Exploring Connections between Writing Methods Teacher Education Courses and K-12 Field Experience

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Published: 
Winter, 2019

Source: Action in Teacher Education, 41:4, 344-360

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

For this study, the research question was, “How do writing teacher educators make connections to K-12 classrooms for their preservice teacher candidates?”
To answer this question, a team of eight literacy researchers and educators from institutions across the United States collaborated to conduct a qualitative interview study of 15 writing teacher educators and their K-12 curricular connections.

Theoretical Framework
The authors note that the research literature indicates that teacher candidates can learn a great deal from interacting with teachers and K-12 students in field experiences.

Understanding the collective realities and socially constructed knowledge across the participants about writing teacher education was one of the authors’ research goals.
Therefore, they designed this study of writing methods instructors from a social constructionist perspective, asserting that knowledge and reality are socially constructed through varying degrees of interaction with others and with the world (Berger & Luckman, 1967).

Methods
Due to the paucity of research in writing methods courses, the authors declare that the purpose of this article is to highlight how writing methods instructors make connections to K-12 classrooms for instructional purposes.
The studies’ data sources included a screening survey and interviews with writing instructors across the United States.
The authors also used course syllabi and supporting instructional documents to provide them with the larger context of curriculum design, content, and sequencing.
The Likert-type screening survey, which the authors developed based on effective writing pedagogy research, was used to identify teacher educators of university-based, writing-intensive methods courses who implemented research-based pedagogies.

Participants - The final analysis for this study was conducted with 15 participants from eight states.
At the time of the study, 11 of the educators were teaching elementary methods and four were teaching secondary methods courses.
The group of 15 writing teacher educators represented a wide range of K-12 and higher education teaching experience.
The programs in which participants taught included undergraduate and graduate programs.

Interviews - Interviews served as the authors’ main data source.
The eight-member research team conducted individual, semistructured interviews lasting approximately one hour each to understand how the participants implemented research-based writing methods instruction.
The main questions focused on asking participants to describe their philosophy of writing instruction and writing in teacher education, the instructional approaches used to teach the writing methods course, related field experiences for teacher candidates, and aspects of their own background that might influence what was taught and how.

Findings of the Study
The authors present four themes related to how writing teacher educators made connections to K-12 classrooms for their candidates.
Intentional Field Experiences
The writing teacher educators intentionally designed rich connections to K-12 classrooms and engaged candidates in experiential learning.
13 out of the 15 teacher educators who participated in this study had some type of field experience connected with their writing methods course, and the two who did not, found other ways to connect their courses with K-12 classrooms.
Many of the field experiences were quite extensive.
The teacher educators in this study believed candidates’ K-12 classroom experiences were key to their success as future teachers of writing.
With time being an ever-present obstacle to covering course content, scheduling observations during class time conveyed a clear message of importance.
The educators valued field experiences to the extent that several altered their courses to make the most of experiential learning.

Teacher Educators’ Time in the Field
The teacher educators felt so strongly about K-12 classroom connections that they not only carefully provided teacher candidates opportunities to see writing instruction firsthand but also spent extensive time in schools themselves.
Across participants, the authors noticed this kind of deep commitment to staying abreast of current classroom contexts, writing methods, and teacher and K-12 student needs.
Despite heavy demands placed on full-time university faculty, the writing teacher educators the authors interviewed valued and prioritized their own time in the field, along with building reciprocal partnerships with classroom teachers.

Multifaceted Assessment
The teacher educators connected their teaching of writing assessment to actual K-12 classrooms and students.
These educators had a strong belief that all writing assessment is formative assessment; that is, it should be used for the purposes of designing instruction and growing writers.
In addition, authentic K-12 student writing formed the basis of much of the writing assessment instruction.
The teacher educators focused on teaching candidates to use multifaceted, classroom-based assessments, including self-assessment, conferencing, various methods of feedback, assessment of a single piece of writing, and summative portfolio assessments, to help K-12 students develop as writers.

In addition to the abovementioned assessment methods, the authors note that participants widely employed an assessment case study project to teach candidates writing assessment methods.
A frequent component of the assessment case study assignment was observation of a student writing and an oral interview on the student’s writing goals, processes, and challenges.
Across participants’ courses, candidates were taught how to provide students with a variety of types of feedback on their writing: oral feedback during conferences, audio recorded feedback, peer feedback, written feedback, and feedback using rubrics.
By listening to the oral, formative feedback they gave young writers, candidates had time and space to dissect their own pedagogical language and moves, thereby developing their metacognitive knowledge and their specialized pedagogical content knowledge (Loewenberg Ball, Thames, & Phelps, 2008; Shulman, 1987).

Consistent Reflection and Revision
The writing teacher educators were constantly reflecting on how their courses connected to K-12 classrooms and how they could support teacher candidates in becoming reflective practitioners.
They also reflected on their previous experiences as K-12 educators and considered what candidates needed to be well prepared.
Each participant believed in the necessity of continuing to improve his/her practice and revised aspects of their courses from year to year.
This type of continual, reflective, and introspective thinking was present across the writing teacher educators.
They actively worked toward growth as teacher educators in their knowledge of writing pedagogies.
At the same time, they also valued the multiple perspectives of various stakeholders – the teachers, candidates, K-12 students, and themselves – in the learning and problem-solving processes.
Another aspect of the educators’ reflective practice noted by the authors involved examining their own experiences as K-12 teachers and intentionally shaping their writing methods instruction to address things they learned.
The teacher educators engaged in inquiry and action in a variety of ways: doing their own research, getting support from the National Writing Project, and/or going back for advanced degrees.
This stance of reflective practitioner carried over into the teacher educators’ methods instruction.
They valued and made time for candidates to reflect during class on field observations and teaching experiences.
The educators believed that the process of reflecting and unpacking writing pedagogies, decisions, and outcomes was vital to candidates being able to fully understand the effects of their practice and apply that learning in their future writing pedagogy.
Altogether, the writing teacher educators in this study engaged in reflection on their own practice and also encouraged their candidates to continually reflect.
This was accomplished through conversations about pedagogies, curriculum, instructional methods, and the K-12 students’ learning needs.

Discussion of Findings
For teacher educators to better understand how to improve the K-12 connections in writing methods instruction, the authors state that we need to draw from the existing expertise and practices of writing teacher educators who implement research-based practices (Graham, MacArthur, & Fitzgerald, 2013).
The expertise of the participants in this study overlapped in three specific areas: experiential learning, adaptive expertise, and writing assessment.
The 15 writing teacher educators in this study worked hard to make K-12 connections, regardless of whether they had a field placement associated with their course.
Knowledge is socially constructed, so it is not surprising that the authors’ panel of writing teacher educators shared similar knowledge bases and core understandings about writing and writing pedagogy, but the authors were surprised to find such a strong consensus around key components of writing theories, pedagogy, and methods.
More importantly is their zeal and commitment to intentionally immerse teacher candidates in authentic settings to increase their proficiency as future teachers of writing

References
Berger, P. L., & Luckman, T. (1967). The social construction of reality: A treatise in the sociology on knowledge. Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday.
Graham, S., MacArthur, C. A., & Fitzgerald, J. (2013). Best practices in writing instruction (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Loewenberg Ball, D., Thames, M. H., & Phelps, G. (2008). Content knowledge for teaching: What makes it special? Journal of Teacher Education, 59(5), 389–407. doi:10.1177/0022487108324554

Updated: Feb. 23, 2020
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