Exploring the Role of Field Experience Context in Preservice Teachers’ Development as Mathematics Educators

Jun. 01, 2013

Source: Action in Teacher Education, Volume 35, No. 3, p. 165–185, 2013
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this article is twofold:
(1) to describe two mathematics field experiences which varied greatly in their context, and
(2) to examine the influence of these field experiences on preservice teachers’ perspectives and development as educators in general and as mathematics educators specifically.

The participants were 33 preservice teachers seeking their initial teaching certification: .
Sixteen math camp field experience participants were enrolled in an elementary mathematics methods course, all were post-baccalaureate preservice teachers.
The 17 traditional field experience participants represented junior-level undergraduate preservice teachers.
The reflective journals submitted by all participants served as the primary data source for the study.


The findings highlight the importance of field experience context on the development of preservice teachers’ understanding and application of mathematics pedagogy.
Preservice teachers in both groups cycled through the four elements specified in the Knowles and Cole (1996) field experience framework, yet they did so with differing foci emphases and with the emergence of differing themes.

The first category, focus on self, revealed the ways in which the field experience provided the opportunity for the preservice teachers to explore their prior experiences in relation to their evolving conception of themselves as a mathematics teacher (Knowles & Cole, 1996).
As expected for novices, the preservice teachers in both groups provided many reflective statements which fell within this category, and they did so with similar emphasis.
Although both groups explored their personal development as mathematics teachers, the math camp participants focused more on how their skills and strategies had developed through their field experience whereas the focus of the traditional field experience participants was on their recognition of the ways in which their skills and strategies needed additional development.

The category of “contextual realities of schools” allowed for an examination of how the two groups of preservice teachers perceived the influence of school community contextual features on the work of the mathematics teacher.
As the math camp group was not based on an elementary school campus, the preservice teachers in this group had no opportunity to explore the complex, contextual realities of schools.
Math camp participants provided minimal data within this category, and the data they provided applied solely to the structure of the math camp room and the materials utilized within the math camp.

The traditional field experience participants also provided minimal data, yet in addition to the theme of “room structure and materials” there emerged the theme of “campus realities.”
The next level of inquiry addressed relationships with students and others in the learning community.
The data revealed that the preservice teachers in both groups reflected upon the individuals within their field experience, and all reached this third level in the process of their development as inquiring, reflexive teachers.
The themes of “students’ responses” and “students’ content knowledge” emerged from the math camp group and the traditional group with both themes receiving similar emphases from the two groups of preservice teachers.
However, the math camp group not only supplied more data which fell within the two themes, but their statements regarding students’ responses and students’ content knowledge were much more specific than were the statements of the traditional participants.

Although both groups of preservice teachers revealed an ability to focus on students and to distinguish variances between individual students, the specific statements of the math camp participants indicated their enhanced ability to not only recognize the explicit variances and needs of students but to also identify the possible changes that could be incorporated to meet those needs.
Furthermore, an essential element of reform-oriented mathematics is to create a classroom of equity wherein the mathematical needs of every student are recognized and addressed. Participants in the math camp field experience were better able to incorporate the theory of mathematical equity into their actual practice, while the traditional field experience limited some of the preservice teachers’ abilities to apply the theory of the methods course to the practice of the elementary classroom.

The final categorical level of analysis, inquiry into self and ongoing professional development, addresses skills and attitudes toward reflective practice and professional development. Although both groups of preservice teachers were required to reflect upon their field experience, the math camp participants provided a greater number of reflective statements at this level.
The findings thus suggest that the context of the traditional field experience did not provide the preservice teachers with the same level of support for the development of their mathematics knowledge and skills as did the math camp field experience.

Conclusions and Implications

There are specific implications teacher education programs could consider:
1. All field experiences should include multiple opportunities for preservice teachers to teach from lessons they have prepared.
2. When designing field experiences, teacher education programs must recognize the importance of situating field experiences within actual classroom settings as well as considering multiple campus and multiple classroom placements.
3. Preservice teachers should be provided a format or forum for addressing the contradictions and dilemmas inherent in field experiences.
4. All preservice teachers need opportunities to attend to their relationship-building skills.
5. It would be important to include an end of course reflection specific to “how I’ve grown” and “how I need to continue to grow” as a mathematics teacher.

Knowles, J. G., & Cole, A. L. (1996). Developing practice through field experience. In F. Murray (Ed.), The teacher educator’s handbook: Building a knowledge base for the preparation of teachers (pp. 648–688). San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass, Committee on the Professional Knowledge Base, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

Updated: Jun. 21, 2015


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