Source: Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 49:2, 177-202
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This study intends to look into the teaching-learning process of service learning by examining the field experiences of pre-service teachers as they participated in a literacy programme for pre-school children from an urban poor community at Quezon City, Philippines as part of their four-year undergraduate curriculum in Early Childhood Education at Miriam College.
It specifically aims to explore the emerging professional identity of pre-service teachers by probing into their lived experiences of school-community collaboration so that situated encounters in service learning can be better understood.
It seeks to gather insights that can be valuable for teacher educators, including cooperating teachers, to prepare pre-service teachers for the rigours of the teaching profession and to support them in the development of their professional identity.
Teacher identity can be reshaped and redefined by several factors.
To look at some of these aspects, a qualitative approach to research was specifically chosen in this study because it can capture the meanings that individuals attribute to their real-world contexts (Fairbrother, 2007).
The researchers carried out an ethnographic case study from July to October 2015 on three pre-service teachers taking part in service learning through CHEERS, which is a literacy programme of the Early Childhood Education Department of Miriam College in collaboration with the local government and a civic organisation of Barangay Loyola Heights at Quezon City, Philippines.
As part of the pre-service teachers’ regular coursework for Assessment in Early Childhood Education, service learning activities implemented in this literacy programme are designed around the enhancement of teacher competencies in early childhood.
These activities involve pre-service teachers performing tasks that are expected of a pre-school teacher.
Tasks include carrying out diagnostic assessments of their students’ developmental needs; making lesson plans; doing lesson demonstrations; preparing instructional materials; conducting formative and summative assessments of pre-school children; participating in collaborative meetings before and after their teaching responsibilities.
The entire engagement in CHEERS exposes them not only to cooperating teachers, who monitor their performance throughout the semester, but also to parents and primary caregivers of the pre-school children they are assigned to teach on Saturdays.
Three pre-service teachers were specifically chosen as participants to this study based on how closely the researchers were able to follow their situated encounters in CHEERS during participant observation.
Data Gathering and Analysis
To better understand situated encounters or critical incidents in CHEERS, the researchers carried out participant observation while the three pre-service teachers attended classes for Assessment in Early Childhood Education and while they contributed to the literacy programme every Saturday morning.
All in all, ten classroom observations and six field visits were done without video recording while these pre-service teachers participated in service learning.
Descriptive notes of interactions between and among people as well as actions taking place (Yin, 2016) were taken down on an observation sheet during classroom observations and field visits.
Immediately at the end of each observation, personal biases in the form of “speculations, feelings, problems, ideas, hunches, impressions, and prejudices” (Bogdan & Biklen, 1992 as cited in Creswell, 1994, p. 152) were entered as reflective notes on the observation sheet so that any biases could be taken into account later on during analysis.
Events noted down during observation then underwent thematic analysis wherein each entry on the observation sheet was coded for its underlying meaning.
Themes that were related to each other were categorised together and further clustered to come up with a list of invariant themes (Creswell, 1994).
The researchers gathered the portfolios, which were submitted by the three key informants to their cooperating teacher.
These portfolios, which were required for the partial fulfilment of their teacher-training programme, were meant to collect and evaluate artefacts from lesson plans, lesson demonstrations, instructional materials, and worksheets that were prepared by the key informants for the literacy programme.
Also, included in the portfolios were the key informants’ self-reflection on the teaching profession and the Philippine educational system.
Narrative accounts from these portfolios, which were marked based on demonstration and evidence of learning, depth of reflection, organisation, and overall presentation, underwent thematic analysis for their possible meanings.
To support the data obtained from observation notes and to validate the emerging themes derived from the submitted portfolios, one of the researchers interviewed the three key informants six months after their service learning in CHEERS ended.
Each semistructured interview focused on probing the key informant about her service learning experiences in CHEERS.
Through thematic analysis wherein line by line were coded and categorised for emerging themes (Creswell, 1994), narratives from these interviews became rich sources of information to examine possible teacher identities that have been negotiated during service learning.
Findings and discussion
In this ethnographic case study of pre-service teachers participating in a literacy programme, social justice became apparent in CHEERS as the expressed needs of the community for literacy were addressed, parents and primary caregivers were empowered to take on an active part in their children’s education, and relationships were sustained with those in the community.
By moving away from the conventional understanding of service learning, pre-service teachers were able to illustrate “teaching for social justice” rather than “just good teaching” (Cochran-Smith et al., 2009, p. 348).
Instead of mere awareness of social justice issues, they began to assume a teacher identity that displays a “conscious and expressed commitment to social justice in teaching” (Boylan & Woolsey, 2015, p. 63).
They not only demonstrated a greater understanding of social issues, but they also capitalised on their privilege to act on systems of inequalities.
In this study, associating oneself to the teaching profession was made possible through service learning wherein the pre-service teachers of Miriam College were given the needed opportunities to learn while teaching pre-school children from an urban poor community.
As shown in this ethnographic case study, the emerging teacher identities from service learning could be understood in terms of one’s professional orientation, task orientation, sense of self-efficacy, and commitment to teaching.
Similar to the study of Sartor (2015), the authors’ findings showed that pre-service teachers were able to make sense of their teacher identity by understanding the role of teachers in providing a supportive learning environment to their students, recognising the characteristics and dispositions that are desirable in an effective teacher, and appreciating the importance of reflection in teaching.
The teacher identities described in this study are neither fixed nor stable.
As Trent (2011) also points out, they are never complete and can shift over time.
Additionally, the findings of this study showed the importance of the reflective aspect of service learning to the ongoing formation of teacher identity.
In this study, the reflective aspect of service learning was made deliberate when preservice teachers were asked by their cooperating teacher to document and examine their service learning experiences in a learning portfolio.
The portfolio not only “provides opportunities for exploring and revealing aspects of the self” (Beauchamp & Thomas, 2009, p. 181), but it also helps pre-service teachers to articulate their emerging teacher identities through the process of self-evaluation and self-reflection.
However, the cooperating teacher in this study could have guided more the reflection of the pre-service teachers towards the following:
first, examining social, economic, and political structures that made their students’ families poor; second, unlearning oppressive assumptions about the less privileged; third, showing compassion for the marginalised and disenfranchised; and fourth, taking concrete actions to address the root causes of social problems.
Specifically, the reflective prompts given to the pre-service teachers could have been more structured and specific so that the meanings attached to their service learning, as Stanton (1990) describes, are not “haphazard, accidental, and superficial” (p. 185).
In this study, the steady presence of the cooperating teacher in providing feedback and mentoring within and outside the context of service learning had been crucial to support and guide pre-service teachers as they transition from student to teacher.
This steadiness is invaluable for pre-service teachers to learn about many facets of teaching, which are essential to their emerging teacher identities:
these include learning about providing differentiated instructions, managing the classroom, and dealing with parents and primary caregivers, among others (Clark & Byrnes, 2012).
The cooperating teacher had been instructively and psychologically effective in supporting and guiding the pre-service teachers in this study because she was able to build and maintain strong relationships with them.
To do so requires creating a safe space and fostering a positive environment for pre-service teachers to open up without difficulty about their experiences and to express sincerely their sentiments and feelings.
But feedback and mentoring do not only come from the cooperating teacher.
As shown in this study, peers and members of the family provided the necessary feedback and mentoring to pre-service teachers while they take part in service learning.
These individuals are “significant others” to the pre-service teachers and can therefore “shape their understanding of the process of becoming a teacher and how effective they can be at teaching” (Izadinia, 2018, p. 110).
In fact, they can reinforce the support, guidance, and acceptance that the pre-service teachers get from their cooperating teacher.
That is why they too can contribute, in part, to the emerging professional identities of pre-service teachers.
The field experiences of these aspiring teachers and the meanings they represented are insightful enough to illustrate how a school-community collaboration can facilitate the professional orientation, task orientation, self-efficacy, and commitment of pre-service teachers.
Their situated encounters or critical incidents in service learning gained relevance partly because of opportunities for reflection as well as moments of feedback and mentoring.
Hence, in teacher education, the deliberate practice of reflective inquiry, feedback, and mentoring can be beneficial to the professional development of pre-service teachers.
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