Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Student Teachers' Preparation in Literacy: Cooking in Someone Else's Kitchen

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Student Teachers' Preparation in Literacy: Cooking in Someone Else's Kitchen

Article excerpt

Questions about optimal routes to becoming an effective teacher have fueled an ongoing debate for more than 50 years--also, not coincidentally, a time of increasing regulation of teacher preparation programs. A number of alternative pathways have been investigated (Darling-Hammond, 2010; Darling-Hammond, Holtzman, Gatlin, & Heilig, 2005), yet the question of how teachers should be prepared to teach remains. Schools of education, once the bastion of teacher preparation, are under siege (e.g., Wiseman, 2012). A central issue in the debate is the effectiveness of schools of education and their impact on candidates' teaching practices. In this study, we (10 literacy teacher educators) report findings from a cross-institutional, longitudinal research project on the impact of preparation programs on teacher knowledge and practices.

We undertook our research in part to counter a view sometimes voiced in policy circles: that teachers are low-level technicians who must carry out plans of policy makers and curriculum experts without exercising expert adaptive knowledge (Snow, Griffin, & Burns, 2005) or making adjustments to address students' specific needs. By contrast, we align with those who argue the merits of teacher preparation, focusing on the complexity of teaching and citing the need for teacher educators who can help candidates put into action what Hammerness et al. (2005) have stated are "solid ideas about teaching" (p. 374), those formed in course work and other aspects of their preparation programs.

Teaching is complex because it is an unpredictable human endeavor. What teachers do in the moment depends on students' ever-changing needs and unanticipated classroom events. As Dewey (1938) stated, differentiating instruction for various learning needs "is a problem for the educator, and the constant factors in the problem are the formation of ideas, acting upon ideas, observation of the conditions which result, and organization of facts and ideas for future use" (p. 112). Indeed, "there are no easy answers" to "multidimensional situations" that arise in classrooms, and "teachers must adapt 'on-the-fly' to pupils' developing understandings and to opportunities for situating instruction in motivating tasks" (Duffy, 2005, p. 300). This reflection-in-action (Schon, 1983, 1987) requires teachers to reflect on and reshape their actions while in the midst of their teaching.

Recognizing the complexity of teaching, Hammerness et al. (2005) stated that it is of utmost importance that we help candidates "learn to think systematically about this complexity" and that "they need to develop metacognitive habits of mind that can guide decisions and reflection on practice in support of continual improvement" (p. 359). Cochran-Smith, Ell, Ludlow, Grudnoff, and Aitken (2014) identified various competing demands placed on candidates and the multitude of influences (complex systems) at various levels that play into preparation programs and teaching, including "individuals, school systems, and family systems, as well as legislative processes and regulatory bodies" (p. 7), which change over time.

Specifically focusing on complexities of literacy instruction, Gambrell, Malloy, and Mazzoni (2011) stated that effective literacy teachers are skillful, knowledgeable, and able to plan differentiated instruction based on individual students' needs. Indeed, effective literacy teachers use "evidence-based best practices" and can "adapt the learning environment, materials, and methods to particular situations and students" (p. 28). Thus candidates face complex demands during teacher preparation as they learn to tailor instruction and instructional actions based on students' responses and needs, while reflecting on adaptations and learning from them in the moment.

Literacy teacher preparation research has a long and rich history (e.g., Austin & Morrison, 1962). Recently, researchers verified that candidates learn what they are taught in literacy education course work (Clark, Jones, Reutzel, & Andreasen, 2013; Grisham et al. …

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