Theorising Practice in Initial Teacher Education

Aug. 15, 2010

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, Volume 36, Issue 3, p. 259–275. (August 2010).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This case study examines the perceptions of a group of trainees on the employment-based graduate teacher programme (GTP) towards the close of their initial teacher education.

The key research question was how the GTP trainees would articulate theoretical and 'hands on' learning in learning how to teach.

The Case Study

Most GTP trainees engaged with the local authority, school and university led employment-based provider involved in the study reported here were registered on a three-term (one-year) programme in the north-west of England in the academic year 2006-7.

Seven trainees (four primary and three secondary) were selected according to their professional tutor's perception of their commitment to participate in the study. By definition, all the GTP trainees were graduates, mainly of UK universities, and had therefore experience of academic study.
The majority of the GTP trainees had also experienced life as employees. Many of them had already worked in schools in allied professional roles, as teaching assistants (TAs) or learning mentors; others had been employed in industry or commerce and had gained the required school experience as parents or volunteers.

Data were collected by conducting a series of semi-structured interviews.
Each interview was analysed independently and then jointly to identify what eventually emerged as four common themes.


Theme 1: the role of 'theory' per se
When invited to comment on what 'theory' meant to them, all interviewees were able to refer to theory acquired during the programme. They offered a variety of definitions of theory.

Theme 2: learning from experience
The GTP trainees were typically concerned with the intensity and continuity of training which is employment-based. The intensity appeared to arise from the immediacy of working in classrooms with mentors, other experienced colleagues and young people. It also came from a sense of belonging to the whole school.

Theme 3: impact of second school
Although the trainees interviewed reported surprisingly high feelings of trepidation about moving to a second school, with hindsight generally they viewed it as a very positive experience.

Theme 4: choice of route
All but one of the seven GTP trainee teachers had had substantial prior experience in school, most for one year. They had worked as unqualified teachers, teaching assistants, learning mentors or in technical roles. With one exception, each was training in the school in which they had previously been employed in an allied role.


The authors argue that formality in learning is necessary. Trainee teachers learning in school-based settings, are therefore reliant on the provision of formal spaces, such as scheduled 'off the job' discussion with mentors, in which their needs as learners may be recognised.

The authors also claim that informality in learning resides in individual agency and dispositions that trainee teachers bring to their experience in and out of classrooms and schools. It is through these that they interact with peers, mentors, other teacher educators and other experienced colleagues engaging in, for example, self-study, discussion, observation, review and more formal training, so as to learn how to teach.  


Implications for the GTP provision

Some implications emerge from this small case study.

1. A key strength of learning to teach on the GTP is that trainees are literally immersed in a range of work and learning activity at school and across schools. This immersion provides trainees with exceptional access to valued information from professional sources such as members of the school and university teaching staff.

However, the issue indicated here, through the significance of the second school experience, is the extent to which immersion allows for challenge in trainee development such that alternatives to practice might at least be considered. Such central training would appear to need to support a view of alternative practice through discussion linked to a range of theoretical sources, including published research material.

2. Furthermore, the authors suggest careful counselling concerning the relative contributions of all ITE routes for candidates and schools and more explicit reference to what professional learning from school experience might involve prior to application to the GTP.

Updated: Dec. 26, 2010