Teacher Candidates' Perspectives on the Value of a Site-Based Methods Course

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Published: 
October - December, 2020

Source: The Teacher Educator, 55:4, 323-346

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Few studies have found that site-based methods courses are able to help teacher candidates (TCs) connect their field experiences and coursework (e.g., Allsopp et al., 2006; Ridley et al., 2005), the purpose of this study was to further explore which features of a site-based course TCs found to be facilitative of connections between their university coursework and their field experiences.
The authors asked the research question:
According to pre-service TCs, which features of a site-based course are most facilitative of connections between the coursework and their field experiences?

Methods

Context
The present study of TCs’ perspectives on the affordances of a site-based course took place in a university town located in the state of Michigan in the United States.
The school that partnered with the university for the site-based course was a suburban public school with approximately 365 students in grades kindergarten through fifth.
Aligned with the university teacher preparation program’s ongoing efforts to provide TCs with embedded learning experiences connected to the surrounding community and local schools, a senior faculty member and a junior faculty member who was the lead course instructor (Author 1) conceptualized a pilot of a site-based elementary literacy methods course, which was the context for the present study.
Every Monday during the spring semester of their senior year, the 25 TCs enrolled in the course spent two hours in their field placement classrooms in the morning, and for three hours in the afternoon, they attended their literacy methods class in the library of the school.
As part of the course, the TCs had to complete a minimum of 20 of their 600 field hours required for licensure in the state of Michigan.
To support the development of the TCs’ pedagogical content knowledge, practitioner-oriented texts and articles were assigned as course readings, and three field-based assignments were designed to serve as “approximations of practice” (Grossman et al., 2009, p. 2078) for which the TCs gathered assessment data, planned a lesson based on those data, enacted the lesson, and reflected upon it to identify their own strengths and challenges as teachers as well as suggest next steps for their students’ learning.
There were two course instructors: the junior faculty member (Author 1) and a fixed-term faculty member (Author 3).
In lieu of holding office hours at the university, the instructors were on site at the school before, during, and after the TCs’ time in the field; as a result, they were able to spend time in some of the TCs’ field placement classrooms and occasionally observe a TC teaching a lesson.
Because the TCs’ field time was slightly staggered, they were also able to meet with TCs prior to class, individually or in small groups, as well as before or after their field time.
At the start of class, immediately after the TCs had spent time in the field, they facilitated collective (pair, small-group, and whole-group) reflections and debriefings of the TCs’ field experiences (e.g., teaching a lesson associated with an assignment, observing, working with students).

Participants
At the end of this course in the spring semester of their senior year, all of the TCs in the class were invited to participate in the study.
Of the 25 TCs enrolled in the course, 12 consented to participate.

Data collection and analysis

Survey
The 12 participants completed the survey online after their final course grades had been submitted to the registrar.
The survey consisted of 18 Likert-type scale items and five constructed response items.

Interview
The analysis of the survey data informed the design of the interview.
In designing the interview, the authors considered what they wanted to know more about: the TCs’ perspectives on how they best learn about the practice of teaching, how they perceive the value of theory versus practice for their own learning, and their reasoning underpinning their ratings on the Likert-scale survey items (i.e., why specific elements of the course were most supportive of their ability to make connections between the coursework and the field experience).
A request to participate in the interview was emailed to all 12 participants.
Five TCs responded and participated in a structured interview via Zoom video conference software.

Findings and discussion
The authors’ findings suggest the TCs regarded opportunities to work with children in classrooms, their instructors’ involvement in the field, and opportunities to talk about and reflect upon their teaching experiences with the course instructors and their peers immediately after being in the field to be the most advantageous features of a site-based course.
Consistent with theoretical models of novice teacher learning that recognize both the cognitive and the social dimensions of learning to teach (e.g., Korthagen, 2017), in the present study, all of the TCs’ responses to the survey and interview questions indicated that while reading and discussing course readings helped them understand the "why" underpinning a practice, working with children in the classroom was one of the primary aspects that enabled their ability to make connections between their coursework and their field experiences.
The TCs’ full engagement in the practice of teaching with children helped them see and experience for themselves what did and did not work.
While most course instructors in teacher preparation programs have P-12 teaching experience, site-based course instructors also share, with the TCs in their course, knowledge of a specific school context.
As such, instructors of site-based courses can act as “flexible architects” (Korthagen, 2017, p. 539) or “brokers” (Kubiak, Fenton-O’Creevy, et al., 2015, p. 82) who assist TCs in the process of applying their knowledge for practice to circumstances they have experienced in practice.
Residing at the intersection of multiple communities that hold meaning for TCs (e.g., the P-12 classroom, the teacher preparation program, the site-based methods course itself), methods course instructors are in a unique position to “broker” novices’ understanding of how knowledge that is privileged in one community differs from and complements knowledge that is privileged in another community (Kubiak, Fenton-O’Creevy, et al., 2015, p. 82). In the present study, such brokering involved noticing and leveraging TCs’ “boundary-crossing encounters”—the times and places where knowledge in and for practice overlapped or produced “incongruences” (Kubiak, Fenton-O’Creevy, et al., 2015, p. 65)—as teachable moments directly related to TCs’ field experiences.
Furthermore, because all of the TCs in the site-based course were in the same school for their field time, instructors could easily observe TCs’ interactions with students in classrooms before the methods course met and provide immediate feedback, which was one of the elements Ridley et al. (2005) pointed to as contributing to greater teaching effectiveness.
In sum, the present study points to the potential and promise of site-based methods courses as contexts where TCs can recognize and appreciate the differences between knowledge for practice and knowledge in practice (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999).
Whereas coursework in university-based teacher preparation programs has typically been associated with the development of TCs’ academic knowledge (i.e., knowledge for practice), TCs’ field experiences fulfilled as part of state and programmatic requirements generally focus more on practical knowledge (i.e., knowledge in practice) (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999; Ridley et al., 2005; Zeichner, 2010).
By recognizing the differences in these forms of knowledge, as well as how and why they are cultivated, the need for each becomes more apparent. Rather than seeing the two in opposition to one another, the ways in which TCs’ coursework and field experiences foster knowledge for and in practice can be made explicit for TCs, particularly in a site-based methods course where encountering boundaries between the course and the field is an inherent part of the experience.

References
Allsopp, D. H., DeMarie, D., Alvarez-McHatton, P., & Doone, E. (2006). Bridging the gap between theory and practice: Connecting courses with field experiences. Teacher Education Quarterly, 33(1), 19–35.
Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (1999). Relationships of knowledge and practice: Teacher learning in communities. Review of Research in Education, 24, 249–305.
Grossman, P., Compton, C., Igra, D., Ronfeldt, M., Shahan, E., & Williamson, P. W. (2009). Teaching practice: A cross-professional perspective. Teachers College Record, 111(9), 2055–2100.
Korthagen, F. (2017). A foundation for effective teacher education: Teacher education pedagogy based on situated learning. In D. J. Clandinin & J. Husu (Eds.), The sage handbook of research on teacher education (Vol. 2, pp. 528–544). SAGE Publications Ltd.
Kubiak, C., Fenton-O’Creevy, M., Appleby, K., Kempster, M., Reed, M., Solvason, C., & Thorpe, M. (2015). Brokering boundary encounters. In E. Wenger-Trayner, M. Fenton-O’Creevy, S. Hutchinson, C. Kubiak, & B. Wenger-Trayner (Eds.), Learning in landscapes of practice: Boundaries, identity, and knowledgeability in practice-based learning. (pp. 81–96). Routledge.
Ridley, D. S., Hurwitz, S., Hackett, M. R. D., & Miller, K. K. (2005). Comparing PDS and campus-based preservice teacher preparation: Is PDS-based preparation really better? Journal of Teacher Education, 56(1), 46–56.
Zeichner, K. (2010). Rethinking the connections between campus courses and field experiences in college- and university-based teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 61(1–2), 89–504. 

Updated: Mar. 09, 2021
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