Friday, June 13, 2014

Informal Literature Review: Who is Ken Zeichner; What does he say?

Part of my action plan for this inquiry project is to discover what other people are saying about the disconnect in teacher education and field experiences. Readers might think about this part of my work as the literature review, but I warn the sticklers I'm not trying to be very formal about my process. My goal is to take opportunities in my blogging and inquiry to listen to what others have to say about my question. As I began some initial research this week, I quickly learned that I'm not the only one who feels that my student teachers sometimes experience dissonance in field placements. I've just read Ken Zeichner's "Rethinking the Connections Between Campus Courses and Field Experiences in College-and University-Based Teacher Education". What struck me about Zeichner's text, initially, was a quote he used from Linda Darling-Hammond that seemed to sum up some of my experiences in 10 years of student teacher supervision. Hammond wrote "Often, the clinical side of teacher education has been fairly haphazard, depending on the idiosyncrasies of loosely selected placements with little guidance about what happens in them and little connection to university coursework." While the description that Hammond provides is not always my reality, I have had students in field placements that seemed extremely foreign to anything they had learned on campus. I have observed that students will often conform to the norms of the culture they are experiencing. Is it that they are so young in their careers that they haven't yet learned to "shut your door and teach"? I'll continue to ponder how the school and classroom culture is a factor in the disconnection experienced by pre-service teachers. My mother always liked to cook candies at Christmas, but did you know that the weather can effect how your divinity forms? I learned from experience that you don't make divinity on a humid or rainy day or you get a runny, gooey white blob instead of the hard candy you want. Every situation we face has multiple factors that can impact results. The same is true in field experiences. One of the problems that Ziechner acknowledges is how placements are often made through an office on campus that is not associated with the individual program and that the selection of mentors is not about "what's best for students". At some universities, the disconnect might come from the changes in university faculty, like larger programs that have graduate students teaching courses. Design of the field experience also has an impact on the success or failure of the student teaching experience. Ziechner also proposed that because mentor teachers in the field either aren't well trained to mentor or aren't well compensated. Maybe you can't fight humidity when you're making Christmas candies, but Ziechner offers some ways to create more coherence between coursework and field experiences. 1. Inviting classroom teachers into your courses 2. Infusing classroom teacher approaches into coursework 3. Adding a service learning component to teacher education programs. I wonder if anyone else offers other possible explanations or solutions. Ziechner, as I've learned, is an experienced scholar and his research in this field is often cited by others and dates back to the early 1980's. I might endeavor to trace what he's noticed about field experiences over the last couple of decades and see if there are trends in the field. I mentioned divinity earlier and how the rain negatively impacted the finished product. As I shared some of my reading with my inquiry team yesterday, one colleague asked me if the problem (my question) was more of a rural or urban one, which made me add another trail to follow. I also wondered if anyone had considered how NCLB, skill 'em and drill 'em, and teaching to the test had impacted pre-service teachers field experiences. Another path to follow in my journey of inquiry.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Wandering into Inquiry

When I was asked by our SMWP director if I wanted to participate in an Advanced Institute this summer, I jumped at the opportunity, head first, without thinking about the already packed plate I have--teaching three online courses, I3 conference, committee plans--not to mention being wife, mother, housekeeper, laundress, etc.--and am now embarking on my first real inquiry project. As a teacher for just shy of 20 years, I've used an inquiry approach in my daily teaching life, but rarely in such a systematic and organized manner. Therefore, this is truly new territory for me, trying to study my teaching and my students' learning with an eye toward a public audience--you. If you're following me, you'll learn that I am not afraid to learn by trial and error--there will be errors. But, I'll learn none-the-less. What do I want to learn, you might ask. My question focuses on the disconnect--dissonance--between university coursework in teacher preparation and the practical work of field experiences. I've often observed that students in our program embrace the ideologies of process oriented instruction or a context based approach for literacy instruction while in the undergraduate courses safely conducted on the university campus; however, as the students approach and enter extended field experiences, the disconnect begins. So what happens? How to teacher education programs help pre-service teachers sustain the theoretical foundations gained in programs of study as they enter field experiences? How do we break the cycle of dissonance?