Making Learning the Object: Using Cultural Historical Activity Theory to Analyze and Organize Student Teaching in Urban High-Needs Schools

From Section:
Programs & Practicum
Mar. 01, 2013

Source: Teacher College Record, Volume 115, No. 3, March 2013, p. 1-36.
(Reviewed by the Team Portal)

This paper unpacks a salient excerpt from an interview that was conducted as part of a larger qualitative study focused on situating student teaching in urban high-needs schools.
The authors use one participant’s description of her student teaching experience as a starting point for mapping the contextual factors that appeared to mediate her practice—and her learning about practice—in her placement.

The authors are interested to articulate what preservice teacher's account suggests about the struggles of teacher educators to provide sufficient and sufficiently strategic support for PSTs’ field-based learning.
They use cultural historical activity theory (CHAT) as a learning theory that takes seriously historicity and the mediating role of context, community, and culture and therefore holds special potential for illuminating complex social interactions within and across TEP and K–12 settings.

Cristina in Context
The interview from which this article’s focal excerpt was taken occurred as part of a study that asked a group of about 30 PSTs across two TEPs to reflect on their preservice field experiences, the learning experienced therein, and the degree to which (and how) those experiences contributed to their experiences as first-year teachers working in urban high-needs schools.

Interviews asked participants to provide examples of what and how they had learned from student teaching the prior year and pressed them to emphasize opportunities )or constraints) that they thought contributed to (or detracted from) their preparation to teach in high-needs schools.
Cristina, the participants in the current study, is a first-generation bilingual Latina preservice teacher from California.

Discussion and Implications

The authors conclude that conceiving of student teaching as an activity system requires that they think of student teaching in contextually sensitive ways, set clearer learning goals, and remediate in relation to them so that preservice teachers will be able to do the same for the students they serve.
In this sense, they find themselves better poised, programmatically, to cultivate greater resonance between courses and field placements by considering how learning goals are advanced (or not) and re-mediated (or not) across the components of teacher education programs, particularly in the face of the ecological conditions present in many field placements.

The authors claim that by reorganizing goals and structures, even in fairly “simple” ways that redistribute tasks across settings, teacher educators might better provide student teachers with space and guidance to do this work well.

The authors also claim that the findings reveal that some of the cooperating teachers were mostly unaware of teacher education programs' goals.
Therefore, the authors recommend on deepening collaboration with cooperating teachers and otherwise working to build coherence across university-based and field-based settings in an era of high-stakes accountability.

Updated: Jan. 17, 2017
Disadvantaged environment | Student teachers | Student teaching | Teacher education programs | Teacher educators | Teaching experience | Urban schools