Developing research-informed practice in initial teacher education through school-university partnering


Source: Professional Development in Education, 46:1, 5-20

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This paper reports on a case study approach (Merriam 1998; Flyvbjerg 2011) which was used to investigate the roles of the university and the schools in preparing student teachers to draw on theoretical understanding of creativity in a practical context (Lave and Wenger 1991).
The case study discussed here sought to explore the role that situated learning plays within teacher education and consider what is meant by ‘partnering teacher education’ using the context of the university taught and school based module within which this research took place.
One of the aims of the case study was to investigate whether the students’ reflections and evaluations would inform planning for their final individual block placement.

Drawing on the perceptions of student teachers, children and their teachers the case study was designed within the interpretivist paradigm (Savin-Baden and Major 2013), using phenomenological data collection tools including interviews, focus groups and an online survey providing qualitative data in both narrative and numerical form (Merriam 1998, Denscombe 2010, Flyvbjerg 2011).
The case study sample comprised five schools, 10 school colleagues including classroom teachers, deputy head teachers and head teachers who were interviewed after the week placement.
Fifty children aged between 6 and 11 participated in focus groups, two groups of about five children in each of the five schools conducted by members of the research team.
Out of the 120 university based student teachers 48 chose to complete an online questionnaire post module but pre final block placement.
Additionally, four student teachers volunteered to participate in a focus group post final block totalling 52 students.
Data for phase three were collected during and after the University teacher education Master’s module ‘the Creative and Effective curriculum’ which assessed, through both an individual 3000- word rationale and a group 2000 word annotated plan, the student teachers’ analytical reflection on the children’s learning as a result of their planned activities during the ‘creativity week’.
Each of the schools was ‘saturated’ with a large group of between 20 and 30 students, working in teams (between 2 and 5 in each class).
A post placement final session offered students an opportunity to reflect as a group on their practice and produce an annotated plan and individual evaluative report from the week.

Findings and implications
The case study findings suggest that there was a range of competence levels in student teachers’ theoretical and pedagogical understanding of approaches to learning and their ability to implement these in the classroom.
Case study data from teachers, children and the students themselves provided evidence of student expertise which ranged from basic to developing theoretical understanding or pedagogical content knowledge (Philpott 2014).
Some class teachers maintained acute or tight control on the learning, whereas other class teachers allowed students more freedom to develop their teacher autonomy.
There were very few students in “Task Managers” category in the case study given that the course was masters level and at interview and induction there was a clear expectation to engage in research and reading, despite the time limits of a one year course.
The authors’ findings suggest that many students at the stage of the one week placement could be described as “Curriculum deliverers” (Twiselton 2007) because they had engaged in some research and reading and the school afforded some degree of freedom for trialing new ideas but their practice exemplifies Schön’s ‘technical rationality’ (Schön 1993, in Philpott 2014, p. 9) where strategies are ‘taken off the peg’ and applied in a different context, sometimes successfully, other times not so depending on the autonomy afforded by the class teacher and the student’s level of reflection.

Evidence from the focus groups, student questionnaires and from the quality of some of the assignments suggests that some students could be described as “skills/concept builders” or reflective practitioners (Twiselton and Elton-Chalcraft 2018).
These students were given complete freedom by the school and were able to put into practice theoretical ideas; they possessed a developing pedagogical knowledge which they reflected on during and after each lesson.
Activities were not necessarily successful for these students – often things did not go according to plan, but concepts builders often gained high marks in the assignment because they were able to reflect on what went wrong and why, and similarly what worked well and why with reference to the literature.
Evidence from students, teachers and also children shows that many student teachers relished being more autonomous, drawing on theory to inform or reflect on practice by trialing ideas from the literature rather than cloning their class teacher’s possibly entrenched practice.
However, this is a complex issue and the data also shows that while many student teachers enjoyed the freedom to make mistakes, try out new ideas and give children more ownership of their learning, in some classrooms this was not the case even though these class teachers should have been aware of the requirements of the one-week placement.

In this article, findings have shown that partnering models between student teachers, school based and university-based colleagues, which are rooted in theoretical evaluation are essential.
Schools which afford student teachers some degree of autonomy thus provide the student with space to take risks and learn from mistakes, albeit in a controlled and safe environment, and when this is coupled with a student’s developing theoretical and pedagogical understanding an outstanding teacher can be nurtured.
Findings have impacted on the research team’s practice and they emphasise even more strongly the importance of reading widely, taking calculated risks, translating theory into practice and evaluating practice intelligently in order to improve future learning.
They have also tried to improve their relationship with schools and endeavouring to communicate more clearly with all staff the intention to develop student autonomy so that outstanding teachers can flourish.

This research has provided an evidence base, admittedly drawn from a small sample of schools and students, which suggests that an acknowledgement of the complexities involved in effective teacher education, as exemplified in the intersection of theoretical understanding/pedagogy and opportunities for autonomy might enable more nuanced support.
When the school context is too constraining or laisse faire or when the severe time constraints of a one year course prevent sufficient knowledge and skills base then it will be no surprise that student teachers fail to develop into excellent teachers.
However, the authors’ findings also suggest that a teacher educator and school based mentor who have a shared understanding, through third space dialogue (Jackson and Burch 2013, 2018) of the needs of the student teacher, in terms of the student’s pedagogical abilities and school context, should have more success in nurturing outstanding professionals

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Twiselton, S. and Elton-Chalcraft, 2018. Unit 2.4 ‘moving from novice to expert teacher’. In: J. Arthur and T. Cremin, eds. Learning to teach in the primary school. 4th ed. London: Routledge, 88–100.

Updated: Jul. 28, 2020