The Role of Mentor Teacher–Mediated Experiences for Preservice Teachers

March 1, 2021

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, Volume: 72 issue: 2, page(s): 251-263

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Using a total of 35 cases in the context of two university-based teacher education programs (TEPs), this study investigates how preservice secondary science teachers’ discourses and practices of teaching change throughout clinical experiences, and how desirable changes are related to the experiences mediated by mentor teachers (MTs).
The ultimate goal is to offer an empirically grounded theory about the mediating role of MTs in preservice teacher (PT) learning in complex clinical settings.
This study builds upon and further extends the emerging body of ecological research on clinical experiences focusing on the “link” between mentoring and PT learning.
With particular interest in the mediating role of MTs in advancing PTs’ learning, this study focuses on the three aspects of clinical experiences that are directly mediated by an MT—modeling, supporting experimentation, and providing feedback.

Research Questions
The following questions guide the analysis:
Research Question 1 (RQ1):
Whether and to what extent do MTs’ modeling of program-advocated vision of teaching, supporting experimentation, and providing feedback relate to PTs’ progress toward the vision of science teaching advocated by the program?
Research Question 2 (RQ2):
How do MT- mediated experiences contribute to PTs’ progress toward the program’s vision of teaching?

This study employed a qualitative multiple case study approach (Merriam, 2009; Yin, 2013) to deepen understanding about the role of MT-mediated experiences in PTs’ learning to teach as situated in contexts.

Study Context and Participants
This study was part of a larger project that studied PTs’ learning trajectories conducted from 2010 to 2017.
Research activities took place in two institutions, Programs A and B, where the author assumed the role of a field supervisor or a methods course instructor.
Both programs were housed in large research-oriented universities, offered a credential plus master’s degree or credits for the degree, and offered a year-long clinical experience.
Throughout student teaching, PTs in both programs repeatedly engaged in the cycle of
(a) planning a lesson or unit using a program-recommended framework,
(b) implementing that plan at their field sites, and
(c) analyzing student work and video with peers.
Both programs promoted science teaching centering on students’ sense-making.
A total of 35 volunteer PTs, their MTs, and two methods course instructors participated in this study.
Nine PTs received teaching credentials from Program A between 2010 and 2012, and the other 26 PTs from Program B between 2015 and 2017.

Data Sources
Interviews and teaching artifacts were collected to examine MT-mediated experiences.
First, interviews with PTs were conducted at the end of the program for about 40 to 70 min.
In addition, the author conducted interviews with the MTs at the beginning or end of the program.
Finally, with the nine PTs in Program A, he conducted individual interviews with the methods course instructors who had experience directly interacting with MTs.
In addition to the interviews, the MTs’ teaching artifacts (e.g., instructional slides, handout, worksheet) were collected as a complementary source of data to triangulate the alignment of both MT’s instructional approaches with the program-advocated vision of teaching.
The 35 PTs’ progress toward the program’s vision of teaching was examined using three sources of data: teaching artifacts, interview, and vision statements.
In addition, exit interviews and a set of PTs’ vision statements were collected.
In both programs, PTs were prompted to describe their views about good science teaching and learning at the beginning, and then revise the initial vision statement twice as they progressed through the program.

Findings and discussion

The Role of Modeling
One notable pattern emerging from the analyses was the lack of a strong relationship between MTs’ modeling and PTs’ progress.
In this study, the analyses suggest that whether an MT models program-advocated vision of teaching for PTs may not necessarily relate to PTs’ progress.
More than three quarters of the PTs who worked in “low” modeling conditions, provided evidence of their progress toward the program’s vision of teaching (22 of 29 PTs; 75.9%).
One possible interpretation is that having a clear image of “what it looks like” is essential for PTs to develop the program’s vision of teaching, but it does not necessarily need to be the MT who supplies these images to the PTs.
Those experiences might be sufficient for the PTs to form their own vision of teaching and therefore engage in their own experimentation toward the vision.

The Role of Experimentation: Creating Opportunities to Interact with Students
The findings point to MTs’ support of experimentation as an important dimension of MT-mediated experiences.
The more strongly the PTs’ experimentation was encouraged and welcomed in their field sites, the more the PTs showed moderate or substantial progress toward the program’s vision of teaching.
In this study, the 12 PTs who showed substantial progress, commonly reported excitement and small successes through their experimentation in the field.
Second, MTs’ supportiveness for experimentation facilitated PTs’ progress toward the program’s vision by creating enhanced opportunities for PTs to learn from and about students—the ways in which students make sense of the world.
A close analysis suggests that the quality of PTs’ interactions with students during experimentation is far more important than the quantity of the interactions in advancing PT learning.
More than half of the PTs reported that they could engage in experimentation only during limited times, such as mandatory program assignments or teaching performance assessment.
Despite limited opportunities, more than 70% of these PTs showed moderate or substantial progress toward the program’s vision of teaching.
It appeared that the PTs who made substantial progress fully took advantage of the limited opportunities for their own experimentation while trying out new ideas and strategies, including program-recommended ones.

The Role of Feedback
The last dimension of MT-mediated experiences explored in this study was providing feedback.
In this study, about 80% of PTs reported that they received a lot of feedback from their MTs (i.e., high quantity) but the feedback was mainly focused on generic strategies or classroom management (i.e., low quality).
The teacher education community needs a far better understanding about when, how, and with whom feedback becomes productive and how productive feedback contributes to PT learning.
The lack of variation in the feedback practices documented in this study using limited data makes it difficult to draw any conclusion about this topic.
Future research focusing on feedback practices using multiple forms of data, including observational data, would be fruitful.

Merriam, S. B. (2009). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation. Jossey-Bass.
Yin, R. K. (2013). Case study research: Design and methods (5th ed.). SAGE. 

Updated: Jun. 03, 2021


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