Student teaching practicum: are we doing it the right way?

December 2019

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, 45:5, 553-566

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Given that the English language student teacher’s practicum in Israel is such a high-stakes experience within teacher education, the following research question is posed: What makes a successful practicum from the student teacher’s point of view?
Are these views in line with the practicum aims?


Research context 
The authors write that the fine-grained analytical case study took place in the Arab Institute at a teachers’ training college in central Israel.
The context of this college is unique in that the Arab Institute stands alongside the college’s other programmes, which train teachers for the Jewish sector.
The college’s mission is to position education ‘as a vehicle for social mobility, equality and justice for all sectors of Israeli society’ (Retrieved from Beitberl's official website).
The authors note that while the Arab students are specifically prepared to teach in the Arab sector, the English language curriculum is highly influenced by educational practices in the Jewish sector and promoted by their pedagogical advisor, one of the authors (Abu Rass), who is a Muslim Arab.
This institutional context stands in contrast to the other teacher training colleges in Israel, which cater either for the Jewish or Arab sectors.
Such a unique context allows for examination of the practicum experience of Arab students who will most likely teach in the Arab sector, yet are trained with a more western perspective.

The eight participants were third year Muslim Arab English as a foreign language (EFL) student teachers (two males and six females), practice teaching in Arab junior high schools.
The practicum took place three days a week within the framework of the Ministry of Education Academic Class (pilot) programme. from the student teacher point of view, Academic Class provides a space for the student teacher, mentor teacher, and pedagogical advisor jointly to critically examine and reflect on practices introduced in academia and deployed in the classroom.
The practicum totalled some 15 hours per week; 10 were spent inside the classroom and five were spent outside it. Such a framework could be described as ‘job-embedded professional development’ in which much of the student teacher’s learning takes place in-situ or right before or after classroom experiences (Croft et al. 2010).

The methodology of this research had three major stages: analysing the practicum brief, analysing the student teacher reflections, and comparing the two.
The authors’ first step was to determine the Legitimation Code Theory (LCT) orientation of the practicum from the perspective of the college by analysing the practicum brief.
To do so, the overall objectives of the practicum were matched with the variety of activities to which the student teachers were exposed.
The matching was a rather straightforward task, as one of the authors (Abu Rass) had formulated the practicum brief.
Then each of the activities was analysed for their epistemic relations/social relations (ER/SR) orientation, thus revealing the ER/SR orientation of the objective as a whole.
The next step was exploring what makes a successful practicum from the student teachers’ points of view, which was not as straightforward as analysing the practicum brief. To do so, student teacher reflections were drawn on as a window into their own perception of the practicum.
The student teachers were asked to write reflections of their practicum experience by one of the authors (Abu Rass), who served both as their academic writing instructor and practicum pedagogical advisor, with the following guiding questions:
(1) Reflect on pleasant and unpleasant experiences as a student teacher.
(2) Indicate your strengths and weaknesses.
(3) Mention what you have learned from these experiences.
(4) Indicate what you should do to improve your performance.
Once the reflections were obtained, they were analysed using using Appraisal Theory (Martin and White 2008) within systemic functional linguistics (Halliday 1976).
By conducting an Appraisal analysis of the student teachers’ reflections with a focus on explicit and implicit Appraisal of the successful or less successful parts of the practicum, a picture of each student teacher’s LCT specialisation orientation emerged.
The student teachers’ reflections were then analysed three times.
After this analysis, each reflection was parsed into three separate headings: Before the Practicum; During the Practicum and After the Practicum.
In this way, the ten categories as the basis of each Attitudinal instance could be identified.


Analysis of the practicum brief
To understand the LCT orientation of the practicum from the perspective of the college, an LCT analysis was conducted on the propositional content driving the objectives and related activities of each objective of the practicum brief.
This brief is not only reviewed together with the student teachers but also serves as the criteria on which the student teacher is assessed in their practicum.
The propositional content of the practicum objectives, from the point-of-view of the college, are mostly ER oriented, suggesting a knowledge orientation.
For example, preparing teaching materials is knowledge-oriented, as specific pedagogical knowledge is needed to carry out this activity.

Student teacher reflections
Of the ten categories identified as the bases for the student teachers’ Attitude, seven are SR and three are ER, thus pointing to a general SR ‘lens’ through which the student teachers as a cohort might have viewed the practicum.
This is interesting, as it suggests that the student teachers might view their practica experiences as paths into becoming the right kind of person, as opposed to acquiring specific knowledge.

From the results, only five of the eight students saw the practicum as a positive experience, thus possibly helping to inform Wagenaar’s (2005) question as to whether student teachers see the practicum as positive.
Furthermore, of the four different orientations represented among the eight student teacher reflections, three of them are knower oriented, with an additional one being elite oriented.
Such results are worrying, as they shed light not only on a presumably negative experience but also on a code clash with the college’s propositional content of the practicum, thus jeopardising its success.
One obvious question is why this might have occurred, given that the practicum objectives, along with their propositional content, are provided to the student teachers and reviewed together with their pedagogical advisor.
Recall that students in the Islamic Arab sector tend to emphasise approval from their teacher over meeting their own educational needs (Sonleitner and Khelifa 2005), thus focusing on the status of the teacher as opposed to the pedagogical content.
As such, it is not surprising that many of the instances of Attitude were SR related: the framework in general, assistance received from other teachers, previous experience, teacher/pupil roles, emotional disposition as a teacher and effects of personal life.
Identifying the overall code clash between the aims of the practicum and the perceptions of the student teachers, the reasons behind the clash, and the possible cultural underpinnings can assist in working towards a code match in subsequent practica.

The authors conclude that using fine grained discourse analysis of Arab EFL student teacher reflections, this case study has shed light on the possible mismatch between the western-oriented goals of a student teacher practicum and its uptake by student teachers themselves, presumably due to their traditional Muslim educational background.
Such a code clash is particularly problematic, given the low performance of Arab pupils on national EFL exams, affirming the need for rigorous EFL instruction by well-qualified EFL teachers.
As such, adjustments both to the communication of the practicum objectives and the kinds of reflection skills needed should be considered.
They note that this paper has shown how important a code match between curricular policy and learners is for pedagogy to succeed.
As this case study examined a limited number of participants, despite the rich data obtained, further research with cohorts from various sectors is still needed.
Such work will help inform teacher training colleges in providing a productive practicum experience, which is crucial to the success of new teachers.

Croft, A., J. G. Coggshall, M. Dolan, E. Powers, and J. Killion. 2010. “Job-Embedded Professional Development: What It Is, Who Is Responsible, and How to Get It Done Well”. Issue Brief. National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality, GWQ Mid-Atlantic Comprehensive Center, National Staff Development Council
Halliday, M. A. K. 1976. System and Function in Language. London: Oxford University Press
Martin, J. R., and P. R. White. 2008. The Language of Evaluation: Appraisal in English. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
Sonleitner, N., and M. Khelifa. 2005. “Western-Educated Faculty Challenges in a Gulf Classroom.” Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: Gulf Perspectives 2 (1): 1–21
Wagenaar, M. 2005. “Student Teachers’ Experiences of Practice Teaching.” MA diss., University of Zululand. Accessed 13 February 2018.

Updated: May. 12, 2020