Constructing Knowledge about Teaching and Learning in Early Childhood Teacher Education Because of a Partnership
Marshall, Carol Sue, Education
One current theme that runs through numerous reports on reforming education is the need for faculty in university programs and K-12 schools to share the responsibility for teacher preparation (Goodlad, 1990, 1991; Holmes, 1990; Rigden, 1996). In response, partnerships ranging from cooperative arrangements to true collaborations have sprung up across the country. In the absence of a single definitive or recommended model, each partnership takes on a different flavor and reflects the variety of needs, opportunities, and philosophical beliefs held by the partnering institutions and individuals. For the past several years I have shared in the burgeoning interest in partnerships, while the core of my study and work with prospective teachers has been driven by an attempt to apply constructivist tenets widespread in early childhood classrooms to the arena of early childhood teacher preparation in adult classrooms. I, like constructivist Fosnot (Fosnot, 1989, p xi), have become dismayed "by the traditional teaching practice to which I often observed them [teachers] reverting, in spite of the more innovative practices I knew had been advocated in their methods courses." Born out of these forces, a partnership was forged between this early childhood faculty member at the School of Education at the University of Texas at Arlington and the administrators and teachers in a public school in a local independent school district. The need for the partnership was generated from my desire to offer university students enrolled in "Early Childhood and Kindergarten Methods and Materials" experiences working with children concurrent with in-class discussions regarding what research asserts about appropriate instructional strategies and materials for young children. In constructing knowledge about learning and teaching, it is helpful for students to engage in activities that require investigating how children come to "know" (Harrington, 1994), as well as activities that encourage examining and reflecting on their own process of "coming to know." Additionally, partnering with an elementary school faculty would also provide me much needed opportunities to experience the realities of teaching in today's diverse schools (Metcalf-Turner and Fischetti, 1996). The partnership described in this article was further supported by the needs of a principal and assistant principal who were seeking additional adult hands, eyes and ideas in classrooms of prekindergarten and kindergarten children attending a supplemental summer school program.
An Initial Concern. University teacher educators frequently are faced with assigning students to classrooms for practicum experiences where the experience may not match what professors claim and research supports as best practice. Although it is understood that learning can and does occur in the presence of disagreement or disequilibrium (Forman and Kuschner, 1983), logic encourages a supposition that the most effective preparation for an early childhood teacher would presumably occur in a classroom where that which is modeled by the mentor teacher is closely aligned with the research conducted and reported by university professors. "Careful selection of field observation sites, and close supervision and debriefing of these experiences is essential in early childhood teacher education" (McMullen, 1997). McMullen further asserts that early childhood teachers-in-training need numerous opportunities for discussion, reflecting and providing feedback within the university classroom. My initial thoughts regarding the proposed partnership concerned the knowledge that it was common practice of the local school district to place teachers in summer assignments significantly different from those the teachers hold during the regular school year. An upper grade teacher, for example, would be placed with kindergarten or first grade children, a life skills teacher with regular education and ESL students, and regular education teachers with ESL children. …