Examining the Development and Implementation of an Embedded, Multi-Semester Internship: Preliminary Perceptions of Teacher Education Candidates, Clinical Educators, and University Faculty

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Published: 
2021

Source: Peabody Journal of Education, 96:1, 99-111

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Given what is currently known about the disparate elements of teacher education and the concurrent need to examine more-effective methods to incorporate effective practices into a cohesive whole, the authors engaged in a process to build a new program that integrated many of the facets described above.
The program, referred to as City Schools Internship (CSI), and the related research seeks to address a gap in the literature on teacher preparation through an analysis of the impact of an embedded multi-semester clinical internship on teacher-education candidates’ performance and beliefs.
Specifically, the impact of the experience will be analyzed relative to candidates’ capacity to connect theory and practice, performance in the classroom, and development of teacher self-efficacy.
The program has the potential to significantly alter the current preparation model used in the authors’ Educator preparation program (EPP), while simultaneously contributing to the literature base focused on improving candidate performance in the classroom through the use of effective clinical partnerships.
 The research questions that guide the investigation are:
(1) How does an embedded, multi-semester internship offered within a school-university partnership impact candidates’ ability to connect theoretical constructs to practical application in the classroom?
(2) What is the effect of an embedded, multi-semester internship offered within a school-university partnership on edTPA performance of candidates compared with candidates completing a traditional year-long internship?
(3) What is the effect of an embedded, multi-semester internship offered within a school-university partnership on teacher-education candidates’ teacher self-efficacy?
The objective of this manuscript is to explain the organizational facets of the embedded, multi-semester internship program given ongoing data collection and analysis rather than to present an analysis specific to these research questions.
The preliminary findings shared are primarily anecdotal in nature and do not represent a systematic analysis of all data sources.

Context
The context for CSI was an undergraduate elementary education program at a public university in the southeastern United States.
The total enrollment of the university is about 30,000 students, with teacher education comprising about 1,500 students.
Faculty and students associated with the elementary education department from this university were engaged in CSI.
This includes students seeking elementary certification or dual special education-elementary education certification.
The program of study consists of a four-semester sequence involving 60 credit hours.
Within these four semesters, candidates participate in school-based experiences in three different schools, with the final placement representing a one-year internship that includes student teaching.
Clinical experiences within the first three semesters focus on the development of specific skills and knowledge related to content delivered in coursework.
The fourth semester, student teaching, consists of 16 weeks of full-time engagement in a classroom.
The program consistently graduates between 150 and 200 teacher candidates each year.
The district, City Schools (pseudonym), comprises eight schools, including six elementary schools, which served approximately 5,284 students in 2016–2017. Five of the elementary schools participated in this study.

Participants
The teacher-education candidate participants represent a convenience sample that was recruited from all teacher-education candidates entering their year-long internship (YLI) in the Elementary Education program or Dual (Special Education/Elementary Education) program.
Following recruitment activities in each of the respective programs, 20 students self-selected to enroll in the program.

Preliminary findings
Triangulation of data to answer the research questions is ongoing.
Specific sources of data include candidate reflections, course artifacts, questionnaires/surveys, and focus group interviews.
Given this context, the authors share only preliminary findings.
Data was primarily collected via surveys or questionnaires to examine what was going well and where minor programmatic changes might be needed based on CSI participants’ and clinical educators’ perceptions of the experience.
However, during the first semester of implementation, several artifacts were collected, including teacher self-efficacy surveys and a practice edTPA portfolio, as the authors sought to establish baseline data for CSI participants and for those in the traditional year-long internship.
Initial comparisons of this baseline information are also referenced.
Sent to clinical educators approximately halfway through the first semester was a questionnaire containing five open-ended questions:
(1) What is going/has gone well?
(2) What challenges have you experienced?
(3) What recommendations do you have to address the challenges?
(4) How can we better support you? and
(5) What would improve the experience?
One positive theme that emerged from the responses referenced candidates forming deeper relationships with students in the classroom as a result of being in the classroom multiple days.
Furthermore, according to the clinical educators, from the extended time spent in the school, the candidates were able to gain a greater understanding of the scope of the activities that occurred across a full school day and had more opportunities to teach lessons and work with small groups or individual children.
The candidates were also able to engage in noninstructional activities, managing the whole class while going to and from different locations in the school.
Clinical teachers noted that candidates were more comfortable in the classroom and building, having spent many hours there.
Interestingly, the challenges, recommendations, and supports primarily focused on communication from the faculty to the clinical educators.
This included communicating the specific assignments to be completed by the candidates, beyond those that were mutually developed, and when those assignments were due.
The clinical educators also wanted more information and training about the observation protocol that was used across the three observations.
To alleviate some of the concerns and provide additional supports, the clinical educators requested that time and space be set aside for meetings between the clinical educators and faculty members and for meetings between candidates, educators, and faculty.
Some suggested developing a newsletter or a calendar that reflected significant university and district dates and deadlines.
Given the increased requirements associated with being at the clinical sites, it was not surprising that the number of hours CSI candidates spent in classrooms during the semester prior to student teaching was high in comparison to candidates participating in the traditional delivery format.
Notably, all candidates accumulated over 200 hours during their clinical experiences and many more than 250, which is more than three times what is accrued in the traditional YLI.
Overwhelmingly, candidates cited the benefit of being able to spend more time in the classroom and indicated that they felt more prepared to take over full-time student teaching duties in the second semester.
Similar to the clinical educators, candidates also mentioned the benefits of being able to build relationships with the students but also noted the importance of the close relationships formed with other candidates, the clinical educators, and the faculty.
Being able to participate in schoolrelated, non-instructional activities such as “Back to School” night, “Meet the Teacher” night, and parent-teacher conferences allowed the teacher candidates to feel a part of the school community.
One preliminary finding involving the formation of relationships that might need further analysis is related to pairs of candidates in the same school on grade-level teams.
Returning to the aspect of relationship-building, these candidates cited the opportunities for collaboration on elements of coursework and teaching duties and opportunities to discuss and reflect on various facets of the overall experience as a highly positive aspect of the program.
Interestingly, candidates also cited communication among the faculty and between faculty and clinical educators as challenges and areas for improvement.
It appeared the candidates felt the faculty did not communicate with each other regarding assignments and due dates, especially for those that had been modified, or with the clinical educators, thus creating anxiety for the candidates as well as challenges to meet the expectations associated with the assignments and faculty.
Candidates also felt that additional time should have been built into CSI to allow them to actively reflect on their experiences.
The candidates indicated that, with the course schedule, course assignments, and requirements for clinical experiences, there was little time to process some of the experiences and content.
While candidates repeatedly aligned such comments with the overall benefits of the program and flexibility of faculty, this theme was pervasive across the breadth of questionnaire responses among the candidates.

Implications
Pairing coursework with embedded clinical experiences supports program coherence and has been identified as a characteristic of exemplary teacher-education programs (Darling-Hammond, 2000, 2006).
Participation in CSI facilitated candidates’ ability to connect theoretical constructs related to effective teaching practices to classroom application through the extended community that developed among the candidates, faculty members, and the clinical educator.
Candidates appeared to be able to see connections between content introduced within coursework and practices observed within classrooms.
This context was created by the active efforts of the faculty members to work directly with the clinical educators within the planning process of the courses, facilitating the alignment of information introduced in coursework to the curriculum, content, and instructional strategies observed during the clinical experience.
The concept of community is established and illuminated through the development of positive relationships and interactions among participants within shared experiences (Koeppen et al., 2000).
Examinations of the feedback collected as preliminary data revealed that the partnership helped candidates develop relationships with each other, with the clinical educators, and with the instructors, creating a sense of comfort due to the familiarity created by the presence of the same peers and instructors throughout the clinical experience.

Conclusion
Additional work must be done in the area of field experiences to help teacher-education programs to maximize their impact on teacher-education candidates.
Notably, the authors feel that they must continue to examine the interaction of the multiple variables present within the contexts of practice that impact teacher learning.
This research represents one step in examining how an embedded, multi-semester internship can be an organizational feature within teacher education that addresses the inherent theory to practice gap while developing programmatic structures for field experiences and coursework through partnerships between universities and P–12 schools.

References
Darling-Hammond, L. (Ed.). (2000). Studies of excellence in teacher education. Washington, DC: American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
Darling-Hammond, L. (2006). Powerful teacher education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
Koeppen, K., Huey, G., & Connor, K. (2000). An effective model in a restructured teacher education program. In D. M. Byrd & D. John McIntyre (Eds.), Research on professional development schools (pp. 136–152). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. 

Updated: Oct. 08, 2021
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