Enrich Practicum to Cultivate Effective Teachers

By Ortlieb, Evan | International Journal of Education, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Enrich Practicum to Cultivate Effective Teachers


Ortlieb, Evan, International Journal of Education


Abstract

To advance systems of teacher education, curriculums must be enhanced with relevant activities aligned with practicum experiences to enhance the value of their education. Acting as a bridge to connect knowledge learned at the university and practical teacher applications in schools throughout the community, a research project involving several constructive activities was embedded within four literacy courses during the last two years of teacher candidates' undergraduate education. Results of this investigation demonstrate positive effects of infusing practicum experiences with systematic series of components towards becoming effective classroom teachers as well as lifelong learners and researchers.

Keywords: teacher education; practicum experiences; research; reflection

1. Introduction

Curriculums for teacher candidates should focus on preparing effective teacher educators by meeting their needs, even though other agendas often guide their development. In the state of Georgia, U.S., all teacher candidates seeking certificates are required to complete 300 hours of practicum plus 600 hours of student teaching throughout four semesters. The three practica cover Practicum I (PreK-1), Practicum II (Grades 2nd - 3rd), and Practicum III (Grades 4th-5th). Practica assignments for teacher candidates include observing their students, planning appropriate lessons, and implementing their lesson plans under the supervision of university professors, mentor teachers, and peers (Practicum Handbook, College of Education, Valdosta State University, 2009). Instead of continuing to use prescribed curriculums as is, the author designed the following case-study projects within the four literacy education courses to enrich students' practicum experience by cultivating teacher candidates' passion for teaching (Darling-Hammond, 2012). These projects are designed to expand teacher candidates' professional knowledge and skills and guide them as they develop into lifelong learners and researchers.

2. Literacy Curriculum

2.1 Differentiated Instruction in Reading and Writing

Differentiating instructional methods appropriately for all students (Chapman & King, 2003; Walpole & McKenna, 2007; Wong & Wong, 2009) is a challenge within diverse communities with varying needs. Diversity encompasses physical, social, emotional, and cognitive elements (Au, 2006), and teachers must take all of these constructs into consideration when planning and implementing differentiated instructional strategies for reading and writing. During their practicum experience, teacher candidates familiarize themselves with their students' strengths and areas for improvement in reading and writing. They use the knowledge they glean to create a classroom climate conducive to learning and plan lessons that are focused on improving their students' literacy skills. Teacher candidates are also assigned one student from the practicum classroom that performs below grade level in reading and writing to work with individually to practically apply their knowledge. Teacher candidates use the website www.internet4classrooms.com/di.htm among others to determine the student's proficiencies in terms of multiple intelligences. The teacher candidate uses the information to make relevant observations and instructional decisions linked to the student's reading and writing behavior. Interviewing the student about his/her feelings towards reading and writing gives the teacher candidate insight about instructional methods to which the student is most responsive. After gathering and analyzing data related to the student's unique learning style, the teacher candidate creates individualized instructional strategies to improve the student's reading and writing (see Appendix 1).

2.2 Graphic Novels

Teacher candidates are encouraged to use graphic novels to help improve their students' writing skills. The exercise is designed for students who have an existing weakness in writing and need to make improvements. …

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