Toward a pedagogy for slow and significant learning about assessment in teacher education

May 2021

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 101

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this paper is to consider additional teacher education pedagogies, beyond reflective practice, that provoke slow learning.
In particular, this study draws on experiential data from one cohort of teacher candidates collected to explore the pedagogical conditions that supported learning at different periods throughout their initial teacher education (ITE) program and that provoked slow learning.
Teacher candidates were enrolled in an Assessment and Evaluation Concentration stream within their ITE program;
hence, the authors’ specific research questions for this study were:
(a) How did teacher candidates’ significant learning experiences about assessment change throughout their initial teacher education program?
(b) What pedagogical conditions provoked slow and significant learning experiences about assessment within an initial teacher education program?
This study is situated within a Slow Movement conceptual framework (e.g. Berg & Seeber, 2016; Collini, 2012), which aims to cultivate deep knowledge (Orr, 2002) by provoking attention, pleasure, and quality in learning through pedagogy (Petrini, 2001).
Despite ongoing demands on teacher candidates in ITE programs, slow learning and deep knowledge represent valuable concepts that support broader program goals;
namely, to engage in interconnected thinking about educational issues and practices as situated within the complex socio-cultural context of schools.

This research explored pedagogies that provoked slow learning through a case study methodology of teacher candidates in an Assessment and Evaluation Concentration within their ITE program.

This study took place in a 16-month Canadian ITE program implemented over four successive terms (i.e., Summer 1-FallWinter-Summer 2).
Teacher candidates are prepared to teach in -Primary/Junior (Kindergarten-Grade 6) or Intermediate/Senior division (Grades 7-12) and complete courses across five categories.
Teacher candidates who choose to enroll in the Assessment and Evaluation Concentration complete two full courses (6.0 credits) in classroom assessment that span the Fall and Winter terms. These teacher candidates also complete a 3-week alternative practicum placement to explore how assessment is implemented outside the traditional K-12 classroom setting.
For the purpose of this study, the ITE program was divided into five phases:
(1) initial coursework,
(2) Fall practicum,
(3) midpoint coursework,
(4) Winter practica, and
(5) final coursework.

Data were collected from one cohort of teacher candidates (N = 35) enrolled in an Assessment and Evaluation Concentration stream from 2018 to 2019 within an ITE program in Ontario.

Data collection
A range of data sources, which reflect teacher candidates participants’ evolving perspectives, included:
(a) post-program interviews (n = 5 teacher candidates and n = 2 instructors);
(b) ongoing digital reflections (n = 35); and
(c) descriptive assignments on assessment learning (i.e., philosophy statement; n =35).
These diverse data provide triangulated information about pedagogies that provoked slow and significant learning about assessment in ITE.

Results and discussion
Drawing on a framework of slow learning as operationalized through Fink’s (2013) taxonomy, the authors were able to identify pedagogical moments that teacher candidates recognized as provoking slow learning as they worked to build their assessment capacity.
In response to their first research question - How did teacher candidates’ significant learning experiences about assessment change throughout their initial teacher education program? - their data showed that as candidates progressed in their programs, they experienced increased complexity in significant learning experiences.
While building foundational knowledge about assessment during initial coursework established a critical base of assessment terminology, theory, practices, and policy, subsequent cycles of practicum and coursework enabled sustained integration and application of assessment knowledge in practice.
Moreover, experiences during placements revealed the benefits and challenges of implementing various approaches to assessment in practice, stimulating candidates’ excitement to learn more about assessment (caring) in coursework following placements.
While candidates consistently learned more about themselves and others in relation to assessment (human dimension) across all five phases, they were not yet self-directed in creating specific plans to learn more beyond the Concentration courses or the ITE program (learning how to learn).
This finding that concerning as learning how to learn is the foundation for supporting a career of professional learning.
Accordingly, exploring the cultivation of teacher candidates’ autonomous learning capacity through future research and practice remains essential.
Based on the authors’ research, endorsing assessment for learning as a systemic pedagogy in ITE programs would further slow learning down within programs to promote more significant learning experiences for our teacher candidates.
In response to the authors’ second research question - What pedagogical conditions provoked slow and significant learning experiences about assessment within an initial teacher education program? - their findings highlighted the importance of equally supporting relational (i.e., human dimension and caring) and practical (i.e., integration and application) experiences within cycles of learning; for significant and slow learning, you cannot have one without the other.
Course assignments and learning tasks that integrated these four dimensions were seen as most powerful.
Moreover, empirically validated and authentic course assignments that integrated foundational knowledge, integration, application, human dimension, caring, and learning how to learn were critical to candidates’ learning about assessment.
Through multiple cycles of coursework and practicum placements with sustained opportunities to learn from and with peers as well as supportive mentors (i.e., course instructors and host teachers), teacher candidates’ approaches to assessment shifted toward contemporary research-based practices of formative, student-centred assessment.
Overall, from their study, the authors note the importance of foundational knowledge as an early learning experience for teacher candidates yet recognize that deep learning occurs through the ongoing imbrication and interconnectivity of the integration, application, human dimension, and caring categories within coursework (i.e., learning experiences and assignments) and practicum. These findings largely confirm Fink’s (2013) assertion about the interactive, non-hierarchical nature of significant learning experiences, but establish the importance of building foundational knowledge first as a precursor to learning experiences that entail integration, application, human dimension, and caring.
The critical interconnectivity of significant learning experiences was supported in this study by a pedagogical framework for slow learning which included:
(a) cycles of experiential and epistemological learning (i.e., coursework and practicum placements that provoke reflections between theory and practice),
(b) sustained opportunities to learn from and with peers and supportive mentors (i.e., course instructors and host teachers), and
(c) engaging in empirically validated and authentic assessments.
This pedagogical framework, stemming from the authors’ research findings, elucidates how slow and significant learning can occur within a fast-paced ITE program despite the pressures of accountability, accreditation, certification and increased professionalization of teacher education (see Cochran-Smith & Fries, 2001; Zeichner, 2014).
Furthermore, this pedagogical framework fills the “tall order” of helping new teachers develop situated practical, pedagogical, and content knowledge as well as introducing them to associated educational research (ACDE, 2017) within a short timeframe - in this case, two terms of an Assessment and Evaluation Concentration within a four term ITE program.
Assessment through reflection becomes a linchpin for deepening and slowing learning by engaging teacher candidates in critical, evidence-based interrogation of their beliefs and practices with the support of their peers and mentors.
Accordingly, the authors seek to continue to explore this finding in future research by asking: how might assessment serve to provoke slow and deep learning in teacher education programs? And, in particular, how explicit assessment for learning frameworks might further cultivate teacher candidates’ learning how to learn.

Association of Canadian Deans of Education. (2017). Accord on teacher education. Retreived from
Berg, M., & Seeber, B. K. (2016). The slow professor: Challenging the culture of speed in the academy. University of Toronto Press.
Cochran-Smith, M., & Fries, M. K. (2001). Sticks, stones, and ideology: The discourse of reform in teacher education. Educational Researcher, 30(8)
Collini, S. (2012). What are universities for? London, UK: Penguin Books.
Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses (updated version). John Wiley & Sons.
Orr, D. W. (2002). The nature of design: Ecology, culture, and human intention. Oxford University Press.
Petrini, C. (2001). Slow food: The case for taste. NY: Columbia University Press.
Zeichner, K. (2014). The struggle for the soul of teaching and teacher education in the USA. Journal of Education for Teaching, 40(5), 551e568

Updated: Sep. 02, 2021