Analysis of an Early Field Experience in Agricultural Education in Collaboration with a Local High School

Article excerpt

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to determine if a four-day early field experience was educative, as perceived by the participating teacher candidates and if it was structured in a way which allowed teacher candidates to identify individual strengths and weaknesses. Specifically, the objectives of the study were to determine teacher candidates' perceptions as to the value of the experience, and to determine teacher candidates' perceptions of their strengths and weaknesses as a teacher during the experience. Nineteen (N = 19) undergraduate teacher candidates, enrolled in Agricultural and Extension Education, were involved in a four-day early field experience. Results from the researcher-developed questionnaire showed that teacher candidates felt the four-day early field experience was valuable, based on four individual item responses. The results also showed that teacher candidates were able to identify individual weaknesses and strengths, during the early field experience. The teacher candidates believed that their two greatest weaknesses were in lesson planning and presentation abilities.

Introduction

Teacher education programs must give teacher candidates the opportunities to learn the content, skills, and dispositions that can help them become leaders in education (Griffin, 1999). Early field experiences, one such opportunity, are an important part of a teacher candidate's preparation to become a full-time educator (Posner, 2005). These experiences are designed to allow teacher candidates to spend time in the actual school systems, working with teachers and students and becoming familiar with the operations and management of the classroom and the school in general. In order to maintain validity and value in any teacher preparation program, it becomes necessary to conduct regular evaluations which may be used to reflect and improve upon current structure and methodology, in an effort to better prepare participating teacher candidates for professional careers in education.

Research (Roberts, 2005; Young and Edwards, 2005; Kvaska and Lichty, 2004) into teacher candidates' perceptions of the student teaching experience are evident. However, there seems to be a lack of research in the area of teacher candidate perceptions and the value of early field experiences. Knobloch (2001) examined teacher candidates' self-efficacy of teaching that was completed in an agricultural education setting, either a high school classroom or an extension office. Knobloch recommended a combination of peer teaching and field experience to increase candidates' efficacy beliefs towards teaching. Li and Zhang (2000) explored pre-service teachers' self-efficacy beliefs following an early field experience and found that the pre-service teachers' general efficacy beliefs were lower after the experience and personal teaching efficacy was higher following the experience. While these two studies examined early field experiences rather than the actual student teaching experience, neither of these studies indicated that the teacher candidates were responsible for the instruction during the course of the early field experience.

For the purpose of this study, an early field experience was "...an advanced form of field instruction designed to be taken by agricultural education students prior to student teaching" (Oregon State University, 2004, p. 2). Teacher candidates are to observe and work with real students, teachers, and curriculum in natural settings (Ruling, 1998). Through early field experiences, cooperating teachers serve to guide prospective teachers in the application of theory and instructional approaches introduced on a theoretical basis in university methods courses. The goals of such experiences are for candidates in teacher preparation programs to develop and practice their pedagogical skills, through close observation of the cooperating teacher (Anderson et al., 2005).

According to the philosophies of John Dewey (1904, 1938), personal experiences in schools are essential to the effective education of teachers. …