Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Bridging the Gap between Theory and Practice: Connecting Courses with Field Experiences

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Bridging the Gap between Theory and Practice: Connecting Courses with Field Experiences

Article excerpt

The concept of school-university partnerships in pre-service teacher education is not a new idea. School-university partnerships, such as professional development schools, have been discussed in the literature for more than a decade. While popular in concept, partnership efforts such as the professional development schools (PDS) are time consuming to develop and sustain, and they carry with them great professional responsibility (Rice, 2002; Robinson & Darling-Hammond, 1994; The Holmes Group, 1990; Teitel, 1998). Key players in the development of partnerships generally espouse a research agenda that is designed to promote a positive school climate with the intent of improved student outcomes. According to the Holmes Group, shared partnership research goals regularly include "improving the quality of K-12 teaching, the preparation of beginning supervising teachers, and the professional development of practicing supervising teachers" (Ross, Brownell, Sindelar, 1999, p. 1). However, accomplishing all components of the established goals is often a difficult task. The Holmes Group notes that many partnerships have yet to attain the benefits inherent in such joint efforts.

Bridging the Gap between Theory and Practice accomplish the PDS agenda, schools and universities must critically examine the core assumptions that guide how they do their work. Both schools and universities must be open to new ideas regarding their goals and operating structures, and they must be open to the possibility of redefining existing roles. Such critical examination can be quite uncomfortable for participants. The prospect of collecting data that reveal shortcomings as well as progress can be unsettling.

To a large extent, the PDS movement has not resulted in data collection efforts that evaluate specific partnership goals and objectives (Klingner, Ahwee, van Garderen, & Hernandez, 2002; Rice, 2002; Ross, Brownell, & Sindelar, 1999; Kersh & Masztal, 1998; Teitel, 2001). Yet increasingly, state legislators and others are requesting data to support the claims that partnership efforts result in enhanced teacher preparation and K-16 student outcomes (Abdal-Haqq, 1996; Blackwell, 2002). While we as teacher educators value the role school-university partnerships play in teacher preparation, it is incumbent upon us to document how such partnerships actually result in positive outcomes for both schools and universities. For example, to what extent does having teacher candidates work collaboratively with teachers result in increase K-12 student outcomes?

A long-standing goal for many teacher preparation programs is to link theory to practice (i.e., linkages) for teacher candidates through close university-school partnerships (Barkesdale-Ladd & Rose, 1997). Essentially, the PDS models were established to bridge this gap of theory and practice and to provide an environment in which collaboration between university faculty and teachers can foster shared knowledge, professional growth, and progressive methods of instruction (Holmes Group, 1990; Goodlad, 1990). A primary goal of the PDS model is to engage the teacher candidate in professional activities within schools in order to develop the skills of inquiry, reflection, problem solving and collaboration (Rock & Levin, 2002, p. 7).

According to Merrill (2002), learning is promoted when knowledge is applied and integrated in the real world. "Most instructional design theories advocate application of knowledge and skill as a necessary condition for effective learning (p. 6)." Learning is enhanced when teacher candidates are provided with multiple opportunities to apply what they have learned in meaningful contexts (Gagne, 1985; Gardner, 1999; Perkins & Unger, 1999). A model where teacher candidates both take their courses and complete their practica experience in an actual school setting ("sitebased") is one approach that can provide this experience. …

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