Finnish pre-service teachers’ perceptions of their strategic learning skills and collaboration dispositions

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Published: 
February 2020

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, 46:1, 71-86

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The participants of this study are Finnish undergraduate teacher education students, who have just entered their university studies, and hence, the authors expect that their attitudes derive partly from their previous high school learning contexts and practices.
Hence, they are interested in variation among student teachers’ perceived generic skills and dispositions at the beginning of their studies instead of variation between situations along studies.
The aim of this exploratory study was to investigate the following research questions:
(1) What kinds of profiles emerge in terms of Finnish first-year pre-service teachers’ perceptions of their strategic learning skills and collaboration dispositions?
(2) What background variables explain pre-service teachers’ belonging in the profiles found?

Methods

Participants and procedure
The study participants were first-year pre-service teachers from three Finnish universities.
Of the 872 respondents, 23% were male and 77% female, which can be regarded as a typical distribution of male and female pre-service teachers in Finland (Finnish National Board of Education 2016).
The response rate was 83%.
Finnish pre-service teachers graduate in five years with a master’s degree in education, which gives them competencies to teach pupils in a comprehensive school, in grades 1 through 6. Data collection was conducted in the autumns of 2014, 2015 and 2016. Data were gathered with an online questionnaire as a part of the teacher education courses.

Measures
The questionnaire, combined with the data from the study register, consisted of the following background variables: gender, high school average, entrance exam scores, previous studies, teaching experience and life satisfaction.
The pre-service teachers were asked to indicate the ladder step on which they would place their lives at the present time and in five years. In addition to the background variables, the pre-service teachers were asked to assess their strategic learning skills and collaboration dispositions using a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (I completely disagree) to 7 (I completely agree).

Results and discussion
The present study examined, first, what kind of profiles emerge among Finnish first-year pre-service teachers regarding their strategic learning skills and collaboration dispositions, and second, what background variables explain membership of the profiles.
Latent profile analysis (LPA) found five student profiles corresponding to perceived strategic learning skills and collaboration dispositions with the most robust factor explaining the membership in the profiles being life satisfaction.
There were two particularly interesting and theoretically meaningful profiles that in a way are opposite to/mirror each other.
The first profile (Average in strategies, low in collaboration, 26.8%) represents a group of pre-service teachers that view themselves as skilful in strategic learning, but do not in general have a high preference for working in a team, to take the responsibility for teamwork nor to listen to others, negotiate and adjust own actions to the actions of the collaborating group.
These pre-service teachers’ co-operative mindset was as low as those in the Low in all profile, and team leadership and negotiation were the second lowest among the profiles. Moreover, they had fewer previous university studies and teaching experiences than pre-service teachers belonging to the High in all profile.
Particularly, compared to High in all profile pre-service teachers, their expected life satisfaction was low.
It can be assumed that although relatively stable in nature, collaboration dispositions are influenced by strategic skills as well as the studying and working environment.
Due to lack of previous university education and teacher experience, these pre-service teachers lacked prior opportunities to practice collaboration with peers and teacher colleagues.
It is noteworthy that their expected life satisfaction was low, which may contribute to lack of agency and low engagement in active learning in general (Järvelä and Renninger 2014), and probably for that reason, strategic skills were at the moderate level.
Given that teachers’ work is increasingly collaborative (Vangrieken et al. 2015), this is a group of students who may benefit from in-service teacher education, which prioritises teamwork and collaboration.
This group of students would also be worth following up to monitor the development of their collaboration dispositions to find out whether Finnish teacher education improves not only skills, but also their willingness to collaborate.
The opposite group, as a second profile type, includes pre-service teachers who do view their strategic learning skills as low, but have a stronger preference for collaboration (Low in strategies, average in collaboration, 17.3%).
One explanation can be in developing learning cultures prior to higher education studies (Hakkarainen et al. 1998).
While some Finnish high schools have been more active in promoting collaborative learning practices, other schools may have stressed more individual learning strategies. These pre-service teachers reported particularly high levels of co-operative mind set and team leadership.
Compared to pre-service teachers in the High in all profile, they had lower high school average and university entrance exam scores, less previous university education and low expected life satisfaction.
They had the same level of teaching experience as pre-service teachers in the High in all profile and, thus, similar opportunities for involvement in collaboration with in-service teachers.
The most robust factor explaining pre-service teachers belonging in profiles was their evaluated life satisfaction after five years.
The results indicated that the Finnish pre-service teachers in all the other profiles were less likely to be satisfied with their life situation after five years than pre-service teachers in the High in all profile.
Earlier research has indicated that life satisfaction positively predicts young adults’ engagement in university education or work (Upadyaya and Salmela-Aro 2017).
This indicates that getting to know how to learn and to develop one’s own learning skills can contribute to individuals’ well-being and general life satisfaction (McLaughlin 2008).
This study provides evidence for the heterogeneity of pre-service teachers in their individual strategic skills and collaboration dispositions.
In a practical sense, the findings imply a need to highlight differing profiles of future teachers and search for more fine-grained and adaptive pre-service learning environments.
For example, pre-service teachers in the Low in all profile of this study might need more consistent support in many of the skills areas, whereas some pre-service teachers might perceive some skills as strong, but some others as not so strong.
In future, support for both individual and collaboration skills need to be integrated with each other in a fluent way.

References
Finnish National Board of Education. 2016. Luokanopettajakoulutus, Kaikki Yliopistot [Teacher training, all universities]. Accessed 23 November 2017. http://vipunen.fi/
Järvelä, S., and K. A. Renninger. 2014. “Designing for Learning: Interest, Motivation, and Engagement.” In Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences, Second Edition, edited by D. K. Sawyer, 668–685. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Hakkarainen, K., S. Järvelä, L. Lipponen, and E. Lehtinen. 1998. “Culture of Collaboration in Computer-supported Learning: Finnish Perspectives.” Journal of Interactive Learning Research 9: 271–288.
McLaughlin, C. 2008. “Emotional Well-being and Its Relationship to Schools and Classrooms: A Critical Reflection.” British Journal of Guidance and Counselling 36 (4): 353–366. 
Upadyaya, K., and K. Salmela-Aro. 2017. “Developmental Dynamics between Young Adults’ Life Satisfaction and Engagement with Studies and Work.” Longitudinal and Life Course Studies 8 (1): 20–34.
Vangrieken, K., F. Dochy, E. Raes, and E. Kyndt. 2015. “Teacher Collaboration: A Systematic Review.” Educational Research Review 15: 17–40. 

Updated: Dec. 29, 2020
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