Exploring the Structure and Benefits of an Integrated Yearlong Dual Certification Student Teaching Internship

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Published: 
June, 2020

Source: The Teacher Educator, 55:2, 165-189

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This exploratory pilot study examined one facet of a dual certification teacher preparation program; a yearlong integrated special education and general education elementary school internship. The main goal was to better understand preservice teacher and mentor teacher experiences with the model and also to illustrate how teacher preparation programs that are seeking ways to integrate special education and general education content and pedagogy might take steps toward integration through design of field experiences.
An additional goal of the study was to set the foundation for a scaled-up research project exploring the benefit and impact of integrated yearlong field experiences within the context of a dual certification program.
This exploratory study seeks to describe the strengths and benefits of the integrated yearlong internship model based on participant feedback.
Furthermore, the study offers an example of how a teacher preparation program can take steps toward integrating special education and elementary education content delivery within field experiences to move toward a merged and collaborative model for dual certification even when implementation of additional markers of practice proves more difficult.

Research design
This bounded case study (Merriam, 1998) examines the perspectives of former preservice teacher candidates and school professionals on the value and features of the integrated model.
The primary research question was:
“In what ways do former preservice teacher candidates and current school personnel describe the impact of the yearlong experience as it relates to the preservice teacher, the school, and the preparedness to enter the field?”

Methods

Site selection - The case study site was Lake School [pseudonym], an urban K–5 elementary school.
Preservice teacher candidates placed at the site had two mentor teachers, one special educator and one elementary general educator, who collaborated with the university supervisor to facilitate the yearlong field experience.

Recruitment - An information sheet and a recruitment letter were e-mailed to graduates from the dual certification program who completed a yearlong internship at the selected site within six years of the time of the study.
The letter was also sent to all school personnel who served as mentor teachers during this time period and the former school principal who was involved for several years.
Six former preservice teacher candidates and six school personnel consented to participate in the study.
The former preservice teacher candidates all currently teach in the field in either elementary general education teacher or special educator roles but are not employed at Lake School.
The school personnel comprised one former principal and five mentor teachers.
 

Data collection - The data collected included interview responses and document review. Interview data were collected in three ways using the same set of interview questions.
In addition, preservice teacher candidate portfolios and corresponding internship manuals were reviewed to provide additional context.
All participants were invited to review the transcripts of their individual responses to check for accuracy.

Findings and discussion
Findings indicated that the research participants
(a) placed value on the breadth and authenticity of the experience, including the opportunities to participate in all phases of a school year;
(b) built deep relationships with students and staff that contributed to building confidence; and
(c) felt the structure and impact of the model yielded positive outcomes for both the school and for preservice teacher candidates.
The participants also reported that preservice teacher candidates had greater opportunity to build an understanding of the distinct roles and responsibilities of the general education teachers and special educators within an inclusive elementary school setting and that this awareness helped them learn more about their own interests to inform their job search postgraduation.
There was an acknowledgment among many of the participants that being trained as both an elementary general educator and special educator added value as far as employment was concerned.
This was corroborated by the fact that former preservice teacher educators who participated in the study were hired in professional positions as either special educators or elementary general education teachers upon graduating.
There was also some indication that the model promotes stronger partnership between the school and the university through the consistency and quality of supervision associated with the model and the breadth of the experience.
CAEP Standard 2 emphasizes the need for teacher preparation programs to collaborate with field partners to design high quality clinical field work that have sufficient breadth in order to produce candidates who will have a positive effect on student learning. Additionally, CAEP Standard 2 advocates for teacher preparation programs and field partners to work together to create field experiences that are mutually beneficial (Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, 2013).
Participants in the study specifically noted that the value of the breadth of the yearlong integrated internship in benefitting both the teacher candidate as well as the school site.
Although the study did not specifically measure the impact of the model on the K–5 students, the move toward an integrated yearlong model aligned with national accreditation efforts to strengthen clinical field experiences.

Further, the study revealed that restructuring the internship into a yearlong model yielded some positive outcomes in relationship to the markers of practice described by Blanton and Pugach (2011).
While this study primarily focused on the pK–12 partnership marker, the process of integrating the yearlong internship simultaneously touched on three additional markers: depth of knowledge, faculty collaboration, and student assessment.
A key element of the marker pK-12 partnerships is the degree to which university faculty and school personnel collaborate to facilitate field experiences that enhance preservice teacher candidates’ ability to meet the needs of diverse learners (Blanton & Pugach, 2011).
Lake School was specifically chosen as the site to build the integrated yearlong internship model due to the diversity of its student body and the willingness of school personnel to collaborate with university faculty.
The former preservice teacher candidates who participated in the study reported that the experience at Lake School enhanced their confidence in working with a diverse student body.
In addition, as university faculty across both general and special education programs worked together to design the yearlong experience, they created opportunities for faculty in either elementary or special education programs to be supervisors for the entire yearlong experience.
This increased faculty collaboration.
A third marker, depth of knowledge, was addressed in the redesign through revising assignments and adding new assignments.
Although some assignment changes occurred, data gathered through the interview and focus groups indicated that, while participants valued the range of assignments, there was also differing points of view on the degree to which candidates were effectively prepared to take on the full responsibility of completing special education paperwork.
This type of feedback should open up the possibility of deeper conversations about the types of assignments and experiences that will ensure that the entire yearlong experience is comprehensive within both the elementary and special education domains.
Finally, the marker student assessment is reflected in the portfolio assessment that preservice teacher candidates completed at the end of student teaching.
Prior to integration of the yearlong internship, candidates developed discrete portfolios of their work in special and elementary education.
The new structure of the integrated internship allowed for students to reflect their knowledge and skills in both special and elementary education competencies in one portfolio.

References
Blanton, L. P., & Pugach, M. C. (2011). Using a classification system to probe the meaning of dual licensure in general and special education. Teacher Education and Special Education: The Journal of the Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children, 34(3), 219–234. doi:10.1177/0888406411404569
Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. (2013). CAEP accreditation standards. Retrieved from http://caepnet.org/standards/standard-2
Merriam, S. B. (1998). Qualitative research and case study applications in education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Updated: Sep. 10, 2020
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