Learning to Balance Assistance with Assessment: A Scholarship of Field Instruction

Apr. 02, 2011

Source: The Teacher Educator, Volume 46, Issue 2, p. 98–125, 2011.
(Reviewed by the Portal team)

In this article, the author focuses on ways of embracing and managing a central dilemma of supervision: balancing support with assessment.
The author argues that field instructors have access to specific discursive strategies and tools that allow them to balance support with assessment of their student teachers.

The author addresses to the following questions:
‘How might I embrace and enact the role of reflective coach while responsibly fulfilling my role as evaluator and representative of a teacher education program?’
‘What is the nature of talk between a supervisor and student teacher when the supervisor aims to balance support with critical inquiry about teaching practice?

Research Design
The author used a case study method to analyze the interactions between eight student teachers and himself, their university field instructor.

Data Collection and Analysis
The author collected data from a variety of sources: semi-formal interviews with his student teachers before and immediately after the student teaching experience audiotaped pre- and post-observation conferences; copies of student teachers’ lesson and unit plans; and observation notes of the student teachers’ teaching.


The author employed at least five different strategies to provide an educative balance of support and assessment of his student teachers’ work and progress:
(a) A ‘‘back door’’ critique of their teaching – a conference that began positively but that indirectly pushed the student teacher to critically examine his or her teaching practice.;

(b) A depersonalized approach to assessment – Rather than focus his feedback exclusively on the student teacher, the author depersonalized his critique by situating his concern within a broader professional context.

(c) A ‘‘green light’’ indication that they ‘‘passed" – the removed any doubt that his student teachers were meeting program expectations. He achieved this by explaining early on during our post-observation conferences that they had ‘‘passed’’ student teaching, but that he wanted them to engage in critical self-inquiry.

(d) Humor - a fourth strategy the author employed in his efforts to ease evaluation into his role as field instructor was humor.
The author frequently incorporated verbal humor into post-lesson conferences with his student teachers—with the same goal of trying to establish a comfortable learning environment.

(e) A focus on student learning - In conversations with his student teachers, the author found that the more he turned the focus away from what they did in a lesson, and toward what their students learned, the more they seemed willing to engage in open, critical dialogue about their teaching practice.

Discussion and Implications

The author offer conclusions related to the field instructor’s role in balancing support with assessment of his/her student teachers.

Threat Removal
One conclusion is that positive feedback and reinforcement from field instructors can boost the self-esteem of student teachers, and can build trust between these dyads.
The author claims that positive support can serve the critically important function of removing threats student teachers may anticipate or experience related to their practice, their self-esteem, and even their final assessments.
By removing as many of these threats as possible, field instructors are able to steadily build trust with their student teachers.

Shifting Ownership of the Evaluation
A second important theme is a shift in ownership of the evaluation from field instructor to student teacher.
Getting student teachers to identify and take ownership of the lesson’s central problems seems to reduce feelings of being evaluated and promotes teacher learning.

Differentiated Instruction and Support
Finally, the author says that field instructors must get to know the individual strengths and weaknesses of their student teachers, and carefully consider these factors in balancing emotional support with instructional assessment of their practice.


The author concludes that these findings behoove teacher education programs to think purposefully about their role in preparing field instructors to understand the balance between assistance and assessment in their work with student teachers.

The author suggests that another important implication is the use of humor and a focus on student learning which can also play an important role in diffusing or removing anticipated or experienced threats.

Furthermore, field instructors must carefully balance support with assessment in order to help student teachers develop and grow into capable beginning teachers.

This study suggests that having conversations with student teachers that encourage discussions of the challenges that everyone in the profession faces can help us move away from the view of teaching as an individual endeavor, and toward a view that encourages student teachers to talk about and learn from their practice.

Updated: Aug. 07, 2013