This paper reports on a research project into students' perceptions of the first year of a newly designed course in teacher preparation. A prime concern of the design of the course is with offering students the opportunity for critical reflection on their experiences of becoming teachers. The research project further expanded the opportunities for critical reflection by inviting students to participate in regular seminars over the year long course to discuss, report on, and critique the course-as-designed as it matched the course-in-operation. For these students, participation in the project supplied the opportunity to engage both in collaborative enquiry into what constitutes a course in teacher preparation and also in systematic analysis of the experiences associated with the passage from being students themselves to becoming teachers of other students.
In evaluating the level to which this intention was realised, the researchers drew upon the perceptions of the clientele, the students who became teachers over the year. Throughout the year, the students reported on each stage of the unfolding course and gave their responses - and assessment of it.
Before a description of the context (the course-as-designed) and of the research project (the course-in-operation), a survey of traditions of research into teacher education programmes is presented.
The dominant perspective represented in research up to that time was one owned by the person responsible for the design, administration and teaching of the programmes. When those engaged in learning to be teachers were consulted, the dominant research paradigm was empirical-analytical. Thus, outcomes of teacher education programmes were favoured and the processes that lay between entering and graduating largely remained unexamined (Popkewitz, Tabachnick & Zeichner, 1979). In studies of this ilk, the person was subsumed as a particle, immersed within the percentages that made up the population under study. Typically, researchers produced reports based on their perceptions of what students knew or felt. So what students felt or knew had to be tidied into packages, befitting the quantitative perspectives of the time.
Since then, changes in research approaches to teacher education programmes have become increasingly apparent. These changes have come about through a number of insights. Probably the most important insight relates to the realisation that people differ markedly in the way they make sense of the world, so that each person's version is different from any other. A further key insight is that people change over time, as events cause them to reassess and revise the ways in which they make personal meanings. Emerging research methodologies from the qualitative domain have made it possible to acknowledge - and chart - such difference and change over time.
The focus on the personal and the ways in which people make meaning for themselves has fostered this next wave of research within teacher education. Once it was only possible to survey large populations with any claim to validity. Now, various methodologies and ways of sampling are increasingly legitimated by researchers. For instance, case studies where very small groups of perhaps half a dozen or even one student are studied, receive acceptance (Tardif, 1985; Bolin, 1990). Such methodologies invite close inspection of what it means to be a teacher or to become a teacher. These studies recoil from any claim of blanket application to all intending teachers; rather, they highlight the diversity of ways in which people approach their experiences of teacher education. The message is that students commence their teacher education as very different people. Their progression through the programmes is different and at the end of their programmes, they maintain their diversity.
Revelations of diversity however can be very uncomfortable for staff members charged with providing programmes that will fulfil the expectations of the employing authorities, the requirements of the institution, and each intending teacher's needs for personal and professional development. Course providers may look for information that acknowledges diversity. At the same time, they want some report on group overview and consensus of what the programme has achieved.
In designing the present study of the new course in operation, the researchers were concerned with these two sets of demands. On the one hand, they were eager to invite students to present their personal views of what the programme meant for them. On the other hand, there was the need to tap into the concerns and interests of the whole group of students, 150 or more.
It was quite impossible to interview all 150 students on even one occasion and analyse and present their responses in any meaningful way. In addition, to interview them on just one occasion would be to capture only that single moment in their professional development. Such a one-off interview would share the flaws of the end-on outcome measures relied upon by a previous generation of researchers. The course was concerned with process, so if understandings and concerns were to be tapped, they needed to be returned to throughout the one year course.
As is typical in research, a compromise was reached. A model of research participants was evolved. The research participants were elected by their peers and charged with the responsibility of soliciting and presenting their groups' views. The research participants fo rmed the nexus between their peers and the course providers. Theirs was a heavy responsibility: to work with the group they represented and with the course providers to uncover the special concerns that needed to be examined in the research participant forums. The research participants were messengers between the two groups, the body of intending teachers and the staff on the course. They were negotiators working across the two groups. They also shaped policies through their recommendations and directions they indicated as coming from the group.
Previous models of research into teacher education have demonstrated that each person derives his or her own opinions of the experience, whether these be massed into group reports or individual studies. But, through the contributions of the research participants, this model of research took on a different flavour. Each research participant supplied a profile of what it was to be an intending teacher at the individual level. At the same time, the research participants were also reflecting and reporting on their perceptions of what it was like to be an intending teacher in the group they represented. From their perceptions, the questionnaires completed by the whole group across the one year course were derived.
End-on courses have always suffered from having little time to do so much. The particular challenge in the 1990 review was how to make this short course meet the target of preparing critically reflective practitioners.
Zeichner & Liston (1987) assert that critically reflective practitioners are those who are "willing and able to reflect on the origins, purposes and consequences of their actions".
Roth (1989) describes the process in which these practitioners engage as one "of inquiry, reflection, decision making and dialectics'. He sees the process as a spiral rather than a cycle so that the critically reflective practitioner "is always becoming".
Schon's work (1983, 1987) appears to underlie this view of the critically reflective practitioner. It is his belief that "reflectivity is not simply a matter of pausing when facing a problem to think it through, but is a part of the ongoing practice of professionals as they interpret and respond to situations that are 'indeterminate' in order to achieve their aims" (see Bullough, 1989).
The process of critical reflection requires a frame of reference, which, though definitely not divorced from practice must be theoretical. Unless the frame of reference is theoretical it could hardly be critical, and without it, our reflections would be superficial, uncritical and incestuous!
Adler (1991) attempts to describe the process as "Reflection as Critical Inquiry". She defines the generic characteristics and the steps in the inquiry process (see also Ross & Hannay (1986), Gore & Bartlett (1989), Smyth (1989) and Ross (1989)).
It is asserted, then, that for teacher education programmes to be effective in the contemporary context, they must create opportunities for teachers in preparation to become critically reflective practitioners. Teachers must learn to theorise about their professional practice and they need access to both theoretical concepts and professional work. The notion of "Praxis" as the dynamic interplay of theoretical concepts and professional work facilitates this parallel access (see also Martinez (1990) and Richert (1990)).
Of course, the difficulties associated with giving a pre-service teacher education course a critically reflective emphasis are not denied, as Adler (1991) outlines in her article. For example, she notes the difficulties of developing critical inquiry in pre-service teachers who tend to be more concerned about what she refers to as the "dominant discourse of management" (p. 148). Indeed some students are resistant to reflective thinking (see Bolin, 1990).
These sentiments aside, the notion of critical reflectivity underpins the ethos of the course in its revised form, its principles, its objectives, its structure, its organisational arrangements and its ongoing review and evaluation. As beginning teachers, graduates of the course will not have become expert in critical reflection but will have been empowered to continue in a spiral of "always becoming". As Roth (1989) suggests "the result of the preparation of the critically reflective practitioner is not a standard procedure or protocol to direct one's practice. An apprentice acquires these in a craft".
The course-as-designed is based on four principles: critical reflection, flexibility in structure, sequence in structure and diversity of approaches. These principles are reflected in the course objectives, the course structure, organisational arrangements and ongoing review and evaluation.
Tables 1 and 2 provide some detail concerning the principles and the objectives.
The course structure provides a range of campus-based opportunities for students in Studies in Education as well as Curriculum and Teaching Studies. Field Experiences, including Teaching Practice is closely related to campus-based aspects of the course structure.
In the course-as-designed, attention was also paid to organisational arrangements which would facilitate the implementation of the course principles and objectives within the course structure. For example, the course calendar includes six weeks which are allocated to Independent Projects. These six weeks for Independent Projects provide three designated periods when students pursue learning for which they take increasing responsibility as the year proceeds. The projects offer choice to students in topic and in approach, and allow students to practise critical reflection and autonomous learning.
Developing graduates who have the basis for working as critically reflective practitioners in a constantly changing social and educational context.
Developing a course structure which is flexible so that, for example:
Developing a course structure which is sequential so that appropriate connections are made with students' backgrounds at the beginning of the course and with their professional development as beginning teachers during the course. This sequence is not lockstep and predetermined for all students.
Developing approaches to implementation which are varied, which respond to the diversity of students' backgrounds and learning styles, and which recognise the notion of the autonomous learner in practice.
The commitment to ongoing facilitation and evaluation of course implementation made by the Course Advisory Committee during the design phase is being maintained by the newly-formed Course Coordination Committee within the University and Faculty structures. It is this committee which coordinates the ongoing review process and which has assumed the responsibility for documenting and reporting progress, and above all for making efforts to ensure that the original principles of the course will be observed and the objectives pursued. It appears that the ongoing challenge for this committee lies in ensuring that students have e nough knowledge to make their reflections valid and worthwhile. Attempts to solve this can be reflected in the structure and content of the course as well as in the practices.
|As beginning teachers, graduates of the course in its revised form have begun a process of career-long professional development. It is in this context that the objectives for the course are identified.
The principle concern of the revised course is to enable intending teachers to become critically reflective practitioners.
Emphasis on this is the major change in the rationale of the course, and is a main determinant of course structure and delivery. These aim to empower students to make decisions about their own learning in the course and in relation to their beginning professional role as teachers.
The research project reported in the next section of this article, along with the ongoing research and evaluating undertaken by the Course Coordination Committee, provides a basis for improving aspects of the course so that students as intending teachers are given an increasingly effective opportunity to begin their career long process of "always becoming" critically reflective practitioners.
So, the RPs acted as link persons, reporting both to staff and to their fellow students. In addition, each RP also was an individual discussant, reporting and reflecting on personal experiences and attitudes to the course during the meetings with the members of the project team.
From such encounters, group and individual data were collected in order that questionnaires reflecting student concerns could be constructed. RPs and staff members worked together on the construction of both questionnaires; together, they then would explore questionnaire outcomes.
At this first meeting, RPs were asked to suggest topics for circulation to all the other RPs and staff members before each of the subsequent meetings. As the RPs discovered during this first meeting, there was no formal agenda and discussion within the meetings was very open. Perhaps as a result of this openness, RPs made no moves during the year to provide topics before the meetings. In the absence of suggestions from the RPs, staff members continued to frame up topics for discussion very broadly, knowing well that the RPs would provide specific detail and flag their concerns in the immediacy that the meetings provided.
From the very first meeting, the lack of commonality among the ten students who had undertaken to be RPs was evident. While they appeared to share an overarching concern with becoming secondary school teachers, they reported and enacted very different versions of what they should be encountering in the course on their way to that end. This diversity continued throughout the year, pointing to the complexity of expectations, attitudes, skills and experiences of the individuals encountering teacher education. As an instance, one matter that was closely canvassed at the first meeting concerned whether student teachers should spend their second practice teaching period at a different school from their first assignment, gaining access to a (presumably) new perspective The counter view argued that it was preferable to stay at the one school and become familiar with its culture and identify change as it occurred over the year. This point lent itself readily to inclusion in the questionnaire to be responded to by all students.
Responses to the first questionnaire indicated that 66% of students agreed or strongly agreed with the RPs arguing for different practice teaching schools in the two teaching periods. This item, repeated in the second questionnaire, indicated that the number supporting this had grown to 88~o of the respondents.
However, the following item in the questionnaire put forward the proposition that "I would prefer to stay at my present practice teaching school for both practice sessions". In the questionnaire following the first period of practice teaching, 46% preferred to continue at the same school. In the second questionnaire, the number had grown to 65~r preferring to stay where they were.
The apparently contradictory responses to these items illustrate the problems of teacher educators trying to balance conflicting expectations among students while trying to reconcile these with the realities of organising a programme. The ten RPs could not agree on what was the appropriate practice, and so it was with the responses from the group as a whole. Further, it appears that many individuals wanted to experience another school but also wished to stay on at the same school. On the other hand, even if there had been a more clear-cut indication of what intending teachers had wanted, the administrators responsible for school practicum stated that it was impossible to organise such a switch between schools. The problem of matching intending teachers' curriculum studies combinations with those offered by supervisors at practice teaching schools was too great.
The planning and analysis of questionnaires dominated discussions in all but the first of the meetings with the RPs. While the initial meeting was a time for first encounters, the second meeting was directed at deciding collaboratively what topics of concern warranted inclusion in the questionnaire. The format decided upon for the questionnaire examined the course as a whole, individual subjects (2 in Studies in Education, 2 or 3 in Curriculum and Teaching Studies) and practice teaching. Statements were presented under each of these headings to be responded to on a five point scale, ranging from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree". Space was also provided for open-ended responses to questions relating to overall satisfaction with teaching, the course itself, and future aspirations. The majority of statements were repeated in the two questionnaires.
The collaborative construction of the questionnaires (and, once administered, discussion of their findings) provided a focus for all but the initial meeting with the RPs. Staff and RPs could all raise issues that they felt needed to be explored or clarified. After discussion of the matter, the group needed to decide whether it warranted inclusion in the questionnaire. So, RPs brought up matters relating to consistency between unit offerings and assessment requirements. They queried practices in the schools that they themselves had encountered or had reported to them. These concerns could be aired between the individuals present at the discussion meeting and some queries or problems could be remedied at this stage. Other concerns were earmarked for inclusion in the questionnaire, such as the independent projects, orientation to the course, and administration/communication. These have been addressed and are being monitored in the second year of the course's implementation.
It is questionable whether students can be expected to understand the requirements and philosophy of a course in a brief space of time. On each of the questionnaires, a number of items asked students to rate their familiarity with the structures and purposes of the course. By the second questionnaire, students were indicating a higher degree of certainty about what they were doing in the course. This suggests that it may take at least one semester for students to begin to feel comfortable with the different demands that each course makes.
Just as the course was a new experience for students, so it was for staff in this introductory year. Throughout the introduction of the new course, there had been a emphasis on workshops with staff and school supervisors to acquaint them with the workings and approaches of the new course structure. RPs independently suggested the need for items such as "Lecturers understood the structure of the course and were able to communicate these to me" and "Supervisors (at practice teaching schools) understood what was required of them". Responses to these suggested that, if the necessary understanding were to be developed, more time and resources needed to be spent on these areas, and higher attendances encouraged from their target audiences through support and release from their schools and institution.
Discussions with the RPs about their reasons for undertaking the course and the reasons they attributed to fellow students led to additional items being included in the second questionnaire. These items explored the assumption that teachers enrolled in the course planned to be teachers in the immediate future of longer term. The question mark over employment prospects caused one item to be phrased "If I get my way, I will be teaching in 1992". The following item was "My personal intention is to be teaching for at least the next five years". While 90% of the students indicated that they wished to start teaching immediately upon graduation, almost half did not see themselves as teachers in five years' time.
The RPs and staff members making up the project team were all involved in identifying items for inclusion in the questionnaire. On the staff's part, they were looking for information on a number of issues, particularly that of students' response to the emphasis on critical reflection in the course. Accordingly, items relating to the course's success in encouraging such reflection and professionalism were included in the questionnaires. Student responses on both questionnaires indicated that the objective had been reached, with over 80% of students agreeing throughout the year that the course had encouraged such experience. Students saw themselves as growing in critical reflectivity over the year, in accord with Fuller's (1969) seminal work on teachers' stages of concern, moving from concern with survival to concern with professional issues.
In addition, working together with the RPs achieved far more than acquiring a set of questionnaire findings, however valid and reliable these findings are argued to be in statistical terms. Through being part of the research project, RPs engaged in first hand collaborative inquiry into what constitutes a course in teacher preparation. Through involvement in the research project, the notion of reflective practitioners researching their own practice was extended to the RPs who engaged in systematic analysis of the experiences which marked their passage to professionalism. The research project served as a guarantee that the course was not just talking about reflection and professionalism it was enacting it as much as was possible at every stage from planning right through to evaluation.
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|Please cite as: Borthwick, J. and Macpherson, I. (1993). Critical reflection and collaborative enquiry in a teacher preparation course. Queensland Researcher, 9(3), 1-14. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qr9/borthwick.html|