Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Unraveling the Complexity of Student Teachers' Learning in and from the Workplace

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Unraveling the Complexity of Student Teachers' Learning in and from the Workplace

Article excerpt

Introduction

The workplace is increasingly seen as an important context to enhance student teacher learning: Student teachers must not only develop knowledge about teaching and learning, but they must also develop as professionals through experiences in practice (e.g., Grossman, Hammemess, & McDonald, 2009; Mattson, Eilertsen, & Rorrison, 2011). In the Netherlands, as in many other countries, this has resulted in more school-based teacher education programs, ranging from those in which student teachers are employed as real teachers to programs in which they do their internship in practice schools under supervision by a mentor (e.g., Ball & Cohen, 1999; Hagger & McIntyre, 2006; Maandag, Deinum, Hofman, & Buitink, 2007). In all programs, workplace learning is a substantial part of teacher education.

Despite the importance that many policymakers, researchers, and practitioners attach to workplace learning by student teachers, little is known about the nature of this type of learning. Research has mainly focused on the characteristics, conditions, and experience of the workplace as a learning environment (e.g.. Fuller & Unwin, 2004; Snoek & Struyf, 2012; Tang, 2003) and on the impact of this type of learning (e.g., Caires & Almeida, 2005; Denton, 1982). In addition, research on student teacher learning often focuses on one specific aspect, such as the influence of mentoring on learning or the effects of written reflections on experiences, which does not do justice to the multidimensional, idiosyncratic, and context-specific nature of student teacher learning (Mutton, Bum, & Hagger, 2010; Olsen, 2008). It is important that the learning environment fits with this nature of student teacher learning (Calderhead & Shorrock, 1997; Vermunt & Verloop, 1999). Such environments need to be underpinned by theories of teaching that are firmly based on an analysis of student teacher learning (Vermunt & Verloop, 1999).

This study aims at gaining a better understanding of how student teachers learn from their experiences in the workplace (i.e., practice school/classroom). Workplace learning is understood as a complex process in which student teachers both experience the practice of teaching and give meaning to their practical experiences. In this study, student teachers' practical experiences were taken as starting points of their learning processes. A practical experience has been defined as a change in the student teachers' awareness of the workplace situation in which they participated and that was caused by a certain event or activity (Webster-Wright, 2006). By giving meaning to these experiences, new knowledge integrates with existing knowledge into the learners' conceptual framework (Boud, Keogh, & Walker, 1985). During this process, practical experiences are transformed into learning experiences. A learning experience--defined in this study as a student teacher's awareness that something has been learned--can occur in a situation in or outside the workplace. In this study, we used a holistic perspective to gain insight into this learning process, because learning in and from the workplace appears to be a complex process in which learning, context, and learner are inextricably related (Illeris, 2011; Jarvis & Parker, 2005; Webster-Wright, 2006). Consequently, many different aspects, situations, and contexts that play a role in student teachers' learning processes must be taken into account to understand and interpret these processes. The central question this study attempts to answer pertains to how student teachers' practical experiences in the workplace are transformed into learning experiences. Insight into this learning process may have important implications for transforming the workplace into a real learning place for student teachers. The study may also be relevant to teacher educators and mentor teachers to better understand and conceptualize the support student teachers need while learning in and from the workplace. …

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