Challenges in Enacting Core Practices in Language Teacher Education: A Self-Study
Source: Studying Teacher Education, Vol. 10, No. 2, 146–162, 2014
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
In this article, the author examines her practices as a teacher educator in one course, EDUC 600, before and after returning to the secondary classroom to teach language learners full-time for one academic year.
In this work, the author uses self-study as the guiding methodological framework to examine the changes that she made and the challenges she encountered in implementing the use of practice-based education in her work as a teacher educator.
Data were collected through course syllabi; lesson plans; journals, memos and notes; texts; assignments; rubrics; and informal and formal evaluations from students.
Doing the Work of Teaching
Given the author's secondary classroom experiences, she felt she needed to make some deliberate and thoughtful changes to how she approached her work as a teacher educator. Thus she decided to begin by redesigning the work and purpose of EDUC 600, which is a methods course about literacy for language learners that she had taught three times before.
One of the changes she found necessary involved focusing more deliberately on how to do the work of teaching. At the time, she was unfamiliar with work on practice-based pedagogy, but as she was considering how to center the course more on classroom practices, she encountered this body of work and immersed herself in it. She used the work on practice-based pedagogy to help frame changes that she thought would make the course more concrete and practice-centered, with more explicit connections between practice and theory.
Changes to the Framework of the Course
The author changed the course framework in three ways: organization, epistemology, and making the course more practice-centered.
From an organizational perspective, she attempted to make the syllabus more explicit and interconnected. Rather than listing only course expectations, readings, assignment criteria, and deadlines, as she had in the past, she added objectives, application, and extension for each class meeting so that students could see a more holistic relationship between how their readings, time in class, and assignments all connected to one another, as well as how they would apply their learning outside of class to their subsequent assignments and class meeting.
Epistemological changes to the course syllabus arose from her emerging thinking about the developmental needs of the teachers in the course, the demands of the early years of teaching, and my growing sense of urgency that teacher education programs need to be more responsive to these issues. One of these changes was a reduction in the overall quantity of assigned reading, with the intent that students would have more time to read each assignment more carefully, and reflect on it more deeply from the reading.
She also added new, almost weekly assignments that engaged students in a variety of questions about the relationship between theory and practice and asked students to post a brief, but carefully considered reflection on a shared online discussion space.
The practice-based changes she made to the course structure arose from her nascent understanding of the importance of more directly and frequently addressing classroom practices with teachers in her course. One practice-based change in the course structure involved several opportunities during the semester for students to share lessons they were designing at various stages of planning, to teach them to peers, and to receive peer feedback. This was one of her most concerted attempts to center the course more solidly around opportunities to engage in practice and to really do certain aspects of teaching.
Engaging in Peer Interaction
Although she tried to make EDUC 600 more practice-based, the findings revealed that her attempt to use practice-based pedagogy was not as effective as it could have been. The author thought that creating more opportunities for peer-to-peer analysis and feedback on lesson drafts and other parts of their unit plan assignment would begin to provide students with additional support about the hows of practice by generating opportunities to try different aspects of practice, to receive peer and instructor suggestions, and to reflect upon these suggestions. However, while some students appreciated peer-to-peer time spent teaching and examining their lessons, at least some had neither fully understood my purpose for small-group practice teaching, nor seen the value in it. The findings indicated that at times students discussed the intended delivery and lesson content rather than engaging in the actual delivery of the lesson and then discussing lesson delivery. Thus, the author found that she needed to be more deliberate about explaining the rationale for the practice teaching of lessons, as well as providing a strong foundation for how to engage in deep examination and discussion of the lessons they taught to one another.
The author learned that engaging teachers in practice-based teaching requires teacher educators to be specific and deliberate in setting their own purposes for the centrality of practice in their courses and programs and to explain these clearly to students.
Innovation in Practice?
This analysis revealed that in redesigning her approach to EDUC 600, the author stopped short of her goals to make the course more practice-centered because she provided students with many opportunities to practice planning but not enough focused opportunities to practice implementation and participate in giving and receiving feedback.
The author said that deeper integration of practice, therefore, is not just a task for EDUC 600, but is also a charge to consider for all courses and experiences in the larger program in which it is situated, as well as within other teacher education programs.
In Search of More Nuanced Understandings
Through this self-study of the challenges the author experienced in attempting to use practice-based pedagogy in a course about literacy for elementary-aged ELLs, she has shown how the work in self-study and practice-based pedagogy demonstrate a shared interest in uniting practice and theory. She has also illustrated how further work in which teacher educators study their use of practice-based pedagogy could benefit from using a self-study lens.
The author argues that the field must also address how to balance the time spent on in-depth analysis of multiple opportunities to rehearse practices throughout the semester with the demands of establishing a profound knowledge of subject-specific content and the pedagogical moves that correspond with teaching that content.
Finally, it is important that teacher educators achieve some common understanding of the ways in which they utilize core practices in teacher education.