Enhancing preservice teachers’ professional competence through experiential learning

June, 2019

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, 45:3, 353-357

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This paper aims to explore how preservice teachers can be engaged in experiential learning activities to enrich their pedagogical content knowledge and skills.

Experiential learning in practice
A total of 15 Bachelor of Education students majoring in the English language at a university in Hong Kong joined the two experiential learning projects on grammar instruction, and six joined the reader project under the supervision of the present author.
Following Kolb’s (2015) experiential learning framework, at the stage of Concrete Experience all the participating student teachers undertook teaching practicums to experience teaching in actual classrooms.
The practicums lasted for at least 14 weeks (either a full four-month semester or two block practices of six and eight weeks each).
In the projects, the participants had regular meetings in which they were required to reflect on their own English teaching and learning experiences at the stage of Reflection.
They evaluated how grammar/readers were taught in schools and assessed the needs of school learners.
In groups of two or three, collaboratively they developed lesson plans and instructional materials on the chosen grammar topics/readers for different levels of students, aiming to cater for learners’ diverse needs according to their cognitive development.
Each group was required to present their plans to project members and critically evaluate their effectiveness.
Upon receiving feedback and observing other groups’ lesson planning, they assimilated their reflections into abstract concepts at the stage of ‘Abstract Conceptualisation’, and made modifications to their own plans.
The process of presentation and modification was repeated for lesson improvement.
At the stage of Active Experimentation, the prospective teachers tried out selected plans in schools to evaluate practicality.
They then made further revision based on the feedback received.
Finally, they disseminated the project outputs to school teachers in Hong Kong and/or mainland China via seminars, and to educators worldwide via the internet.

Prospective teachers’ views
The author reports that all the participants who joined the experiential learning projects believed that the experience of the projects had enriched their vision and confidence as teachers as well as their understanding of the learners.
He also notes that when the participants were asked how the experiential learning projects were different from the mandatory teaching practicum they had undertaken, they expressed appreciation of the group collaboration, self-reflection, ongoing lesson revision, and the supportive learning environment provided by the projects, through which they could visualise their own professional development.
The author also notes that on the other hand, the participants felt that that the teaching practicum, which involved high-stakes formal assessments, did not provide this kind of learning opportunity; neither did it create a learning context that facilitated peer cooperation and constant guidance by their busy supervisors or cooperating teachers.

The author concludes that the post-project evaluation indicated that the experiential learning project provides a useful learning platform to enable novice teachers to develop into effective educationalists who can plan, teach, reflect and comment on their practice.
The learning experience fills the gap between what student teachers have learnt at university and what they need when they begin their careers.
The author notes that some participants recommended explicitly that this kind of experiential learning project should be continued in the future to complement and supplement their formal learning; alternatively, an experiential learning course could be included in the initial teacher education programme, so that they can go beyond on-campus learning to strengthen and develop their professional competence in a supportive and nurturing context.

Kolb, D. A. 2015. Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson 

Updated: Jan. 13, 2020