EdTech & Design, Opinion, Teaching

Programming in Teacher Education

Five ways to better align research and practice in faculty of education programs

Many have written about the nature of programs in teacher education: too varied, too theoretical, too much reliance on craft knowledge rather than based on elements of research, too little research on the effects of teacher preparation programs, a lack of attention to determining their effects on student achievement, and so on. For John Hattie, to whom I referred in my earlier post, teacher training is “the most bankrupt institution I know”, with too much time debating “things that don’t matter” or wasting time on fads looking for the “magic bullet” .

Surprisingly little research has been done to determine how teacher preparation programs actually influence student achievement. So if we are to do such research here are some questions to consider.

I suggest that we need better alignment between research and practice, between coursework and practicum, and between initial teacher education and the early years of teaching. I know of no one who was at the peak of teaching effectiveness out of the gate. Programs in teacher education need to be complementary with professional learning in school districts.  I shall say more about this in subsequent posts.

What should this alignment look like in the faculty of education program area?

  1. The primary goal of ALL programs, workshops, institutes, and courses should be improving student learning. This should include the ability to demonstrate evidence that it does. One way to do this in a teacher education course is to use “purposeful reflection”.  For example, there are many contextual factors in every classroom that influence the successful use of a teaching strategy. Student teachers should be able to identify these during practicum and share with colleagues their insights in debriefing. “Colleagues” include faculty course teachers, fellow student teachers, and school mentors / supervisors.
  2. Teacher programs and all profession learning MUST have lots of dialogue. The day of planning and teaching in isolation ought to be over. Society has changed; so must teacher education from pre-service to in-service.
  3. “Powerpointless” (thanks to Jamie Mackenzie for the word) presentations about teaching strategies, even good ones is a waste of time since any transfer of such potentially useful ideas to classroom reality is wasted. A large part of program work should be experiential with structured observation and debriefing on its effects in the faculty course class so that effects on student engagement and student learning can be anticipated and debriefed following practicum (see #1). The use of “guest speakers” parachuted into classes without attention to program context lessens a course’s coherence and viability or does it make up by providing interest? In a future post in this series I shall share an experiment that shaped my thinking.
  4. Courses that are “foundational” such as those connected to the sociology or philosophy of education should have an application component: perhaps teaching or observing teaching. Theory is important as far as it connects to practice through providing context for understanding how learning does or does not occur. Research has its power and its limits.
  5. Technology is increasingly touted as a magic bullet. Is it? For an overview written a decade ago see http://www.fno.org/mar01/howlearn.html. I ask, “Does this set a standard to strive for in teacher education programs?”

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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