Practicalising Theoretical Knowledge in Student Teachers’ Professional Learning in Initial Teacher Education

Aug. 01, 2012

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 28, Issue 6, (August, 2012), p. 781-790.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The current study aimed to investigate the professional learning of student-teachers in Bachelor of Education programmes.

This article draws on data from a research project examining the student-teachers’ conceptions of teaching in an undergraduate teacher education programme.
The participants of the project are ten student-teachers from the same cohort of the BEd (Secondary) programme at the Hong Kong Institute of Education.
The study adopts a case study approach.
Data were collected through semi-structured interviews with four participants.


The findings suggest a typology of different approaches of practicalising theoretical knowledge which reflect how student-teachers make personal interpretations of theoretical knowledge and develop their own teaching pedgagogies in school contexts.

The three approaches to practicalising theoretical knowledge include:
The Procedural Approach describes student-teachers who test out in the field experience teaching strategies or theoretical knowledge learnt in the campus-based component to find out whether they are workable.
Students adopting the Reflective-adaptive approach reflect on and adapt the theoretical knowledge learnt in the campus-based component with refined practice in the school-based contexts.
Finally, the Reflective-theorising approach differs by making a further attempt to arrange the experience of refining practice into a conscious schema or personal theoretical framework.

The three approaches can be viewed in a developmental sense which suggests student-teachers’ development towards the reflective-theorising approach and the development of their personal theory or schema of teaching.
The starting point can be taken as a procedural approach.
With some reflection and practice, the student-teachers are not only be able to categorise teaching strategies as ‘practical’ or not, but also to refine and adapt them.
The focus of attention shifts from concerns about teachers’ teaching to students’ learning. Student-teachers adopting a reflective-theorising approach demonstrate the ability to analyse the classroom situations and their practice with an emphasis on student learning.
With in-depth reflection and further stimulation from lecturers and the school, the student-teachers are involved in continual attempts to construct and reconstruct a personal theory.

The findings from the four cases show that the teacher education programme provided the student-teachers with theoretical knowledge through the modules in the Professional Studies and Discipline Studies domains.
Both the influences from the campus-based and the school-based contexts constituted the different approaches in which student-teachers practicalise theoretical knowledge.

Conclusion and implications

The data suggest that the campus-based influences suggest that knowledge of alternative pedagogical approaches or strategies in addressing the demands of different classroom contexts and student learning needs provide an important basis for practicalising theoretical knowledge.
Student-teachers also need to be encouraged to persist in their trying out and adaptation of alternative approaches, and integrating feedback and their own reflection into the adaptations.

The school-based component provides mentoring and peer support as the student-teachers try out, refine and reflect on their teaching strategies.
Among the various influences from campus-based and school-based contexts, the findings suggest that the teacher educators themselves play a predominantly important role in facilitating the development of attitudes and skills for reflection.

The focus of retheorising and reframing is one directed at improving student learning.
These findings imply that teacher educators need to maximise the opportunities for the student-teachers to make their thinking and values explicit and provide stimulation for reflection, for example, by eliciting student-teachers to respond to and/or provide feedback about the knowledge or content discussed in the modules.
Taking the findings together, the campus-based component and the faculty in the university may both facilitate professional learning and increase the likelihood of making a shift towards a reflective-theorising approach.

The authors conclude that the different approaches of practicalising theoretical knowledge and suggested ways of maximising professional learning are derived from empirical findings in a programme which tends to put emphasis on professional learning in the higher education context as compared to the school-based context.

Updated: Feb. 10, 2015