Development of Preservice Identities: Learning from a Multigrade Classroom Practicum Context

Feb. 20, 2015

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, Vol. 41, No. 1, 19–36, 2015
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of the study was to understand how practice in multigrade classrooms in villages located in rural areas in Turkey might influence preservice elementary teachers’ identity.

Gee’s (2000) framework was used to guide the interpretation of data in order to better understand how practice shaped identities.
Gee (2000) recognises four ways to view identity, which he interprets as being ‘a certain kind of person’ (99) as an analytic tool for studying issues of theory and practice in education. He explains that these are discrete categories intended to help researchers to focus on different aspects of how identities are formed and sustained: (1) the nature perspective (N-Identity) is developed from one’s biological or natural state; (2) institutional identity (I-Identity) is derived from a position recognised by an authority or a set of authorities within an institution which entails certain rights and responsibilities; (3) the discursive perspective (D-Identity) results from the discourse practices of other people concerning oneself; (4) the affinity perspective (A-Identity) is determined by one’s common endeavours or practices in relation to external/affinity groups that may be dispersed across a large space (100–107).

The participants were 225 preservice elementary teachers who carried out their practica in 21 different schools over the four years.
Data from the reflective responses written by the students concerning their multigrade school practice form the basis of this study.


The results indicated a positive change in teachers’ willingness to engage in the profession.
It was appeared that a practicum undertaken in multigrade classrooms influenced students’ thinking about continued identity development as teachers and supported their development, as well as the awareness needed to develop, shape or reshape an identity.
Examples of the writing from the students’ reflective studies indicated that both the reflective practice and the distinctiveness of the multigrade context, for the majority of the student teachers, produced opportunities for disrupting or asking new questions about who a teacher is and what it means to be a teacher.

The sense of institutional identity was the most prevalent in all four years of practice. This may result from the observation of different tasks and a new environment. The students also started to think about identity-related causes of successes and failures in this type of classroom.
The practicum reinforced the student teachers’ learning about the importance of nature by adding a deeper level of understanding compared with their teaching practice courses, in which the importance of nature identity was not sufficiently visible to preservice teachers. They witnessed the effects of personality on designing the physical conditions of the schools.

Discourse identity was the second-most frequently recognised category in which nature identity was mentioned more often. Recognising discourse identities, either those attributed to the observed teachers or those to themselves, helped the participants to discover a source of identity other than that which was given to them by the authorities; namely, that interaction and dialogue with others through discursive practices construct and sustain identity.

According to the results of the study, their affinity identity developed the least. This type of identity is created by networking with others through communication, joint activities and shared experiences in or outside of the school.
Through distinctive teaching practices and being aware of identity formation and recognition, faculty and staff would help student teachers to seek new forms of affiliation with other teachers and organisations or support them to develop into an affinity group to expand and enrich their senses of self as teachers.
The practicum is very important in providing preservice teachers with experience in this type of classroom, as well as in developing a set of role expectations and positive attitudes towards multigrade teaching. The results indicated that these experiences helped students to recognise new institutional roles and modify their expectations, as well as creating positive attitudes towards multigrade schooling and the realities of rural life.


It is acknowledged that identity development is a continuous process and will continue after graduation, but teacher education programmes are an important starting point for identity development and the awareness needed to develop, shape or reshape an identity.
Fundamental identity conflicts are often experienced by teachers in their first year of practice, as they try to reconcile the current realities of teaching with their long-term expectations. Thus, it is important to offer some initial experiences for preservice teachers in order to allow them to approach teacher identity conflicts and patterns before they encounter the demanding, emotional identity work in their first year of experience. The students in this case appeared to have become comfortable with the idea of working in multigrade classrooms through the process of thinking about what kind of teachers they will be or want to become.

As their identity development was informed by Gee’s (2000) four perspectives, it can be suggested that using these perspectives to analyse students’ reflections may be useful in allowing researchers to handle qualitative data and in providing deeper insights into teachers’ identity development. Overall, we need to keep in mind that sense of self and identity development is a complex, contextualised and nuanced phenomenon by nature.

Gee, J. P. 2000. “Identity as an Analytic Lens for Research in Education.” Review of Research in Education 25 (1): 99–125.

Updated: Sep. 21, 2016