How Teacher Education Can Make A Difference

Nov. 10, 2010

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, Volume 36, Issue 4, pages 407 – 423. (November 2010).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This paper discusses the gap between theory and practice which has made teacher education a difficult enterprise. The causes of this gap are analyzed.
Central to the argument of the article is the presentation of a three-level model of teacher learning that helps to frame the relationship between practice and theory in a specific manner. The model shows that professional learning is a bottom-up process taking place in the individual student teacher.
Based on this model, the so-called 'realistic approach' to teacher education is described.

Realistic teacher education

An approach to teacher education taking the above analysis of the gap between theory and practice as well as the three-level model into account, is the realistic approach, which was originally developed at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Its five guiding principles are formulated by Korthagen et al. (2001) as follows:

The approach starts from concrete practical problems and the concerns experienced by student teachers in real contexts.
It aims at the promotion of systematic reflection by student teachers on their own and their pupils' wanting, feeling, thinking and acting, on the role of context, and on the relationships between those aspects.
It builds on the personal interaction between the teacher educator and the student teachers and on the interaction amongst the student teachers themselves.
It takes the three-level model of professional learning into account, as well as the consequences of the three-level model for the kind of theory that is offered.
A realistic programme has a strongly integrated character. Two types of integration are involved: integration of theory and practice and integration of several disciplines.

Evidence of the effectiveness of realistic approach are presented through a brief description of a number of studies evaluating the approach, which show that it does really make a difference.

Implications for teacher education

In sum, the authors conclude that teacher education can make a difference, but that this may require a careful programme design based on (1) an elaborated view of the intended process of teacher learning,
(2) specific pedagogical approaches, and
(3) an investment in the quality of staff members (Korthagen, Loughran, and Russell 2006).

Organisational consequences
Furthermore, organisational structures needed to support this pedagogy.
First of all, linking theory and practice with the aid of the ALACT model requires frequent alternation of school teaching days and meetings aimed at the deepening of teaching experiences.
Second, in order to harmonise the interventions of school-based mentor teachers and institute-based teacher educators, close cooperation between the schools and the teacher education institute is necessary.
Third, the approach advocated here implies that it is impossible to make a clear distinction between different subjects in the teacher education programme.

Conclusion and discussion

The authors conclude that it is possible to take a stance with regard to the gap between theory and practice that leads to a fruitful approach in teacher education. It puts the emphasis on the student teachers' experiences, concerns, and existing gestalts, and works towards level transitions in terms of the three-level model inspired by Van Hiele.

However, there seems to be an urgent need for a different type of knowledge more connected with practical problems.

Teacher educators should also make their students aware of the problematic relationship between theory and practice, and help them understand why theory initially often does not seem to match their experiences and gestalts. But teacher educators should also help their students see that, through reflection, they can reach the schema level, and that from then on theory can be very helpful.

Korthagen, F. A. J. , Kessels, J. , Koster, B. , Lagerwerf, B. and Wubbels, T. (2001) Linking practice and theory: The pedagogy of realistic teacher education.  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates , Mahwah, NJ

Korthagen, F. , Loughran, J. and Russell, T. (2006) Developing fundamental principles for teacher education programs and practices. Teaching and Teacher Education 22:8 , pp. 1020-1041.

Updated: May. 26, 2011