Learning to Plan During the Clinical Experience: How Visions of Teaching Influence Novices’ Opportunities to Practice

September/October 2021

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 72(4) 405–418

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The authors sought to understand if novices’ patterns of opportunity to learn (OTL) about planning varied, depending upon the perceived congruence of their field placements.
They analyzed the cases of 65 preservice science teachers from three university-based preparation programs as they navigated their clinical experiences.
Individuals were selected from programs advocating for student sense-making, purposeful involvement in disciplinary practices, and equitable participation.
They asked the following questions:
1. What types of opportunities to engage in planning do participants experience over the course of their clinical placements?
2. Do interactions around planning between participants and their mentors differ by level of perceived congruence?
2a. What factors appear to impact participant–mentor interactions around planning?


Study Design
The authors used a mixed-method strategy, employing a convergent design (Creswell, 2012).
In broad strokes, they collected both survey and interview data, cross-referenced participant responses from these sources, and used the results to develop storylines for their opportunities to learn about planning as well as to create a picture of the classroom contexts within which they took up planning practices.

Participants and Context
All preservice secondary science teachers from two cohorts at three public university–based teacher preparations programs were solicited (67 individuals).
One of these institutions was located in the Northwest United States (U1), another in the Midwest (U2) and the third in the Southwest (U3).
These were all graduate-level programs.
The first author was an instructor in one of them.
All but one member of these cohorts agreed to participate and another dropped out, leaving 65 from whom the authors collected data.
Each program, specifically in methods, assessments and human learning courses, taught principles and practices consistent with recommendations from the Taking Science to School (NRC, 2007) and Framework (NRC, 2012) documents.
In conversations with representative faculty members as well as analyses of syllabi assignments and readings, the authors sought out references to science instruction that related to the four dimensions of reform teaching: planning units around relevant and complex events for students, support for sensemaking talk, empowering students to use science practices to test ideas, and the use of diverse assessments to guide instruction.
They found that the courses regularly drew upon these themes to assign and discuss readings, to frame observations of teaching cases on video, to develop or analyze tools for classroom teaching, to guide rehearsals of instructional practices, and to shape field assignments.
The programs’ durations were 13 to 15 months and included coursework, observations in secondary school classrooms and student teaching, typically at a different location from the observations.
The programs began their principal clinical experiences (regular observations that transitioned to full-time student teaching) at the start of the school year.
All institutions used the edTPA as a culminating portfolio assessment.
The edTPA requires aspiring teachers to demonstrate readiness to teach through lesson plans designed to support their students’ strengths and needs, engage students in challenging tasks, analyze if and how their students are learning, and adjust their instruction (Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity, 2013).

Data Sources

Participants responded to a series of nine online survey logs administered every 3 and a half weeks (response rate 92%).
The authors asked about the frequency of opportunities to see planning processes.
They also inquired about their participation in co-planning units or individual lessons and transitions into planning more independently.
Each series was followed by open response prompts, allowing participants to specify their roles in planning or add context.
Some survey questions provided information about both planning opportunities and perceived congruence in their host classrooms.
Other questions were primarily about perceived congruence, asking about everyday routines that might reflect the presence of core dimensions of reform practice.

The authors conducted 1-hour interviews with participants at four points.
They developed a standard set of questions but also used summaries of their most recent survey responses to probe experiences they indicated as significant to them.
Some questions were about chances to design or modify lessons/units and the types of student learning experiences they were integrating into these plans.
Responses were probed to clarify the roles of the PST and the mentor, to expand on what they were planning for, and what the PST learned.
Other interview questions elicited observations about the everyday routines that typified their classroom (assessing perceived congruence).
The authors also asked them to describe what a typical day was like for them at that point in the school year.
All responses were followed up for clarification and context.
To corroborate accounts from the teacher candidates, they interviewed their field supervisors.
They asked about their observations of the different school contexts, classroom cultures, instructional emphases in schools, and their insights into teacher candidates’ opportunities to engage in planning.

Findings and discussions

Why These Patterns of Opportunity?
In this study, the authors focused on times when novices were actively engaged in authentic forms of lesson or unit design, either working with their mentors or independently.
Richer and more frequent opportunities happened in placements where the PSTs reported higher congruency.
But why? Previous studies have characterized the clinical experience as a time of “lost opportunities” (Anderson & Stillman, 2010; Valencia et al., 2009), due to inadequate modeling and lack of transparency by mentors, few chances for novices to plan for practices they had rehearsed in their programs, and unhelpful feedback.
These conditions were prevalent in their study, but largely in low-congruence placements.
Their outcomes are similar to those of Gurl (2019) who found that mentors of math PSTs who were seen as more student-centered were more likely to spend time collaborating with their novices and providing productive feedback.
Although it is clear that their novices in perceived high and medium congruence placements had more of these collaborative opportunities to learn about planning than peers in perceived low-congruence placements, the underlying reasons for this are less straightforward.
One possible explanation involves the estimations of risk by mentors and novices.
In perceived high-congruence classrooms, the mentor and novices were more likely to share a vision of what was productive to do with students and possible in their institutional context.
Mentors in these placements were used to selecting engaging phenomena to anchor units of instruction, eliciting students’ ideas, and they took time to engage students in sense-making talk.
This may have mitigated the risks by both partners during co-planning, where the novice could propose to the mentor how familiar strategies of instruction might unfold in the context of upcoming lessons. Similarly, PSTs might have felt comfortable using planning tools and instructional scaffolds that were adapted from their mentors and aligned with a coherent vision of teaching.
PSTs in many of these classrooms were invited to codesign lessons from the start of the school year that built upon aligned strategies using familiar tools.
In contrast, many (but not all) PSTs in perceived low congruence placements faced reluctance from their mentors when they proposed units focused on understanding complex events or spending time helping students make sense of science ideas through discourse.
Although PSTs in all types of placements reported pressure from their departments to adhere to a shared curriculum, mentors in perceived high-congruence classrooms seemed empowered to create space within the curriculum for their novices’ experimentation, whereas mentors in low-congruence classrooms were far more likely to constrain the ways that their novices could modify instruction.
Such constraints prevent novices from planning challenging lessons for their students and seeing what they are capable of (Kang, 2018; Land & Rubin, 2018).

Clarifying What Counts as Co-Planning
The authors‘ data suggest that researchers may need to recognize qualitatively different experiences for the novice around co-planning.
In many instances, planning was collaborative only in the most superficial sense of the term, with preexisting materials given over to the novice and minor adjustments being suggested by them in the moment or in the interim between 1 day and the next.
Consistent with other studies, these modifications were frequently accepted—or ignored—without much feedback (see Valencia et al., 2009), especially in the 60% of placements perceived as low congruence.
In these settings, mentors provided input and sometimes gave explicit signals that alterations by the novice should be limited in scope.
Participants themselves used the term “tweaking” to describe situations in which there was little work time together with mentors directed at improvements in how students would participate or learn.
The authors believe that being allowed to make small modifications to lessons are opportunities to learn, but that this is categorically different from more substantive forms of coplanning, in which the mentor makes her or his thinking explicit, learning activities and goals are on the table for reconsideration, and some form of authentic deliberation between the novice and mentor leads to decisions about what will be taught and how.
Unless researchers call out differences between substantive co-planning and asking the novice to tinker around the edges of a lesson plan (tweaking), we risk conflating these experiences, perhaps overestimating the productive planning work that mentors do with novices.
Categorizing all these arrangements as co-planning may also mask how power asymmetries between the novice and the mentor play out with regard to who can make changes to the curriculum and how.

Data from this study indicate that when preparation programs feature visions of ambitious teaching that are grounded in the current literatures on student learning and equity, then the placements of novices in classrooms they perceive as instructionally congruent is positively related to their opportunities to learn about planning.
However, more traditional teachers may also be able to support (coach) PSTs by encouraging their novices to experiment in principled ways with the curriculum and providing some targeted feedback.
It would make sense to recruit practitioners who are willing to allow PSTs to use responsive and equitable strategies in their classrooms and who do not feel that they are putting themselves at risk by allowing novices to make defensible adjustments to their curriculum.
It would make sense to support mentors, regardless of their visions for teaching and learning, to do just a small number of things well: to begin co-planning early, allow novices some authority to suggest new directions for lessons or units, make their own thinking explicit, and provide timely and targeted feedback.
If all mentors could be provided with their own supports to help novices and could envision mentoring as having its own core professional practices, then perhaps a wider range of educators could help PSTs take up effective forms of planning and teaching.

Anderson, L., & Stillman, J. (2010). Student teaching for a specialized view of professional practice? Opportunities to learn in and for urban, high-needs schools. Journal of Teacher Education, 62(5), 446–464.
Creswell, J. W. (2012). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research (4th ed.). Pearson.
Gurl, T. J. (2019). Classroom practices of cooperating teachers and their relationship to collaboration quality and time: Perceptions of student teachers. Teaching Education, 30(2), 177–199.
Kang, H. (2018, April). Where is the “best” field placement? [Paper presentation]. Annual Conference of the American Educational Research Association, New York, NY, United States.
Land, C., & Rubin, J. (2018). Part of the assignment: Student– teachers’ planning instruction within/across activity systems. Teaching Education. Advance online publication.
National Research Council. (2007). Taking science to school (R. A. Duschl, H. A. Schweingruber, & A. W. Shouse, Eds., Board on Science Education, Center for Education, Contributors). The National Academies Press.
National Research Council. (2012). A framework for K-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. The National Academies Press.
Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity. (2013, September). Guidelines for supporting candidates completing edTPA. Stanford University
Valencia, S., Martin, S., Place, N., & Grossman, P. (2009). Complex interactions in student teaching: Lost opportunities for learning. Journal of Teacher Education, 60(3), 304–322.

Updated: Dec. 16, 2021


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