Teacher shadowing as an empowering technique for EFL student teacher practical knowledge development: insights from three-week shadowing programmes

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Published: 
September 2019

Source: Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 47:4, 432-452

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The author states that the main purpose of this study is to examine the effects of the shadowing technique, which has recently been used in some of the ELT departments of the universities in Northern Cyprus, in particular to how it contributes to student teachers’ practical knowledge development throughout their teaching practice. Shadowing is when a trainee teacher follows an experienced teacher to learn how tasks are performed.
In this study, shadowing is perceived by the author as a technique which aims to develop student teachers’ awareness of school practice, develop understanding of school routines and teachers’ duties, as well as encouraging learning through reasoning.
The study of teachers’ practical knowledge development is another priority of the author in this study.
Although it is known what practical knowledge constitutes and how it affects teaching and learning (Korthagen, 2010; Meijer, de Graff & Meirink, 2011) in mainstream education, there are fewer insights into how it develops, in the area of language teacher education.
 

Research method
This study employed a qualitative research design and used related data to expand the knowledge base, increasing the accuracy and explanatory power of findings.
The specific research questions were as follows:
(1) What are English language teaching (ELT) student teachers’ perceptions of teacher shadowing after three full weeks of shadowing experience?
(2) How does teacher shadowing contribute to ELT student teachers’ practical knowledge development?
Participants - The participants in this study were 23 female and 9 male Turkish student teachers, all of whom were native speakers. Participants represented the majority of the senior-year student teachers who were taking the practicum courses at different ELT programmes.
Data sources - The data sources used in this study were semi-structured interviews and student teachers’ reflective reports.
Reflective reports had to be written as part of the shadowing assignment, as required by course assessment after each shadowing experience, and the former being explicitly focused on obtaining information related to perceptions of the shadowing program and its contribution to practical knowledge development.

Findings
In the paper the author presents the three categories that emerged from the data, namely, theoretical versus practical knowledge, teaching approach, and shadowing as a more “natural” experience are presented
Theoretical versus practical knowledge
The author reports that the data show that the shadowing period prompted participants to see the validity of what they already knew owing to their observations, having close contact with the cooperating teachers, being part of the school community, and building on what they already knew, which allowed them to develop a practical understanding of teaching.
The author notes that from a constructivist approach, these data suggest a few things.
First, it is through their emerging realizations in a school setting that these student teachers come to understand that what they already know on a theoretical level might not work in actual teaching, and thus they seek alternative ways of overcoming a specific teaching/ learning situation.
On some occasions, they also strive to improve what they theoretically know in practice, in the process yielding construction of knowledge on the existing knowledge (accommodation) through looking for alternatives and further improvement strategies.
In the study, the author notes that a contradiction appears to have emerged in student teachers’ practices, in which they come to identify a disjuncture between their theoretical knowledge and actual classroom practice, and they accommodate new strategies that are more pragmatic.

Teaching approach
The author reports that participants mentioned that the shadowing programme helped them better understand ‘the decisions and selections made by the teachers’ with regard to the teaching approaches, compared to their previous traditional observation sessions.
Many reported that they “developed awareness”, particularly in understanding why teachers did what they did.
After observing different classes and holding pre- and post-conferences with their cooperating teachers after each lesson, their awareness seemed to develop.
In constructivist terms, the data suggest that when confronted with complexities or with the unexpected, student teachers immediately look for alternative teaching strategies, potentially indicating their construction of a more practical form of knowledge.

In broader constructivist terms, the data suggest a reconceptualization of new knowledge as a result of a mismatch (or perhaps a totally new understanding of specific knowledge) as part of student teachers’ interactions in school settings, whereby they seem to start developing situation-related strategies.

Shadowing as a more “natural” experience
Related to the second research question, the author reports that participants viewed the shadowing programme as a more “natural” experience compared to the traditional observation sessions they attended before.
They consistently used the terms “authentic”, “insider experience” and “‘genuine experience’” to describe how the shadowing technique differed from the traditional observation sessions.
Here, what they actually meant was that the shadowing technique provided them with opportunities such as observing all school routines and teachers’ daily routine at school, which made the whole process more natural and authentic, whereas they regarded previous observation sessions as more artificial.
This is perhaps because shadowing allowed them to go beyond the classroom observation only and observe all routines within the school and the teachers, which helped them to understand things from a practical perspective.

Implications
This study’s findings suggest that the shadowing technique can be a useful and effective tool in providing student teachers in practicums with deeper insight into the teaching profession, a better understanding of the rationale of teaching and the ideas behind it.
The shadowing approach should be considered for teacher education programme syllabi for better functioning of teaching practice and for the sake of student teachers’ practical knowledge development.
Such interventions are believed to enhance student teachers’ adaptation to the profession and awareness of its various aspects.
 

References
Korthagen, F. (2010). Situated learning theory and the pedagogy of teacher education: Towards an integrative view of teacher behavior and teacher learning. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26, 98–106
Meijer, P. C., De Graaf, G., & Meirink, J. (2011). Key experiences in student teachers’ development. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 17(1), 115–129 

Updated: Nov. 10, 2019
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