Diversity in Coherence: Strengths and Opportunities of Three Programs

May 1, 2019

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, Volume: 70 issue: 3, page(s): 192-205

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The authors of this paper argue that teacher candidates are a valuable and necessary source for both teacher educators and researchers to understand the extent to which teacher education programs are coherent.
To facilitate candidates’ individual learning processes, a teacher educator should be knowledgeable of his or her students’ perceptions of the learning environment.
In this regard, students’ perceptions of coherence make important contributions to the construction of their knowledge base.

The authors draw on data from a larger international comparative study of teacher education programs, the Coherence and Assignments in Teacher Education (CATE) study, investigating the vision, coherence, and opportunities to enact practice within university-based teacher education programs (e.g., secondary teacher training) across different settings.
Within the larger study, both qualitative and quantitative data have been collected from teacher educators, teacher candidates, and program directors. Here, the authors present findings from the survey data, focusing on candidates’ perceptions of coherence within their teacher education programs.

Program Descriptions - The authors’ data were collected in university-based teacher education programs (secondary level) in Norway, California, and Finland.
They selected these programs as they shared enough similarities (e.g., course composition and requirements, student acceptance rate, and reform efforts) but also differed in ways (e.g., size, organization of the field placement, contextual background) that made comparison interesting.

Participants - Data were collected from 269 candidates, distributed across the three programs.
The candidates specialized in a variety of subjects, such as language arts, math, history, science, or a foreign language.
Participation in this study was voluntary and anonymous.
A paper-and- pencil procedure was used, and potential identifying questions were kept to a minimum.
The survey was distributed in the second half of the second semester of the programs (i.e., April-June).

Instruments - To collect data, the authors used a survey constructed to investigate the candidates’ perception of and possibilities to experience coherence in their teacher education (Hammerness, Klette, & Bergem, 2014). The authors wanted to link to previously used high-quality analytical tools and draw on items from prior surveys that were tested and validated in other settings (Grossman et al., 2008).
Items were rated on a 4-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (none) to 4 (extensive opportunity) and 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree).
Previous analyses showed that these 19 items tap three underlying factors:
perceived coherence between courses, opportunities to connect parts of the program, and perceived coherence between field experiences and courses (Canrinus et al., 2017).

Results and discussion

Perceived Coherence 

Overall, across all three programs, candidates perceived their teacher education programs as reasonably coherent.
et, opportunities for improvement remain as candidates did not fully agree to statements tapping coherence between courses or tapping coherence between courses and field experiences.
This is consistent with research revealing fragmentation between campus courses and practical experiences (e.g., Samaras et al., 2016).
The authors also observed considerable differences between programs in candidates’ experiences of coherence.
This resembles the findings by Grossman et al. (2008), showing that 23% of the variation in the candidates’ view of coherence between field placement and campus courses was programmatic instead of individual variation.

Uni2 students perceived their teacher education program as more coherent compared with the other two programs.
This could stem from the longstanding and continuous restructuring of the program.
The Uni2 program has been working on coherence within their program since 1999.
Even though the major changes in the program were complete in 2002, the effects may very well have lasted as coherence has been established as a focus point.
Uni2 candidates reported more coherence between their courses and their field placement than the Nordic candidates.
This aligns with findings from a study by Jenset, Hammerness, and Klette (2017) using observation data.
They found that candidates from the Uni2 program reported significantly more opportunities to link their experiences from their field placement to theory compared with candidates from the Uni1 or Uni3 program.
The fact that the Uni1 candidates perceived relatively little coherence between their courses is relevant as continued interaction with key ideas is important for constructing understanding of teaching.
At the time of the data collection, the Uni1 program was still working on a full-scale redesign of the structure of the coursework and field placement.
Possibly, as the restructuring of the program was still in progress, the newly crafted coherence within the program had not yet trickled down fully to the candidates (cf. Raudenbush, 2008).
The perception of the Uni3 candidates regarding all three scales measuring the coherence of the program lies in the middle of the Likert-type scale, between disagree and agree.
This finding is somewhat surprising as scholars and evaluators have referred to the overall cohesiveness of the educational program as the factor most important for the program’s success (e.g., Jussila & Saari, 2000, as cited in Burn & Mutton, 2015) and the systematic nature of the curriculum as a key strength of the program (Saari & Frimodig, 2009).
Possibly, scholars and educators perceive the coherence but candidates do not.
The Uni3 program enables candidates to move flexibly through the program in their own direction and at their own pace.
This may result in candidates perceiving their education as fragmented rather than coherent (Grossman, Hammerness, & McDonald, 2009; Weston & Henderson, 2015).
Thus, too much flexibility may come at a cost.

The authors’ findings show that teacher education programs may differ in the extent to which they are perceived as coherent by the candidates attending these programs.
They also find that programs may be strong in some parts of coherence (e.g., coherence between courses) and less so in other aspects (e.g., coherence between field placement and campus courses).
From their findings, it becomes clear that an important aspect of potential improvement of program coherence lies within communication and collaboration between the various stakeholders within teacher education programs.

Burn, K., & Mutton, T. (2015). A review of “research-informed clinical practice” in initial teacher education. Oxford Review of Education, 41(2), 217-233
Canrinus, E. T., Bergem, O. K., Klette, K., & Hammerness, K. (2017). Coherent teacher education programmes: Taking a student perspective. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 49, 313-333.
Grossman, P., Hammerness, K., & McDonald, M. (2009). Redefining teaching, re-imagining teacher education. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 15, 273-289
Grossman, P., Hammerness, K., McDonald, M., & Ronfeldt, M. (2008). Constructing coherence: Structural predictors of perceptions of coherence in NYC teacher education programmes. Journal of Teacher Education, 59, 273-287.
Hammerness, K., Klette, K., & Bergem, O. K. (2014). Coherence and Assignments in Teacher Education: Teacher education survey. Oslo, Norway: University of Oslo Department of Teacher Education and School Research
Jenset, I. S., Hammerness, K., & Klette, K. (2017). Talk about field placement within coursework on campus: Grounding teacher education in practice. Manuscript submitted for publication.
Jussila, J., & Saari, S. (2000). Teacher education as a futuremoulding factor. International evaluation of teacher education in Finnish universities. Helsinki: Higher Education Evaluation Council
Raudenbush, S. W. (2008). Advancing educational policy by advancing research on instruction. American Educational Research Journal, 25, 206-230
Saari, S., & Frimodig, M. (Eds.). (2009). Leadership and management of education: Evaluation of education at the University of Helsinki 2007-2008 (Administrative Publications 58). Helsinki, Finland: University of Helsinki
Samaras, A. P., Frank, T. J., Williams, M. A., Christopher, E., & Rodick, W. H., III. (2016). A collective self-study to improve program coherence of clinical experiences. Studying Teacher Education, 12, 170-187
Weston, T. L., & Henderson, S. C. (2015). Coherent experiences: The new missing paradigm in teacher education. The Educational Forum, 79(3), 321-335. 

Updated: Feb. 10, 2020


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