Pre-service and in-service teachers’ professional learning through the pedagogical exchange of ideas during a teaching abroad experience

April, 2021

Source: Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 49:2, 230-244

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study explores the professional learning of ten PSTs from Hong Kong and ten host school teachers in a school in China who participated in the teaching abroad project.
The study is underpinned by the following question:
What aspects of professional learning do PSTs and host teachers acquire from a study abroad experience aimed at preparing them for teaching in the 21st century?
The project under examination involved both taught sessions at the teacher education (TE) faculty as well as a two-week teaching experience at a primary school in Ningbo, China.
It was open to senior year students (last two years of the programme) who had already participated in a domestic practicum in Hong Kong and taken a number of teacher preparation courses.
Ten students took part in the project while the first author was the course tutor (henceforth referred to as the tutor) responsible for teaching the courses and attending the two-week teaching abroad experience.
The tutor, while being a novice teacher educator (the project was initiated in his second year at the university), had taught in primary school in Hong Kong for seven years and had had previous opportunities to visit schools and observe lessons in China.
He was therefore familiar with the teaching contexts in Hong Kong and China.
In the second year of the project (2017–2018), a further ten PSTs were involved.
In addition, ten English language teachers working in the host school in Ningbo participated.
The project aimed to benefit both the PSTs as well as teachers in the host school.
This led to the development of two sets of complementary objectives.
These objectives were developed in response to the perceived needs of the participants’ professional learning and in response to the shifting needs of teaching in each context.
The taught sessions were conducted before the experience and involved analysis of videos of the teachers in the school teaching, the teaching materials and lesson plans, and discussion of the school’s needs.
To facilitate collaboration with the school teachers and to actualise objectives, the students were paired and allocated a teaching partner from the school, creating a teaching team.
They made contact before the experience through a Chinese social media platform in early 2018.
The project adopted a lesson study approach (Fernandez, 2002) where the students and host teachers would discuss the lesson, teach the lesson, reflect on the lesson with feedback from the tutor and/or their peers and then re-teach the lesson to another class.
Students were also encouraged to observe and give feedback to their peers.
Additional activities were also organised to help enhance the language environment, including before-school big book reading aloud sessions, and English extra-curricular activities, such as cooking, drama, and crafts.
In order to demonstrate different teaching approaches the students and teachers had the freedom to develop lessons without the constraints of the textbook.
This led students to develop a short teaching unit of five or six lessons culminating in a final product or task.


Data collection
Two open-ended questionnaires were designed for this study.
One questionnaire was given to the participants before the project started to elicit data on their expectations of the project regarding their professional learning (Pre-Q).
The second questionnaire was given after the project was completed to examine the perceptions of the project’s impact on their actual professional learning (Post-Q).
In addition to the open-ended questionnaires, pre-service teacher participants’ reflective journal entries were used as a data collection tool (Reflection).
These were completed as part of the course requirement.
Students were required to submit on-going reflections, with a minimum of 4 entries:
one pre-project entry, two during-project entry and one post-project entry.

Data analysis
Data was analysed using thematic analysis, and Goodwin’s (2010) five knowledge domains for teaching was employed as the framework for analysis.
Patterns and themes within the data were identified, analysed and reported with minimal organisation but with rich description of data (Braun & Clarke, 2006).

Findings and discussion
The small number of participants notwithstanding, this project reports a positive impact on the PSTs involved helping them develop professional knowledge necessary for teaching in the 21st century.
The PSTs were found to reflect and re-examine their own learning and abilities and through their adjustment to the unfamiliar context, they become responsive to their learners’ needs, developed pedagogical skills beyond those developed in their domestic practicum, and through collaboration developed rapport and respect for the teachers and students in the school.
Although, some of these gains might be achieved during a domestic teaching practicum, the authors believe the unfamiliar context provided space for the students to challenge their conceptions and attended to the knowledge domains proposed by Goodwin (2010).
The unfamiliar context allowed them to compare and contrast the project with their experiences in their domestic practicum (Ateşkan, 2016).
In addition, the host teachers were able to look at their own teaching from a fresh, unfamiliar outside perspective and develop knowledge through the pedagogical exchange of ideas (Goodwin, 2010).
They were seen to re-evaluate their practices and assumptions about teaching while actively considering implementing different and new teaching methods and approaches.
In sum, the project became a catalyst for change.
This study has shown that when teaching abroad projects are developed by ITE institutions to specifically compliment and address deficits in the current ITE programmes, and involve the tutor in all aspects, including walking alongside the PSTs throughout the project with the goal of benefiting all stakeholders, then the projects can be seen to lead to professional learning for all participants.
Previous studies have not explored the reciprocal benefits of alternative experiences on the host communities (Harfitt & Chow, 2018; Kabilan, 2013) and while it is too early to say whether this learning will have any long-term benefits to their teaching, the authors have witnessed more significant growth in their students (both personal and professional) than during their domestic practicum.
As Moorhouse (2018a) reports, the involvement of the tutor is important to such projects and ensures that the learning is connected to their ITE programme and maintains academic rigour and professional foci.
Meanwhile, the tutors themselves can benefit from working closely with their PSTs.
Furthermore, the authors’ relationship with the host school allowed for a great amount of flexibility for the PSTs, which they believe, added to the gains in the students’ professional learning.
They understand that these relationships take time to build and require close cooperation between stakeholders.
However, they believe this commitment to partners and the sustainability of projects is of crucial importance.

Ateşkan, A. (2016). Pre-service teachers’ cultural and teaching experiences abroad. Journal of Education for Teaching, 42(2), 135–148.
Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101.
Fernandez, C. (2002). Learning from Japanese approaches to professional development the case of lesson study. Journal of Teacher Education, 53(5), 393–405.
Goodwin, A. L. (2010). Globalization and the preparation of quality teachers Rethinking knowledge domains for teaching. Teaching Education, 21(1), 19–32.
Harfitt, G. J., & Chow, J. M. L. (2018). Transforming traditional models of initial teacher education through a mandatory experiential learning programme. Teaching and Teacher Education, 73, 120–129.
Kabilan, M. K. (2013). A phenomenological study of an international teaching practicum pre-service teachers’ experiences of professional development. Teaching and Teacher Education, 36, 198–209.
Moorhouse, B. L. (2018a). Taking an active role in our preservice teachers’ overseas teaching experience report on an experiential learning project in China. Journal of Education for Teaching., 44.(2), 241–242. 

Updated: Jul. 28, 2021