They Teach Us How to Teach Them: Teacher Preparation for the 21st Century

Oct. 01, 2011

Source: Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 11(4), 324-349.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article describes a 3-year qualitative study on a English language arts teacher preparation approach that places middle school students at the center and interweaves various technologies into the study of The Outsiders.
Based on a recognized gap in the literature about students as powerful partners, the authors undertook a 3-year study to explore the question, “What do preservice middle school teachers learn when middle school students assume the role of pedagogical experts?”

Using the ever-popular young adult novel, The Outsiders, as a nexus of literature study and an integration of technology and music, the authors created The Outsiders Project.
The authors designed the project so that the preservice teachers and middle school students worked together to extend the written text of The Outsiders into a multimedia experience that incorporated writing, music, and performance in a music video as well as an oral presentation.

The authors collected extensive qualitative data, including detailed field notes, preservice teachers’ reflections, and digital videos, across the 3 years to analyze preservice teachers’ views about the power of middle school students as teacher.
The participants were 135 university preservice teachers in the Middle Grades English Language Arts/Social Studies teacher education program, who participated in The Outsiders Project (TOP) over the three years of this study.



For three years the authors produced, directed, studied, and analyzed The Outsiders Project (TOP) to determine the impact of these experiences on their preservice teachers and to examine what they learned from the middle school students.

The findings reveal that the preservice teachers were very surprised to discover that the middle school students really did want to learn.
Another lesson the preservice teachers reported they learned about middle school students was that all students can contribute.
They figured out that nontraditional activities benefit all students, not just the most academically successful students.

Furthermore, the preservice teachers studied in the young adult literature class the importance of engaging students in reading and matching students with books.
The easy access of computer technology allowed students to pursue answers to their questions within the class, to use the Internet to satisfy their curiosity in a natural way, and to gain knowledge about the historical setting of the novel.
From witnessing firsthand students’ genuine curiosity about a book, our preservice teachers learned to trust their students.
They also learned not to underestimate students.

Another prevailing theme in this data analysis over 3 years and 135 preservice teachers was how instrumental the middle school students were in guiding the development of the next generation of teachers.

The preservice teachers learned about their own ability to adapt.
They learned in TOP the importance of adaptive teaching.
Adapting requires accepting others, recognizing one’s own need for control, clearly seeing others’ needs, and being able to shift and accommodate.

The preservice teachers also realized the excitement and challenges of teaching and learning as a lifelong sustaining process.
As they worked in their TOP groups, they realized that they needed to share that role with their peers and with students.
They experienced the value of shared leadership.

The preservice teachers also reported that they experienced firsthand how students want to be engaged through 21st-century tools, that there are endless ways to teach a novel, and that students can be in charge of their own learning.

Furthermore, although The Outsiders was written 40 or so years ago, the preservice teachers quickly discovered that the text appealed to the middle school students because it presented characters and themes to which they could relate.

In addition, the preservice teachers found they could serve as facilitators, just as they had led and guided the middle school students in their groups, because the teacher does not have to do everything.

Challenges and Opportunities

The authors and their preservice teachers learned that teaching requires perseverance and a commitment to the students first.
Therefore, in order to maximize the potential for K-12 students to become pedagogical partners in teacher education, teacher educators need to create field experiences that allow preservice teachers frequent and ongoing opportunities to work with students, facilitate the development of relationships between preservice teachers and students, and present opportunities for preservice teachers and students to participate collaboratively in authentic experiences.

A critical element of this project was providing preservice teachers with an extended experience working with the same middle school partners.
The preservice teachers understood that the goal was to create a project together and not to tutor their partners; they were to work side-by-side as equals, not as authorities.

The authors also discovered that middle school students are great mentors.
They are insightful and talented; they can talk about teaching as if they have peeked into our classes.
Middle school students have much to share and can embrace the challenge of developing the next generation of teachers.
They like being partners with in this process, know how to describe the ways they best learn, and have many suggestions.

The authors conclude that preservice teachers need to experience with middle school students the authentic, natural integration of technology in content and pedagogy.
With these opportunities they learn about themselves, about middle school students, and about how to teach them.

Updated: Oct. 20, 2014