Teacher training and learning to teach: an analysis of tasks in the practicum


Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, 43:3, 333-351

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The aim of this research is to identify the tasks that student-teachers perform during their practicum experience.
The following research questions are proposed:
(1) What professional learning opportunities are offered to future teachers through the tasks they do during the practicum?
(2) What view of the teaching profession is projected via the tasks future teachers do during the practicum?
(3) Are there gender differences in the tasks that future teachers do during the practicum?
(4) Are there differences in the tasks done by future infant and primary school teachers the practicum?
(5) Does the type and location of the school influence the type of tasks done by future teachers during this phase of their education?

To carry out this research, a quantitative, non-experimental study was designed based on survey methods (Cohen and Manion 1990).

Instrument design and data collection: the questionnaire
Data was collected using a questionnaire created from instruments used in previous studies on the same topic (González Sanmamed 1994; González Sanmamed, Fuentes Abeledo, and Raposo 2006) at a time when teacher training was governed by different legislation.
The questionnaire for this study was created using those instruments as a starting point which were revised and expanded following discussions in a focus group with 6 active teachers with experience as tutors in practicums for future infant and primary-school teachers.
The questionnaire used comprised 57 items detailing the different tasks teachers perform in their professional roles.
The authors aimed to use it to identify which of those tasks students did during their practicums.

The population for this study was made up of students in their final year of a teaching degree, specialising in infant or primary education, from three Spanish university teacher-training centres.
The questionnaire was applied once the practicum period of the courses had finished.
A total of 248 students participated, which represents 71% of the total population.

Results and discussion
The results of this study indicate limitations and restrictions students face in performing the diverse tasks that make up teaching activities, which gives them a significantly reduced view of teaching roles and worryingly weakens the training opportunities that the practicum should provide.
The authors see that the practicum offers significant possibilities for the exercise of reflection, surely thanks to productive dialogues with tutors and other teachers in the school, as well as with the students themselves.
Opportunities for reflection are key components in the process of learning to teach, as various authors have highlighted (Azimi et al. 2019; Clarà et al. 2019), as they allow prior ideas and experiences, and formal university learning to be contrasted with the reality that student teachers see and participate in during the practicum.
These types of tasks were more commonly done in state-funded schools, which to a certain extent could be interpreted as greater commitment to the practicum, both from the school and the tutors.
It is worth highlighting those teaching tasks related to planning, evaluation and execution.
In many cases planning is one of the requirements linked to the practicum experience, as students are asked to create (and occasionally follow) a teaching plan adapted to the classroom.
As it has become a requirement for a positive evaluation of the practicum, it means that they follow formal planning models, and follow the guides set by the university, especially if they are not required to teach the plan they produce.
In any case, planning tasks are one of the most prominent teaching competencies as they require the teaching process to be represented beforehand, and anticipation of the teachers’ and learners’ actions in the classroom and school context in response to the official curriculum (Clemente 2010).
When it comes to evaluation tasks, it is worth noting that student-teachers’ participation is limited, and usually reduced to marking exams and, to a lesser extent, other evaluation components.
It is this false equivalence of marking with evaluation, and the increased tendency of practicum students to participate in marking tasks, which explains the lower level of these tasks in infant education practicums.
Execution tasks are basically the student-teacher’s assistance and collaboration during the school day.
In summary, while the data on participation in planning, evaluation and execution must be interpreted positively, one must not forget the need for these processes to be included in a holistic view that curriculum design must have in the particular context of a classroom and the demands that brings with it to the various levels so that the practicum experience should not be an uncritical reproduction of traditional models but rather the generation of innovative ideas aimed at improvement.
Looking at the less frequently performed tasks, it is surprising that the practicum schools do not organise training activities, and it is somewhat concerning to see the absence of commitment from educational institutions to training their members from the perspective of organisational development and the idea of the school as a learning community (Rodríguez-Gómez and Gairín 2015).
When it comes to the low levels of guidance or counselling tasks, it must be borne in mind that these activities are in part handled by school counsellors or counselling departments, but that is no excuse to ignore the participation of student-teachers, as guidance is a function of teachers that they perform transversally as part of teaching and particularly as form tutors.
It is for this reason that the results in primary schools show greater student-teacher involvement in guidance tasks in the practicum.
Finally, it is worth highlighting the low participation in school activities, something which is particularly worrying given that teacher involvement in management and organisation is unavoidable, and participating in the organisational culture is key to creating and agreeing on education projects and providing lasting innovation.
It is notable that in urban schools participation in school tasks is lower, maybe because in many of them, the projects and initiatives are run by external bodies that student teachers have little contact with.
To summarise, the authors’ results highlight the need to review training programmes and plans for practical work, both to monitor what really happens during the practicum experience so that students have a wide range of valuable opportunities allowing them to experience the various functions of a teacher, providing rich learning processes.

Azimi, E., E. Kuusisto, K. Tirri, and J. Hatami. 2019. “How Do Student Teachers Reflect on Their Practice Trough Practicum Courses? A Case Study from Iran.” Journal of Education for Teaching 45: 277–289.
Clarà, M., T. Mauri, R. Colomina, and J. Onrubia. 2019. “Supporting Collaborative Reflection in Teacher Education: A Case Study.” European Journal of Teacher Education 42 (2): 175–191.
Clemente, M. 2010. “Diseñar el currículum. Prever y representar la acción.” In Saberes e incertidumbres sobre el currículum, edited by J. Gimeno, 269–293. Madrid: Morata.
Cohen, L., and L. Manion. 1990. Métodos De Investigación Educativa. Madrid: La Muralla.
González Sanmamed, M. 1994. “Socialización Profesional Y Aprendizaje De La Enseñanza En Las Practicas Escolares.” Enseñanza & Teaching 12: 73–86.
González Sanmamed, M., E. J. Fuentes Abeledo, and M. Raposo. 2006. “De alumno a profesor: Análisis de las tareas realizadas durante las prácticas escolares.” Revista Galego-Portuguesa De Psicología Y Educación 13 (11–12): 1138–1663.
Rodríguez-Gómez, D., and J. Gairín. 2015. “Innovación, aprendizaje organizativo y gestión del conocimiento en las instituciones educativas.” Revista Educación 24 (46): 73–90. http://revistas.pucp.edu.pe/index.php/educacion/article/view/12245 

Updated: Dec. 31, 2020