Integrating Theory and Practice: Learning to Teach L1 Language and Literature

Oct. 24, 2008

Source: L1-Educational Studies in Language and Literature, 8(4), p.39-60. (2008)

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article presents a teacher education approach that focuses on providing student teachers with an explicit theoretical framework with which to understand and examine their teaching and practice.
The authors first discuss the main principles and aspects of the program in which they teach.

Theoretical Background of the Authors' Approach

Teacher education aims to enable student teachers to understand and deconstruct the different discourses on education, teaching, and learning as social constructions. Therefore, the teacher educator aims to guide student teachers in this process and help them to understand and speak the language or the way of perceiving teaching. 
The authors' program aims to educate student teachers as teachers in the specific discourse of a school subject, in this case Dutch language and literature (L1).
The subject teachers teach, especially in case of secondary education, is assumed to be a core element of their professional identity in many ways (Grossman & Stodolsky, 1994; Siskin & Little, 1995; van Veen, Sleegers & van de Ven, 2005).

According to the authors' perspective, subject pedagogy and other educational aspects should be strongly integrated in the curriculum. Some practical implications of this curriculum integration of subject pedagogical and educational elements are that their sessions at the university are integrated, meaning that the classes combine subject pedagogy and related educational aspects.

The authors consider how to encourage student teachers to reflect in instrumental, academic and critical ways throughout the whole program and which theories to use. They discuss this with the design of the program and the pedagogy to support these levels of reflection, illustrated by a student teacher’s final assignment.

A Theoretical Frame for Understanding Teaching L1

In general, three theoretical frames function as a lens to understand and examine teaching and learning in the program. The first refers to the many divergent knowledge elements or schemas needed to teach, that together, illustrate the complexity and multidimensionality of education.
A second theoretical frame used to understand the complexities of teaching, and especially to reflect on the different layers and actors involved is Goodlad's (1979) distinction in curriculum domains. The authors interpret Goodlad’s curriculum domain distinctions to refer to more or less independent discourses with their own text conventions, concepts and argumentation.

The ideological and the formal curriculum formulate ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’. The perceived curriculum represents what a teacher thinks that the curriculum should be. The operational curriculum is the totality of enacted learning activities and communicative events, what actually goes on hour after hour, day after day in schools and classrooms. This curriculum is the complex passing interaction between teacher and students, and between and among the students. Still more difficult to grasp is the experiential curriculum—what students actually experience.

The gap between rhetoric (‘theory’) and practice can often be located and examined in the relation between the formal and ideological curriculum, and the operational and experienced curriculum.
A third theoretical framework is the school subject itself. Content and function of L1 education (the school subject Dutch in The Netherlands, English in the UK, etc.) continue to be objects of ongoing debates. These can be perceived as paradigmatic discussions. Each paradigm differs from other paradigms by subject topics, teaching and learning activities, and topics and activities. The history of L1 teaching reveals different paradigms arising in different periods and striving for dominance.

Pedagogy of the Authors' Approach

To understand the authors' approach to teacher education, they provide some context information about the specific program. The one-year teacher education program consists of weekly meetings at the graduate school, and two to three days of teaching in secondary schools. In the schools, student teachers are gradually introduced to teaching and after a half a year, have their own classes to teach.

All student teachers have mentors at the schools who coach supervise, and support them especially with respect to how to teach and organize a classroom. In the first two weeks of the program, the authors introduce a theoretical frame.
During the year, the study of subject pedagogical and educational topics increase. Crucial in this is the pedagogy used to help student teachers study theories and apply them to their classroom practice.

To illustrate their approach described, the authors present the final task which involves an examination of the student teacher's own teaching practice and underlying perceptions. It aims to understand personal teaching behaviors, professional identity, teaching and learning context and their place within the different professional and academic discourses. To illustrate, the authors describe and illustrate the work of Jennifer, a student teacher.

Concluding Remarks

The authors' approach provide a theoretical framework for student teachers to understand and examine their practice. Furthermore, one condition for this approach is that teacher educators have a familiarity with and focus on theory.

More specifically, teacher educators should be experts in both theory and practice, having a deep integrated understanding of both. Moreover, they should be experts in the pedagogy of the relationship between the two: explaining theory to (pre-service) teachers, applying theories to their practice reflexively, and showing how teachers’ practice can be understood using theory. The gap between theory and practice might become non-existent when the right pedagogy is applied.

Goodlad, J.I. (1979). Curriculum Inquiry. The Study of Curriculum Practice. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company.

Grossman, P.L. & Stodolsky, S.S. (1994). Considerations of content and the circumstances of secondary school teaching. In L. Darling-Hammond (Ed.), Review of research in education (Vol. 20, pp. 179-221). Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.

Siskin, L. S., & Little, J. W. (Ed.) (1995). The subjects in question: Departmental organization and the high school. New York: Teachers College Press.

van Veen, K., Sleegers, P., & van de Ven, P. (2005). One teacher's identity, emotions and commitment to change: a case study into the cognitive-affective processes of a secondary school teacher in the context of reforms. Teaching and Teacher Education, 21(8), 917-934.

Updated: Sep. 24, 2009