way to more closely match these to produce better-prepared teachers.

The purpose of this study was to determine the impact that teaching methods courses at an elementary school site with simultaneous fieldwork opportunities would have on teacher candidates. The research questions guiding our exploration were:

1. Did the embedded fieldwork experience help the students with the transfer from theory to practice?

2. Did these experiences assist them in applying what they learned to their student teaching?

3. Method

A case study approach was used to determine the impact teaching a methods course at an elementary school site had on pre-service teachers ability to more closely match theory to practice.

3.1 Setting

Hollins and Guzman (2005) found that there was a great need for teaching candidates to have the opportunity to work with diverse learners. The school sites chosen for this research took that into consideration. Each of the school sites utilized offered a diverse population of students including English learners, multiple ethnicities, and special needs students.

3.2 Participants

The participants for this study were the credential candidates in each of the Reading Methods courses taught by the authors. The Multiple Subjects Credential Program (MSCP) at our university is designed as a one-year program in teacher education. Like many other K-8 credential programs, our pre-service teachers take four methodology courses: reading; mathematics; social studies and visual and performing arts; and science and health. Additional courses include: technology, educational foundations, multicultural education, and special education. In order to apply for their preliminary credential, they must maintain a 3.0 GPA and receive no grade lower than a "C" in any course or assignment. They must also pass the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA) and all four tasks of the California Teacher Performance Assessment (CA TPA). In these tasks, pre-service teachers must demonstrate their understanding and application of lesson planning, assessment, reflection, and instructional accommodations for focus students such as the English Language Learner and students with other special needs. The knowledge and skills needed for these tasks are aligned with the objectives and goals throughout their various credential courses and the Teacher Performance Expectations (TPEs).

After successful completion of the four methods courses, most pre-service teachers commence a full-time student teaching placement for 16 weeks. They are placed in student teaching assignments and are evaluated regularly by their university supervisor and their cooperating teacher. Student teachers are observed a minimum of 8 times by a university supervisor, with two formative assessments and a summative assessment at the end of the semester. A classroom management course is taken during the student teaching semester.

3.3 Process

The primary purpose of the Multiple Subject Credential Program (MSCP) at our University is to prepare future teachers to work effectively with students from diverse backgrounds and to implement pedagogy that values the backgrounds of all students and allows them to succeed to their ultimate potential. The MSCP is a fairly short, fast-paced program. One can complete coursework, including student teaching, and be eligible for a preliminary credential in one year. This schedule leaves little time to make sure that the theory learned in methods courses transfers to applications in the classroom (student teaching).

Each methods course in the MSCP requires a number of fieldwork hours, but there is not a standard way of implementing these hours. Most fieldwork done by the students is done on their own time, at locations of their choice, with no opportunity for the instructor of the methods course to observe or provide feedback. The main fieldwork component of the program is done during student teaching and is usually cited as the most important feature ofthe program.

In response to the concerns we had with the lack of transfer from theory to practice, we both approached different principals at neighboring elementary schools. These principals supported our request to have our weekly university literacy methods course on their school campus. In return, we would provide weekly instruction for challenged readers and writers. For the past few years, our literacy methods courses have met weekly on an elementary school campus for five hours of instruction. We model primary and intermediate lessons for our new teacher candidates to observe, and these university students plan for and then teach small groups of students for 45 minutes to an hour of our class sessions. These aspiring teachers plan and deliver a reading or writing lesson each week as we observe, coach, and give feedback. These observations assist us in determining what the needs are for our next training session together.

When the university students return to the classroom to debrief the lessons taught, it was fascinating to note the levels of learning they experienced. The conversations went down many paths, which included classroom management techniques, effective questioning strategies, the importance and skill in selecting quality materials, characteristics of excellent mentor texts, ways to engage all students in discussions, techniques for expanding language and vocabulary development, strategies for reaching English learners, ways to deepen comprehension, the power of "wait time," and how to encourage productive and rich dialogue among the children. This debriefing time was powerful for self-reflection and growth for all in the group.

3.4 Data Sources

As a case study to inform our own practices we limited data sources to ones that would be collected as a part of the program. Our own observation notes during planning, teaching, and reflection were taken. We collected teachers' written reflections after lessons were delivered, and End-of-program surveys completed by each teacher candidate were used. Comments from the back of formal course evaluations were also gathered. Data analysis included reading and coding comments into categories.

4. Results

There were three major themes that emerged from the data. Students found that having the methods courses on campus allowed them to apply theory to practice and helped them with transfer. It also allowed them to see the practical applications of what they were learning and then doing with the students. Finally, the

feedback they received from both instructor and peers was powerful and assisted in their own self-reflection. Some quotes are used to illustrate each theme:

4.1 Transfer from theory to practice

"Really enjoyed working with students. Got to put to practice what we learned in the classroom. It was a great experience."

"Working with real live humans was very fun. It gave us a chance to apply our knowledge and what we learned."

4.2 Practical applications

"Working with real live children and knowledge that I can and will use in my own classroom". "Interaction is the best tool to learn from".

"Working with the real live humans made the experience more meaningful and comprehensible when we were able to "experiment" what we had learned on children vs. just reading about it in a text book". "There is no comparison to what I have learned from class and practicing it with children". "Learning these concepts and tests abstractly would not have made as much ofan impact on my learning".

4.3 Feedback

"I valued the peer and instructor feedback on lessons demonstrated".

"Being with the rest ofthe class and learning together and from each other has been very helpful".

"The feedback and constructive criticism received by peers and professor was paramount".

"Getting immediate feedback while the lessons were fresh helped in editing and rethinking the lessons".

Data from the MSCP end-of-program survey confirmed this positive impact of teaching the methods courses at an elementary school site. The Reading Methods courses were ranked highest of all MSCP courses. On the Teacher Candidates' Perceptions of Preparation for Teaching question, 96% ofthe students believed that they received excellent to good preparation from their Reading Methods course. The next highest course was 82%. In their comments they referred to the courses being taught at the elementary school sites and having fieldwork concurrent with theory as being the most effective way of learning. They attributed this opportunity in assisting them during their student teaching placement and making them more prepared and successful.

5. Conclusion

Teachers are the most critical factor in student achievement, far more powerful than class size, race, socioeconomic level, and classroom homogeneity (Allington, 2011). Our approach to instructing these aspiring teachers promotes the understanding that teaching children to read and write is complex and requires expertise. Children differ and teachers must be equipped to differentiate instruction to support their learning. Having the opportunity to match theory to practice is essential for this.

The challenge for us is to teach our students well enough that they have learned and applied theory and can recognize when their teaching is not working and improve upon it. These teacher candidates are fortunate to have the experiences described in this paper. Each week they observe us teach real kids, and they teach real kids as we and their peers observe. We have productive conversations about teaching and learning centered on these shared experiences. Our hope is that they leave the university prepared for today's diverse classrooms and with the commitment to continue to seek further learning and become the expert literacy teachers their students deserve.


Allington, R. (2012). What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Research-Based Programs. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Darling-Hammond, L. (2006). Constructing 21st Century Teacher Education. Journal ofTeacher Education, 57(3) pp. 300-314.

Darling-Hammond, L. & Bransford, J. (2005). Preparing teachers for a changing world. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Hollins, E.R. & Guzman, J.T. (2005). Research on preparing teachers for diverse populations. In M. Cochran-Smith & K.M. Zeichner (Eds.), Studying teacher education. The report ofthe AERA panel on research and teacher education (pp. 477-548). Mahwah, NJ:Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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Wlodkowski, R. J. (2003). Fostering motivation in professional development programs. New directions for adult and continuing education (98), 39-47.

About the authors:

Dr. Anne Weisenberg was a special education teacher, reading specialist, and teacher trainer before beginning her teaching career at California State University, Stanislaus. She is presently an Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Multiple Subj ects Credential Program.

Dr. Mary Borba was a bilingual classroom teacher, reading specialist, teacher trainer, and a school principal before becoming an Associate Professor at California State University, Stanislaus in Turlock, California. She presently teaches literacy methodology courses in Teacher Education.