EdTech & Design, Opinion, Teaching

Positive Practicum Experiences

Lengthening teacher education programs means lengthening the clinical experiences of teachers in school. But how can we match the quality of these experiences with the quantity? Programs vary throughout Canada in both length and design. I have worked in some, observed others, and talked to teachers and teacher educators in Canada, the U.S, and beyond. A year ago I did a survey of practicum practices for OISE as we were considering changes in the way we supervise in the secondary grades. I also owe Linda Darling Hammond (Stanford University) for her insights and research. As I noted in an earlier post on program, clinical experiences MUST align with course work.

I offer the following suggestions whatever the length of practice teaching.

  1. Teacher educators and mentor teachers in schools should both play a role in the supervision experience. Given their roles in education in general—and I shall expand on this in my final post in this series— mentor teachers are best positioned to help student teachers work with the complexities of classroom and school life as they work with students and colleagues and looking at the challenges of executing those “brilliant” teaching strategies and ideas they get in teaching faculties.
  2. Teacher educators can help students look at the big picture and the challenges of dealing with classroom complexities.
  3. Ideally teacher educators and school mentors can establish a relationship so they can in fact work together. Some of this work might even spill over into school professional learning over time.
  4. There should be time after the practicum experience for student teachers to reflect on their experiences in the faculty classroom.
  5. Some programs attempt to match the assessment of student teacher performance with provincial or state standards for regular teachers.
  6. If teacher educators are to have any “meaningful” supervision role they must observe students several times in order to observe growth and to work the feedback process as it is meant to work. In addition they need to make deeper connections with the schools and teacher mentors with whom they work. Some possibilities include:
  • playing a professional development / learning role
  • regular communication through visits and emails; I send out an online newsletter ClassNotes, highlighting ideas used in my faculty classes and applied by teachers throughout my area, including teacher mentors who contribute to this work
  • in some programs mentor teachers have an opportunity to take a course on “clinical supervision” in order to feel more confident in working with student teachers; I took such as course decades ago and those insights still help me and my student teachers
  • if teacher mentors, especially in senior elementary and secondary schools, have expertise in the “content”, then university faculty can organize their visits geographically, thus seeing more students more often since their supportive role requires roles not tied to subject expertise.

The use of technology from email consulting to video observations is growing and I hope both schools and education faculties can take full advantage of the possibilities.

Meet the Expert(s)

John J C Myers

Currently a curriculum instructor in social studies and general teaching strategies, John has worked from Grades three to adult in four provinces and three countries over four decades. Current interests include exploring innovative yet practical ways to teach and assess using familiar strategies (co-operative learning) and helping busy teachers make sense of all the ideas thrown at them.

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