Complex Interactions in Student Teaching: Lost Opportunities for Learning

Jun. 03, 2009

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 60 No. 3, 304-322 (May/June 2009).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the authors report on a study in which they examined the multiple interactions and activity settings in which student teachers learn to teach language arts. The study explores the student teachers' experiences from the perspective of the three key triad members using activity theory.

The Program

The program was restructured and designed to provide students with a core focus on pedagogical content knowledge (Shulman, 1987) and reflective practice (LaBoskey, 1994; Schon, 1987; Zeichner & Liston, 1996). Coursework included lectures, small group activities, planning lessons and practice teaching in class, and coordinated field-based teaching assignments that were guided and evaluated by course professors. As a result, student teachers in this study were quite familiar with the students, cooperating teachers, and structure of their classrooms when they began student teaching.


Student Teachers Nine student teachers participated in this study, four from the elementary program and five
from the secondary English program. The university field placement office arranged student teaching placements in partner schools located in urban and suburban school districts, which included a range of socioeconomic communities.

Cooperating Teachers
The prior teaching experience of the cooperating teachers ranged from 3 to 28 years and they had mentored between 1 and 20 student teachers over the course of their careers.

University Supervisors
University supervisors were, for the most part, retired school administrators or teachers who held master’s degrees and had some prior experience with mentoring or supervision. Overall, they had 2 to 23 years of experience supervising preservice teachers.
Both cooperating teachers and university supervisors were responsible for evaluating student teachers.

The findings reveal that all members of the triad were simultaneously operating in multiple settings and facing competing demands that shaped their actions and stances. Consequently, there were numerous instances of lost opportunities for student teachers to learn to teach, including sparse feedback on teaching subject matter and few links to methods courses, plus limited opportunities to develop identities as teachers. The structures that frame student teaching and its participants have deep roots in the cultures of universities and schools that must be considered if student teaching is to maximize its potential.

The authors point to three sets of issues that might be considered to advance student teachers’ opportunities to learn. The first set of issues takes aim at the need for a shared and explicit discussion of the role of guided experimentation in student teaching.
A second related issue can be framed around the composition, interactions, and professional development of the triad as well as school placements.
Finally, the authors see a pressing need to address the overwhelming lack of subject matter feedback, both conceptual and pedagogical, that was provided to student teachers.

LaBoskey, V. K. (1994). Development of reflective practice: A study of preservice teachers. New York: Teachers College Press.

Schon, D. A. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner: Toward a new design for teaching and learning in the professions. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Shulman, L. S. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57, 1-20.

Zeichner, K. M., & Liston, D. P. (1996). Reflective teaching: An introduction.
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Updated: Sep. 29, 2009