Making Sense of Classroom Diversity: How Can Field Instruction Practices Support Interns’ Learning?

Apr. 30, 2010

Source: Studying Teacher Education, Vol. 6, No. 1, April 2010, p. 45–61.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Because many American teacher education internships take place in suburban schools that are adjacent to large teacher education programs in need of many practicum placements, it is critical to consider what messages about diverse student populations are perceived in what may appear to be relatively homogeneous contexts.

This yearlong self-study of field instruction practices grounded in a sociocultural perspective. This study investigated how five interns in a suburban school understood diversity, how their conceptions influenced their relationships with students and their curricular and instructional choices, as well as the strategies a field instructor used to support interns’ learning to respond to student diversity.

Research Questions

The authors investigated the following research questions:
. How do prospective teachers understand and identify issues of diversity in the classroom throughout their internship year?
. How do the interns learn about and respond to diverse student needs?
. Which practices by a field instructor help interns learn to respond to student diversity in the classroom?


Five interns (four female, one male) participated in this study. The interns were White and ranged in age from 22–25 years.

Four collaborating teachers (CTs) volunteered; their teaching experience ranged from 7 to more than 25 years. Two of them were African-American and two were white.

Influences such as the field instructor’s supervisory practices, the school context, and collaborating teachers are discussed.


Three overarching issues about interns’ learning suggest implications for field instruction practices.

First, the interns’ individual growth as shown through their increased attention to academic achievement and individual learning needs was an important accomplishment for novice teachers, given that attention to learning needs is crucial for effective teaching.

Second, the centrality of the school as work place comes through strongly in the findings. This suggests that field instructors could pay more explicit attention to the schools as contexts for learning to teach, because the characteristics of each context will likely be heavily influenced by geographic location.

Third, the interns clearly did not develop a strong sense of how language and culture are linked to students’ learning needs, which we view as a serious challenge.

This study points out that specific field-instruction practices supported intern learning in positive ways and suggests revisions for the typical field instruction role.

Updated: Jun. 20, 2010