Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Practical Knowledge and Teacher Reflection from a Practice-Based Literacy Teacher Education Program in the First Years: A Longitudinal Study

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Practical Knowledge and Teacher Reflection from a Practice-Based Literacy Teacher Education Program in the First Years: A Longitudinal Study

Article excerpt

Introduction

Traditional teacher education programs are currently challenged by faster, cheaper, and easier ways to become a teacher. In our city in Texas, there is a large billboard on the interstate as you enter the city that reads, "Want to teach? When can you start?" (1) Traditional teacher education programs, as part of an undergraduate or postbaccalaureate degree program, are more expensive and require more course and practicum hours. Why would a teacher choose this route? Our study argues that the power of the practical knowledge constructed in one preservice teacher education program makes a difference in terms of how teachers are prepared to enact reflective routines in the first years of teaching. We provide an in-depth examination of a case of one group of teacher candidates in one teacher education program located in the southwestern United States. We engage in the study of our own program to explore (a) how one program's features, including practice-based experiences, the learning community context, and opportunities for coherence across program experiences, support preservice teachers' development of practical knowledge for literacy teaching; (b) the resulting beginning teachers' practical knowledge of literacy teaching; and (c) how that knowledge was challenged and adapted within the first years of teaching.

Reports of research on teacher learning often do not include a careful analysis of the role of practice in teacher education. The Committee on the Study of Teacher Preparation Programs in the United States (2010) concluded that "systematic data are needed on the nature and content of the coursework and other experiences that constitute teacher preparation in reading" (p. 118). Over the past decade, similar calls have been made in the field of teacher education to grow our understandings of program processes--details of the courses and associated practicum experiences, including how experiences build on one another (Feiman-Nemser, 2008; Wilson, Floden, & Ferrini-Mundy, 2001; Zeichner, 2005). In addition, the practice-based experiences of teacher preparation are often studied in isolation from one another rather than as part of a larger context for teacher preparation (for an exception, see Sailors, Keehn, Harmon, & Martinez, 2005). Our intent is to respond to the critiques of research on methods courses and field experiences including a too-narrow focus on singular experiences; a lack of attention to the dynamics and relationships between researchers, instructors, and students; and a disconnect between course work and practicum (Clift & Brady, 2005).

Our second focus is to study teacher practices within practice-based experiences. A study of teacher education programs in literacy in the United States sponsored by the International Reading Association (IRA) identified, by reviewing program syllabi and interviewing faculty, that practice-based experiences across programs of excellence share some commonalities (Sailors et al., 2005). These include requirements for students to engage in ongoing reflection on student observations and on their own teaching, carefully sequenced field experiences with related course work, scaffolding by like-minded mentor teachers and close supervision by faculty, opportunities to teach in a variety of contexts (e.g., with different size groupings, ages, grade levels, populations, developmental literacy levels), and experiences tutoring one-on-one with a struggling reader. Our own teacher education program was among these programs of excellence studied as part of the IRA Commission on Excellence in Reading Teacher Preparation (Hoffman et al., 2005). Risko, Roller, Cumins, Bean, and Collins (2008), in another review of research on teacher preparation in literacy, argued that, too often, it is clear that practice-based experiences have an impact on teachers' beliefs but that evidence is not provided about the impact of experiences on teachers' practices. …

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