Faculty Co-Teaching with Their Teacher Candidates in the Field: Co-Planning, Co-Instructing, and Co-Reflecting for STEM Education Teacher Preparation

October 2021

Source: The Teacher Educator, 56:4, 445-465

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this study, in order to support teacher candidates in developing their own understanding of integrated STEM education, university faculty sought to ensure that thinking was made visible through a co-teaching approach involving co-planning, co-instructing, and co-reflecting upon STEM education.
As part of a large 3-year school-university partnership project this paper presents findings and discussion around one facet: the teacher candidate experience of co-teaching with their university faculty.
This paper gives voice to teacher candidates as university faculty and teacher candidates experience co-teaching through different lenses.
With cognitive apprenticeship and the notion of making thinking visible at the forefront of the researchers’ minds, the following questions were examined:
(1) How do teacher candidates experience and perceive co-teaching with their faculty? and
(2) What elements of teacher candidates’ experiences during co-teaching reflect the cognitive apprenticeship model of learning?
While cognitive apprenticeship has been applied to a hybrid model of co-teaching, this study applies cognitive apprenticeship to a more complete co-teaching model that seeks to examine the process of co-planning, co-instructing and co-reflecting between university faculty and teacher candidates.


Research design
This study is part of a larger research project that seeks to examine university-school district partnerships to support student success.
This research was conducted in a low socio-economic, underserved, elementary school with a transient population.
Eight teacher candidates with two of their university faculty and two certified teachers co-planned and co-taught a seven week in-school interdisciplinary STEM education program to two combined grade 3 classes (n = 24).
With cognitive apprenticeship underpinning this study’s approach to co-teaching, faculty sought to make thinking visible throughout an entire unit, i.e., through the planning, implementing and reflecting stages.
A qualitative case study approach was utilized (Creswell, 2007; Stake, 1995) in order to examine teacher candidates’ responses to co-teaching with their university faculty.
This research falls primarily within the naturalistic paradigm, allowing for themes and conclusions to emerge from the interactions under study (Lincoln & Guba, 2000).
All teacher candidates who had completed a STEM education course with their faculty were invited to participate.
In total, eight teacher candidates volunteered to participate and included seven women and one man, all under 25 years of age.
The teacher candidates who chose to participate in this study identified a desire to complete further practice teaching and see STEM education come to life.
They hoped to further develop their content knowledge and integrated STEM pedagogical content knowledge (PCK).
Twenty-four Grade 3 students spent 1.5 hours each week participating in integrated STEM education on the topic of “structures.”
An overarching inquiry focused on designing structures to make community spaces more accessible.
This broad question intended to draw students explicitly to the design engineering process as well as encourage them to examine connections between science, technology, society and the environment (STSE), and social justice.
In order to create an authentic co-teaching experience, a broad topic was selected to ensure true collaboration in the planning and instructing stages between teacher candidates (n = 8) and university faculty (n = 2).
The team met weekly to plan for upcoming sessions and debriefed following each lesson.
The focus of this study is giving voice to the teacher candidates as they engaged in the co-teaching process with their university faculty.

Data sources

Interviews - Semi-structured interviews were conducted with the teacher candidates following the completion of co-teaching the STEM-based unit.
The interview protocol included questions centered around the teacher candidate experience through the co-planning, co-instructing and co-reflecting phases.
Interviews ranged from 25 to 40 minutes in length.

Journals - Teacher candidates, university faculty and certified teachers kept documentary journals as they moved through the phases of the co-teaching model.
Participants recorded thoughts and observations while teaching, as well as completed reflections following each class.
At times, university faculty offered reflective questions to consider following the lesson.
Journal entries focused on participants’ own experiences and observations during and following the lesson.

Audio recordings - Audio recordings of co-planning sessions were documented.
Co-planning sessions were one hour in length and took place prior to each lesson.
In total, 10 sessions were recorded and included an initial planning meeting that occurred prior to moving into the schools and a debrief/celebratory meeting also occurred where learnings were shared.

Analysis - All interviews were transcribed and coded thematically using the constant comparative method (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) with analysis regularly moving between induction and deduction (Patton, 2002).

Results and discussion
This study provides initial evidence for the benefits of leveraging elements of cognitive apprenticeship in co-teaching as teacher candidate learning was supported through co-planning, co-instructing and co-reflecting.
Teacher candidates’ experiences of co-teaching with their faculty demonstrated the value of cognitive apprenticeship informing the co-teaching model; particularly by including elements of explicitly making thinking visible and situating learning in authentic experiences.
Teacher candidates noted how visibility in faculty and peer thinking brought to the forefront nuances involved in STEM education (e.g., PCK and content knowledge) which enhanced their own understanding of integrated STEM teaching.
Situating learning within an authentic field experience context brought university classroom learning to life.
Teacher candidates shared how being embedded within relevant classroom scenarios offered strengthened connections between theory and practice, demonstrating the importance of authentic, hands-on STEM education experiences (Rogers et al., 2016).
The findings highlight the social constructivist nature of teaching and learning, whereby university faculty and teacher candidates experienced the importance of reciprocity in learning with and from each other, in a contextualized and dialogic community of practice (Lave, 1988; Shulman, 2000).
Although distinct themes located within the overarching categories of co-plan, co-instruct and co-reflect were presented, what was common across all of these themes (and their accompanying sub-themes) was their reliance on relationship and collaboration, hence the co-generative nature of coteaching.
Teacher candidates indicated that their confidence in their teaching was supported by knowing they had others in the room who could support them in times of difficulty or need.
This speaks to ensuring that teacher candidates feel safe and supported when taking risks or trying out new pedagogical approaches, particularly in the area of integrated STEM education when research has found teacher candidates to exhibit low confidence (Seethaler et al., 2013).
In a co-teaching approach, power differentials disappear (Eick et al., 2003) as university faculty and teacher candidates work collaboratively toward the shared goal of student learning. University faculty gradually released responsibility to teacher candidates, however, they were always able to offer support, immediate feedback or remediation when needed, an element required to bridge theory with practice as emphasized by Van den Kieboom et al. (2013).
Teacher candidates found this to be an incredibly important aspect to their learning while in the field.
Faculty who co-teach with their teacher candidates during field placement, rather than “supervise” them, could offer the support and opportunity to build confidence and skills with their STEM education practice.
The process of co-teaching was viewed as a true process, where each phase was necessary and one was not more valued than the other.
Co-planning sessions were helpful and necessary as dialogue around planning considerations emerged.
As suggested in cognitive apprenticeship, this way of making thinking visible is foundational to learning.
Co-planning offered teacher candidates the opportunity to build content knowledge, discuss and debate appropriate strategies and skills specific to STEM education, contributing to developing their PCK.
Co-instruction was a central component of the process, as it offered teacher candidates the opportunity to build confidence, try new teaching strategies, take risks and leverage the collaborative nature of teaching.
Co-reflection was an opportunity to debrief and analyze what went well and next steps.
Across all three phases of the coteaching process thinking was made visible in order to showcase the processes of teaching for STEM education, including understanding content, developing expertise in teaching methods, sequencing learning activities, and understanding social characteristics of the learning environment (Collins et al., 1991).
Ultimately, the holistic process of co-teaching led to teacher candidates developing an understanding of STEM education in their personal teaching practice and building their capacity to become confident and resourceful teachers.
Teacher candidates in this study described how co-teaching a STEM education unit with their faculty offered them the opportunity to see STEM education as an integrated pedagogy in action, develop their own PCK, and enhance their understanding of STEM content.
This study showcased how working with expert educators supports teacher candidates in their understanding of how and what to teach by encouraging dialogue on curriculum and teaching strategies (Shulman, 2000; Shulman & Shulman, 2004).
This reciprocity further led into co-designing and co-constructing authentic STEM curriculum which teacher candidates can draw upon in their future classrooms.
Co-planning, co-instructing, and co-reflecting between teacher candidates and university faculty is complex yet presents opportunities for growth and learning for all involved.

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Updated: Jan. 19, 2022