The development of interaction skills in preservice teacher education: A mixed-methods study of Dutch pre-service teachers

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Published: 
May, 2019

Source: Early Childhood Education Journal. Volume 47, Issue 3, pp 321–329

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Introduction
The authors posit that empirical research into preservice teacher education for early childhood education and care (ECEC) is needed in order to gain a greater insight into the development of interaction skills of future professionals coming into the sector.
Their study aims to gain insight into learning outcomes of pre-service ECEC teachers and into the process of teacher development by drawing from multiple sources.
In a longitudinal study, they monitored the development of a small cohort of pre-service ECEC teachers, analyzing both external evaluations of their interaction skills and interview data to elucidate the development of pre-service teachers’ interaction skills.

Research Questions
The authors studied two central questions:
1. What are the learning outcomes of ECEC pre-service teachers related to their interaction skills during teacher education?
2. How do pre-service early childhood teachers reflect on their interaction skills and the progress made over time?

Method

Study Design
The authors’ study design included four waves of data collection. The first measurement took place around 3 months after the start of the academic year.
The second measurement occurred at the end of the first year.
The third measurement was at the end of the second year, and the fourth measurement was at the end of the third year when pre-service training was completed.
Both quantitative and qualitative data were gathered by the authors in this study in a nested mixed-methods design with concurrent data collection. The quantitative data provided insight into pre-service teachers’ behaviour in ECEC practice, whereas the qualitative data provided insights into their individual learning experiences.
The mixed-methods design of the study allowed the researchers to study PD, taking into account both the growth of interaction skills in ECEC practice (i.e., learning outcomes) and their level of professional reflection.
The mixed-methods design allowed the authors to explore the possible link between pre-service teachers’ growth of interaction skills (research question 1) and reflection on their PD (research question 2).
 

Measures

Caregiver Interaction Profile (CIP) - A research assistant made two 10 min video recordings of teacher–children interactions from practicum in both a lunch and a structured play situation.
The educational materials of each session enabled a teacher-driven approach to play and encouraged interaction both between the teacher and the children and among the children themselves.
The videotapes of the preservice teachers who were filmed at their work placement locations were evaluated using the CIP instrument for the assessment of interaction skills.

Semi-structured Interviews - The individual interviews, which lasted about 45 min, included open questions, concerning pre-service teachers’ learning experiences during their pre-service training including the work placement.
Key questions, which were included at each wave, were related to pre-service teachers’ development of the six interaction skills from the Dutch curriculum.
The authors also asked the participants to reflect on their development (e.g., What are the most important things you have learned so far when it comes to interacting with young children?) and their learning experiences (e.g., In what context did you learn most with respect to interaction skills: at school, in the work placement, or the combination of both?). In total, 125 interviews were gathered by the researchers over a 3 year period.

Results

Pre‑service Teachers’ Growth of Interaction Skills

The authors report that the CIP level of the pre-service teachers displayed steady growth during the entire course (see Fig. 1). The longitudinal analysis showed a statistically significant positive, linear trend (p < .001).
The linear growth for the CIP total score was 0.42 points per year.
This growth was significant in comparison to the starting level as from the second year, p < .001, and from the second to the third year as well, p = .004.
The growth from the beginning up to and including the fourth measurement and final year of the course was substantial with a very large effect size (d = 1.67).The total CIP score, which on average was inadequate at the start of the course, was adequate to good by the end of the course. The individual interaction skills showed a comparable picture.

Discussion
The authors note that the results of this small-scale, longitudinal study give insight in the development of the interaction skills of preservice teachers from the very beginning of their preservice teacher education until the end.
They point out that the qualitative interview data suggest that pre-service teachers’ reflection on their interaction skills starts with basic interaction skills related to emotional support in the first year and shifts towards instructional support in the second and third year of their education.
Furthermore, the pre-service teachers showed an impressive development of their interaction skills after 3 years of pre-service education.
The authors point out that the outcomes of this study thus underscore the importance of pre-service training for the development of interaction skills and the level of professional reflection for ECEC teachers.
They point out that this study also shows, despite the significant overall growth, a clear difference in performance level between emotional support and instructional support.
The authors also note that findings from this study suggest that pre-service teachers are aware of the importance of emotional support and also focus on verbal communication in a later stage of their training, whereas instructional skills was less prominent in the interview.
They suggest that possibly, the Dutch 3 year pre-service teacher training is too brief to cover the wide spectrum of interaction skills, which play an important role in fostering the well-being and development of young children.
They claim that it may also be possible that higher levels of instructional support may require specific tracks in pre-service training devoted to the design and delivery of high-quality instructional support in ECEC.

Implications for Teacher Education
The authors note that this study is the first longitudinal research into the development of interaction skills among pre-service ECEC teachers.
The outcomes of their mixed methods study suggest that pre-service teachers take a major step forwards in the renewed Dutch pre-service training with interaction skills and professional reflection on their interaction with young children, which provides evidence for the effectiveness of early childhood teacher education in this domain.
However, they point out that a larger sample is needed to generalize findings to a wider population of regional centers and a wider population of preservice ECEC teachers.
The authors claim that this study also suggests, with previous studies of quality assessment in ECEC practice, that additional investments are needed to achieve higher levels of instructional support in ECEC practice.
The findings from their study suggest that relatively extensive training may be required to improve the instructional skills of ECEC teachers after they have completed their teacher education program.
However, the authors feel that it is vital to invest in instructional skills during preservice training.
Given the key role of the ECEC teacher for high quality effectiveness in the instructional domain, they suggest that future studies should explore which training approaches are successful in elevating the levels of instructional support for pre-service and in-service teachers.

Updated: Aug. 11, 2019
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