A comparison of student teacher learning from practice in university-affiliated schools in Helsinki and Johannesburg

November, 2018

Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, 42:1, 4-18

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Practice teaching in a university-affiliated training school: education students and the ‘achieved’ curriculum

This paper reports on the findings of research conducted parallel to the establishment of a new teacher training school on a university campus in Soweto, Johannesburg.
This type of school has been part of teacher education in universities in Finland for a long time and is a reminder of Dewey’s ‘lab school’ in Chicago.
The Finnish university where this study was conducted founded a ‘practice’ school in 1972.
This school has been a model for an innovation at a South African university, where such a school was founded in 2010.
The motivation for the inquiry stemmed from the interest of researchers in both settings to find out how students report on their learning outcomes in the practicum periods at the two schools and to compare this self reporting across two very different institutions.
The researchers were interested in how student teachers view the sources of their knowledge (Fives and Buehl 2008), also referred to as their ‘personal epistemology’ (Hofer 2004,1).
The authors captured student views about the achieved curriculum through their reports on what they had learned, taking into consideration the aims of the two teacher education curricula.
The following question guided the study: What do student teachers identify as ‘domains and sources’ of teacher knowledge during supervised practicum in a teaching school?
Essentially the authors asked what constituted the achieved curriculum.

Domains of teacher knowledge
In this study, the classification of teacher knowledge domains (Shulman 1986, 1987) provides a framework for analysing and comparing students’ views of the achieved curriculum in the practice in the settings of Helsinki and Johannesburg.
A typical approach to addressing the type of research question that we had posed is to divide teacher knowledge into subject-matter (content) knowledge (SMK), pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), and general pedagogical knowledge (GPK)

Primary school teacher education in finland and in south Africa
With the innovation of a teaching school on the campus of a Johannesburg university, students now complete most of their practice teaching in this school, with the Helsinki university-training school model inspiring the Johannesburg programme.
The authors acknowledge that the transfer of an educational practice from one country and university to another context is relatively difficult, due to the inherent complexity of the intersect of higher education and the public schooling sector in this instance.
Therefore, several local adaptations were made in Johannesburg.
For example, the university lecturers have a more defined role in the mentoring process than in the Helsinki programme and the teaching practice period has been split into shorter periods, spread throughout the year. Particularly, the aims for specific courses at the university in Johannesburg and the aims of the teaching practice were aligned more directly than in the Helsinki programme, to allow for optimal amalgamation of theory and practice.
The researchers note that the two programmes have much in common and the investigation was planned to capture similarities and differences as experienced and reported by the student teachers, with the aim of showing how learning in practice resonates with two very different (but also the same in some instances) groups of future teachers.

In 2014, a questionnaire, with several open- and Likert-type questions was prepared by the researchers, aiming to capture student views of the sources and domains of teacher knowledge, which they had been constructing during the practicum.
There were also several background questions.
The second set of questions captured the amount of time used for planning and supervision of teaching practice.
The third set of questions asked students to indicate how much teacher knowledge, in various categories, they had gained.
The English questionnaire was then finalised and administered in South Africa and the Finnish version in Helsinki.

Results and Discussion
The authors note that the data from this study shows that in the official curriculum, the teacher educators, in collaboration with mentor teachers in the school, design a practicum programme for optimal learning.
Yet, the result is, as much of the literature confirms, that students learn optimally from practice when their experiences are also aligned to methods courses at the university. This is what the Johannesburg data supports.
The authors believe that it is an aspect that needs much more investigation, perhaps through an analysis of the interactions between mentor teachers, lecturing staff and students, if they are to make evidence-based claims about the value of the practicum for effective instruction.
From the migration of the model of teacher education from a university in Helsinki to a university in South Africa, the authors have learned much.
They conclude that when students can integrate theory and practice in a synchronized way, they do learn increasingly from practice.
They suggest that this is likely because the university curriculum in Johannesburg coincides harmoniously with the practicum and it continues over the entire duration of the programme.
The integration is more streamlined than the Finnish model, with the South African student teachers ‘moving up’ in the school system over four years and getting acquainted with the learners as they develop, with the school and its community. Johannesburg students report learning more about learners’ medical problems and the effect of poverty on education.
This is not surprising to the authors given the economic inequity of South African society and the strong coursework emphasis on learning how poverty affects educational provisioning.
Students will also have observed this closely in the school, as their study of young learners is a three-year long relationship.
The authors note that university-learned theory thus links with practice immediately, as it happens, and is sustained over the duration of the degree. In addition, in South Africa, with its highly centralised and monitored educational environment, students will be much more aware of school management and administration.
This is also a prominent component of university coursework, providing some evidence of the value of coupling university coursework with observations in a teacher training school.
Overall, the authors learned that the transfer of a teacher education model from one country to another is challenging, but possible – if the ‘adopting’ country takes into consideration its own context and modifies the model according to local needs. In this case, based on the student reporting data, the emerging model in the Johannesburg programme holds lessons for improving the original Helsinki model.
They conclude that the work structures are not enough for student teachers to learn from practice.
They argue that the learning depends more on the relational partnerships between the university department with its university lecturers and the teacher training school with its mentor teachers. In practice, they feel that the support of university lecturers and mentor teachers do depend on how the learning environment is structured, how responsibilities are defined and how the work is divided.
However, the relationships and harmony between the two role players is equally important. Their study ended with the encouraging conclusion that transporting a model to a different context can synthesize two realities in such a way that both can benefit from the findings.

Fives, H., and M. M. Buehl. 2008. “What Do Teachers Believe? Developing a Framework for Examining Beliefs about Teachers’ Knowledge and Ability.” Contemporary Educational Psychology 33: 134–176.
Hofer, B. K. 2004. “Introduction: Paradigmatic Approaches to Personal Epistemology.” Educational Psychologist 39: 1–3.
Shulman, L. S. 1986. “Those Who Understand: Knowledge Growth in Teaching.” Educational Researcher 15 (2): 4–14.
Shulman, L. S. 1987. “Knowledge and Teaching: Foundations of New Reform.” Harvard Educational Review 57: 1–22.

Updated: Sep. 12, 2019


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