Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Problematising Practicum Relationships: Questioning the 'Taken for Granted'

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Problematising Practicum Relationships: Questioning the 'Taken for Granted'

Article excerpt

We position teaching as a complex, creative profession and have an expectation that practicum should support the reflexive, possibility-thinking and risk-taking creative endeavours of the beginning teacher. This paper reports on a series of studies that explored shared understandings and effectiveness of relationships and roles of practicum partners. Although we found there is considerable good intent within the practicum, the situation has been shown to be less than ideal for all members of the partnership. Rather than providing solutions to this situation, we raise issues for teacher educators to consider carefully inrelation to practicum relationships.

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Practicum is central to preservice teacher education (PSTE). However, practicum experiences must be more than the mere provision of a practice setting in which PSTE students work. A practicum placement should provide professional experiences for students as they prepare to enter a complex and creative profession.

Schools at the start of the 21st century are complex environments. Increasing diversity in school communities, and constantly changing curriculum, assessment and accountability mandates all contribute to the 'complexities, challenges, uncertainties and ambiguities inherent in teaching' (Goodfellow & Sumsion, 2000, p. 253). Complexity offers both challenge and opportunity--'unpredictable, nonlinear change' (Fullan, 2001, p. ix) can overwhelm or invigorate and offers a 'great potential for creative breakthroughs' (p. 31).

Within this complex environment, the teacher's role is one of critical thinker, within both metacognitive and social-political-moral frames, and creative responder. In this framework, creativity refers not to the high creativity displayed by geniuses with special gifts, but to that more ordinary, everyday creativity--'little c creativity' (LCC), displayed when an individual exercises professional agency (Jary & Jary, 1991) through personal choice and self-direction (Craft, 2001). Such teacher creativity is likely to be both reactive and proactive (Kaufman, 2003). We also view teacher creativity as a socially supported and culturally influenced collaborative process (Jalongo, 2003). We therefore argue that teaching experience (practicum) for PSTE students should be structured to support the reflexive, possibility-thinking and risk-taking creative endeavours of the beginning teacher. This raises the question: How can this vision of the teacher as 'little c' creator be enacted in the practicum?.

Additionally we position learning as underpinned by critical constructivist (Taylor, 1996; Tobin & Tippins, 1993) and social constructivist (Baird, 1999; Carlson, 1999; Ploughman & Russell, 1997; Richardson, 1997) epistemologies. Practicum placements are not simply a context for PSTE students to apply theories of practice to which they have been introduced in the tertiary institution's teacher education programs. Instead practicum placements should provide the opportunity for the PSTE students to examine critically the assumptions underpinning their developing pedagogy. At the authors' institution, students undertake compulsory professional inquiry modules that have a strong underpinning of critical reflective practice within a socio-political framework (Pultorak, 1993; Smyth, 1989; van Manen, 1977). Professional education and curriculum modules also emphasise engaging critically with the theory-practice nexus. Students are expected to draw upon this learning in the complex practicum context and demonstrate a high degree of professional agency (Jary & Jary, 1991) as they take personal responsibility for their ongoing professional development. We therefore ask, 'How can we structure practicum placements to encourage PSTE students to look beyond the immediate, to search for meaning and to challenge the norm?'.

We also believe that PSTE students, their associate teachers (ATs--school supervisors) and their visiting lecturers (VLs--university supervisors) together construct meaning within the context of a practicum environment that values and facilitates reflective practice (Martinez, 1998). …

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