Supporting Pre-Service Teachers in Becoming Reflective Practitioners Using Conversation and Professional Standards

October, 2020

Source: Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 45(10)

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study aimed to address the potential devaluing of reflection in professional experience through exploring a novel approach that facilitates greater understandings of the professional standards in practice.
The approach involves a series of printed question prompts, or provocations, in the form of Conversation Cards.
These cards were intended to facilitate pre-service teacher (PST) reflection and PST-mentor teacher interactions within and around professional experience.
As a series of question prompts, the cards were devised to provoke reflective thinking with the intent to improve practice as a consequence of reflective conversations with self and mentor in relation to meeting teacher standards.
In doing so, the study also aimed to partly address an ongoing concern for initial teacher education (ITE) and its role in the provision of professional experience to prepare PSTs for the profession.
The intention of this study is to better understand the journey of ‘becoming’ from the perspective of the PST; someone who is starting to experience the classroom as an educator and in the early stages of forming their teacher identity.
For this paper, the focus is particularly drawn to three key areas emerging from the literature – professional experience, teacher standards and reflective practice.

Qualitative methodologies are a natural fit for education research as they reflect the complexities that are inherent in learning and teaching as well as provide an illuminating lens for lived experiences (Atkins & Wallace, 2012).
In relation to the problem being explored through this study, a qualitative lens enables the probing of insights and ideas to develop a more informed, holistic view of the impact of structured conversation for PSTs.
In this instance to understand PSTs’ developing reflective practice from their own perspective, case study research provided a way into valuing and showcasing their voices.
This particular case-study site, a campus of approximately 1600 students in suburban Melbourne, was considered an ideal candidate for piloting the Conversation Cards.
Previous experiences with the case-study school (Clemans, Loughran & O’Connor, 2017) revealed a summative assessment approach towards using the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APSTs) as the predominant practice.
Despite initial information and conversations about how PSTs were being assessed against the standards, it was not until the placement was coming to an end that both mentors and PSTs began to engage in the assessment materials.

A cohort of 80 PSTs enrolled in a Bachelor of Education (Secondary) with a disciplinary focus on health and physical education were involved in this pilot project. Each participant (and their mentor) was provided with a set of Conversation Cards and a background briefing from authors 1 and 3 about the intention of this reflective tool.
Twelve PSTs responded to an invitation to participate in a focus group interview towards the end of their professional experience, which adopted a distributed approach over Term 2 (approximately 10 weeks over April to June in the Australian context), to discuss their experiences.
They had received a briefing on the intent of the Conversation Cards prior to their professional experience and were asked to use them to engage in reflective conversations about their developing practices with their mentor.

Data collection
The pilot nature of the study limited data collection to focus group interviews as an appropriate starting point for understanding the impact of the Conversation Cards on reflective practices.
Two focus group interviews (FGIs) were conducted with five PSTs in the first cohort and seven PSTs in the second.
The approach to the FGI was semi-structured in nature and the questions reflect a flexibility and reflexivity to further probe the PSTs’ emergent responses.
The FGI questions were informed by the literature, but more so the authors’ lived experiences working alongside pre-service and mentor teachers through professional experience over a number of years.
There were five FGI interview questions including What was your experience of using the cards to promote professional dialogue? and What did you see as the benefits of the cards?
Each FGI was about 45 minutes in length, conducted by either the first (FGI 2) or third (FGI 1) author in a meeting space at the focal school, at a time convenient to the participants, and was audio-recorded before being transcribed.

Data Analysis
The intent of qualitative studies such as this is to allow for the emergence of rich, ‘thick’ descriptions of the phenomena being experienced (Merriam, 1998). Rather than informing the meaning making process with existing theories, the use of emergent interpretations is an appropriate way to approach data analysis steeped in grounded theoretical understandings of research (Corbin & Strauss, 2008).
In this case, the data set – the interview transcripts from the two focus group discussions – was scrutinised using an inductive approach.

Findings and discussion
Findings suggest that the Conversation Cards were not entirely effective in stimulating conversations between mentor teachers and PSTs.
This intent was largely impacted on by the lack of any structured and/or focused time to have these conversations.
In some cases, the question prompts themselves were not successful in generating reflective discussion as they were viewed by the PSTs as not spontaneous enough or too formal.
Equally, the connection (or lack of) that mentor teachers had with the APSTs did play a role in the uptake of these conversational prompts.
This tool did, however, provide some PSTs with support in engaging in reflective conservations with their mentors through building confidence via language support and promotion of different insights into practice.
Surprisingly, the question prompts were also found to be useful in supporting PSTs to work autonomously during their professional experience, such as with planning and self- reflection.
Further research is needed to determine the potential benefits and impact of including a more structured introduction to the use of the cards for both PSTs and mentors and formalised meetings within the scope of professional experience for reflective discussions.
The next steps for this particular project are to refine the Conversation Cards based on feedback from PSTs, mentor teachers and teacher educators.
The use of prompt questions to structure professional conversation will again be piloted with data gathered from mentor teachers to further understand the effectiveness of this approach in developing reflective and APST- informed practices in PSTs.
From a bigger picture perspective, if these Conversation Cards, with minimal prompting of PSTs, are able to foster reflective practice they would offer a sustainable, easily implemented and cost-effective resource.
Importantly, beyond this specific resource, this project opens up a conversation about the value of reframing the APSTs into question prompts to increase accessibility and usefulness in terms of informing and shaping PSTs’ practice.
While this study was small-scale and exploratory in nature, it does highlight what can be practically done during professional experience using existing measures to meaningfully and authentically support PSTs in becoming reflective practitioners.

Atkins, L. & Wallace, S. (2012). Qualitative research in education. London, UK.: SAGE Publications.
Corbin, J.M., & Strauss, A.L. (2008). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Clemans, A., Loughran, J., & O’Connor, J. (2017). University coursework and school experience: The challenge to amalgamate learning. In A companion to research in teacher education (pp. 713-724). Springer, Singapore.
Merriam, S.B. (1998). Case study research in education: A qualitative approach (2nd ed.).San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Updated: Jun. 24, 2021