How do student teachers reflect on their practice through practicum courses? A case study from Iran

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Published: 
June, 2019

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, 45:3, 277-289

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The present study investigates the nature of Iranian student teachers’ reflections and their professional development in the context of teacher education practicums.

Method
The researchers used case study research methodology (Yin 2013) to investigate the nature of student teachers’ reflections in a given context through an inquiry-orientated practicum in Iranian teacher education.

Participants - The selected narratives were written by 41 student teachers.
Their study programmes had taken four years.
At the time the data were collected, the students had graduated from the university’s teacher education colleges and had begun teaching in schools.

Data collection - The data were collected from Farhangian University, the only teacher education university in Iran.  Portfolios of 41 students were selected.

Data analysis - This research used Ward and McCotter (2004) model of deductive content analysis to evaluate student teachers` reflective narratives.
The unit of analysis was a reflective chunk. which is a piece of thoughtful writing that begins with a particular topic and ends when another topic is taken up.
Each reflective chunk was analysed based on three dimensions – focus, inquiry and change – and then on four levels – routine, technical, dialogical and transformative.
After coding all the data, the frequencies and percentages of the different levels of reflective chunks were calculated in each dimension.

Results
In line with Ward and Cotters’ (2004) framework, the results are provided in the three dimensions of focus, inquiry, and change.
The focus dimension refers to the concerns and content of the reflection. The inquiry dimension considers the process of reflection, and the change dimension refers to the changes in student teachers’ insights and beliefs resulting from the reflection process.

Focus dimension - The results show that the focus of the student teachers’ reflections was mainly on the routine level.
Student teachers were self-concerned and reflected on managing a class and on surviving the teaching experience.
Across the three practicums, the student teachers’ focus on these routine issues decreased significantly, changing to the technical level significantly.
This change indicates that the student teachers began to emphasize concerns related to the instructional design, for example how to plan and implement examination questions.
The results show that dialogical and transformative reflections related to the focus dimension did not increase significantly over the practicum courses.
This means that during teaching practice, the student teachers did not seem to learn to shift their focus from themselves to the nature of the learners and their process of learning.

Inquiry dimension - The inquiry process of student teachers changed throughout the practicum courses.
However, the differences were significant only at the routine and technical levels.
Routine level reflection decreased across the practicum courses, while technical reflective narratives increased.

Change dimension - Reflection at the change dimension was related mostly to the routine level, which in fact indicates that the students were not considering change.
Student teachers’ reflections on change related to the technical level were indicated when they responded to a situation personally.
Change at the technical level increased significantly during the practicums.
During the practicums the student teachers did not show improvement at the change dimension on a dialogical level.
Further, no chunks were found that gave signs of change at the transformative level.

Discussion
The purpose of the present study was to investigate how Iranian student teachers (N = 41) reflect on their teaching practice.
The findings showed that student teachers’ reflections at the beginning of their teaching practice were mostly at the lowest, routine, level.
During the practicums, routine level reflections decreased and technical level reflections increased.
Higher levels, in other words dialogical and transformative reflections, rarely occurred, and the increase related to these levels was not statistically significant during the practicums
The lack of reflection at the highest level (transformative) was not surprising because this level requires criticizing fundamental principles and ethical issues, which is considered a ‘difficult, lengthy and often painful process’ (Kember et al. 2000, p. 391).
Nevertheless, after an academic teacher education, student teachers could be expected to achieve reflections close to the highest level (Ward and McCotter 2004).
Especially in the educational context of Iran, where moral and religious principles in education are emphasized (Hedayati et al. 2017), teacher education should provide training for student teachers to reflect on the ethical premises of their teaching.
Given the results, it is necessary to investigate how practicum courses can be designed and implemented to improve the levels of reflection, especially in contexts with special features such as Iranian teacher education.
To do that, more research needs to be undertaken to answer questions such as the following:
What conditions are best for improving reflection?
What kinds of methods will best facilitate higher level reflection?
What support mechanisms will best promote student teachers’ reflections?
Given that student teachers have to reflect during the reflection-orientated practicums, they need to be prepared to do so and to learn more about the nature of reflection and about the procedures required for reflection.
Thus, it is important that teacher educators have a clear and concise plan well before the implementation of the reflection-orientated practicums.

References
Kember, David, Doris Y. P. Leung, Alice Jones, Alice Yuen Loke, Jan McKay, Kit Sinclair, Harrison Tse, et al. 2000. “Development of a Questionnaire to Measure the Level of Reflective Thinking.” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 25 (4): 381–95
Hedayati, N., E. Kuusisto, K. Gholami, and K. Tirri. 2017. “Value Learning Trajectories in Iranian Educational System.” In Value Learning Trajectories: Theory, Method, Context, edited by A. Kuusisto and L. Gearon, 179–193. Munster: Waxmann
Ward, J. R., and S. S. McCotter. 2004. “Reflection as a Visible Outcome for Preservice Teachers.” Teaching and Teacher Education 20 (3): 243–257. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2004.02.004
Yin, R. K. 2013. Case Study Research: Design and Methods. Los Angeles: Sage publications 

Updated: Jan. 12, 2020
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