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English language student teachers pedagogical content knowledge

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 4977 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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My study aims to analyze the relationship between English language student teachers pedagogical content knowledge learnt from the university coursework and their practice of teaching during the practicum in schools. By pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) here, I mean the knowledge to teach English as a second language at secondary level. The focus of my study is to find out what PCK student teachers learn during their English language teaching course at the university and how they apply that knowledge in the classroom during the practice teaching. In this literature review I discus the concept of teacher education programmes, the practicum, link between theory and the practicum, gaps between theory and the practicum, how to strengthen the link between theory and the practicum and brief review of research on practicum in teacher education and English language teacher education programmes. In the end I state the aim of my study and the potential research questions. The purpose of this literature review is to provide an introduction to and grounding for my study.

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2. Teacher Education Programmes

Teacher education programs are designed and organized to train prospective and in-service teachers. These programmes educate teachers to teach at various levels of education such as pre-primary, primary, elementary, secondary and higher secondary levels. Two common types of teacher education programmes are pre-service teacher education which is also called initial teacher education (ITE) and in-service education and training (INSET). Initial teacher education prepares the new trainee teachers to teach at different levels whereas in-service teacher education provides training to the already working teachers. (Although there is a conceptual difference between the concepts ‘teacher education’ and ‘teacher training’, in this document I will be using both these concepts in the same meaning. Generally in this document, teacher education or teacher training means pre-service teacher education. If I talk about in-service education of teachers, it will be mentioned in the text).

Aldrich (1990) says that teacher education programmes are important to prepare future teachers to develop their professional competencies. Laczko-Kerr and Berliner (2002) argue that university teacher preparation courses prepare better quality teachers. The objective of the teacher education programme is to equip student teachers with a set of competencies to teach in the school context (Banks et al. 2001), to cope with the complexity of challenges in their everyday teaching work (Cheng, 2010). The challenge is to help student teachers put their learning from the teacher education programme into practice.

Most teacher education programmes include different components: general education; subject-matter studies; foundation of education studies; methods studies; and field experience (i.e. teaching practice) (Stuart & Tatto 2000; Zeichner & Gore 1990). The general education, foundation courses and methods studies comprise the theoretical component whereas field experiences focus on the practical component of teacher education programmes.

Korthagen et al (2006) argue that teacher education finds itself in a difficult position in the 21st century. He presents three reasons for dissatisfaction with the teacher education programmes. First reason is the irrelevance of teacher preparation for the reality of everyday practice in schools. It has generated pressure on teacher educators to rethink about the structure and practices of teacher education. Secondly, research evidence during the final decade of 20th century shows that new teachers appear to face severe problems during their first period in the profession. Wideen, Mayer-Smith, & Moon (1998) also supported this view and said that the transfer from theory (presented and learnt during teacher education courses) to practice in schools is often meager. Thirdly, new concepts of teaching and leaning have emerged and developed overtime. Constructivist (Williams & Burden, 1997; Roberts, 1998; Arends, 2004; Osterman & Kottkamp, 2004) and social constructivist views (Roberts, 1998; Beck & Kosnik, 2006) have dominated the theory and practice of teaching and learning. These views argue for learner-centered approaches to learning and teaching and challenge the traditional practices in teacher education. It poses challenges for teacher educators.

Teacher educators have attempted to respond to this challenging phenomenon to fulfill the demand of producing effective teachers in the 21st century. Zeichner (2010) argues that the old paradigm of teacher education where academic knowledge is viewed as the authoritative source of knowledge about teaching needs to be changed to the one where there is interlink among academic, practitioner and community expertise. As knowledge is constructed and shared by learners in constructivism and social constructivism, he argues that this new epistemology of teacher education will create expanded learning opportunities for prospective teachers that will better prepare them to be successful in ‘enacting complex teaching practices’ (Zeichner 2010, p. 89). Darling-Hammond, Hammerness, Grossman, Rust & Shulman, 2005) concluded that research on effective teacher education programs shows that where field experiences are carefully linked with coursework and carefully mentored, teacher educators are better able to accomplish their goals in preparing teachers to successfully enact complex teaching practices. In view of the complexity of the teaching-learning process Korthagen, et al. argue that the most basic problem which is still not being addressed adequately in teacher education programmes is ‘how to connect theory and practice in such a way that teachers would be able to handle the problems of everyday teaching through theory-guided action’ (Korthagen, et al. 2006, p. 1021).

My research focuses on the issue of analyzing the link between theory and practice of English language teacher education in the context of Pakistan. This analysis will help to understand what student teachers learn during coursework at the university, how they learn it and how they put that learning into practice during thee practicum. In the next part I discus the concept of practicum.

3. The Practicum

Practicum (also termed as teaching practice/internship/induction or field experiences) may be defines as learning by doing (Schön 1987), learning from action (Hutton 1989) or work-based learning (Foster and Stephenson 1998). Stanton & Giles (1989, 180) define the practicum as ‘field experiences that focus on professional practice’ and ‘activities that are explicitly focused on pre-professional practice’. The ultimate goal of the practicum is to let student teachers demonstrate specific competencies that they are expected to have mastered at different stages in their pre-service stage (Yan, 2010)

Practicum placements in schools are considered to be a significant component of pre-service teachers’ education program (Touchon & Gwyn-Paquette, 2003; Leishem 2008). Practicum plays a major role in student teachers’ learning. Much of what teachers need to learn must be learned in and from practice rather than in preparing for practice (Ball & Cohen, 1999; Hammerness, Darling-Hammond, & Bransford, 2005). Teaching practice provides opportunities for student teachers to develop a contextualized understanding of the complexities. It also provides opportunities to develop classroom management skills, lesson planning and the ability to interact with students (Richards & Crookes, 1988; Farrell, 2001). According to Huling (1997), practicum experiences offer teacher candidates a place to “observe and work with real students, teachers, and curriculum in natural settings” (p.1). Student teachers are able to apply their theoretical knowledge in the real classroom setting. Darling-Hammond and McLaughlin (1996) note that professional development opportunities are criticized for being non-contextual and isolated from the world of practice. Practicum in teacher education programmes provides opportunities of practice in the context of school. Zeichner (2006 p. 333) says that extended teaching practice can give the student teachers ‘exposure to practices of experienced teachers’. Student teachers may observe experienced teachers and can learn from their practices. It can also develop interaction among student teachers and the other school teachers.

It is clear form the above that practicum is an important component of teacher education programmes. It not only provides opportunities for applying the theoretical knowledge the strudent teachers have gained from the teacher education institutions but also develops a sense of professionalism in them. It introduces the teaching profession to the prospective teachers. They can also interact with experienced teachers and can learn from them.

3.1. Linking Theory and the Practicum

(Korthagen & Kessels, (1999) argue that in application of theory model of pre-service teacher education in the United States, prospective teachers are supposed to learn theories at the university and then go to schools to practice or apply what they learned on campus. (Darling_Hammond (2006, p. 307) observes that ‘one of the perennial dilemmas of teacher education is how to integrate theoretically based knowledge that has traditionally been taught in university classrooms with the experience based knowledge that has traditionally been located in the practice of teachers and the realities of classrooms and schools’. Zeichner (2010, p. 90) also supports the view that one of the most difficult tasks is to strengthen the connections between what our student teachers do in their school and community placements and the rest of their teacher education program.

The inter-relationship of theoretical knowledge and practicum is further elaborated by Lewis (2007). He uses the terms ‘conjunction’ and ‘disjunction’ to refer to the presence or absence of the relationship between what is taught in teacher education and what is practiced in schools. By ‘conjunction’, he means that there is no clash between the knowledge gained in teacher education institutions and what is to be practiced by trainee teachers in schools. Lewis argues that disjunction or the difference between university advocated practice and what actually occurs in schools, presents the prospective teacher with a dilemma. He quotes a student teacher who in doing the practicum in school who says: ‘the course at university emphasizes engagement and use of constructivist oriented activities – however the majority of classes I am doing have teaching that is fairly teacher oriented and content focused’ (Lewis 2007, p. 6). This type of confusion may be common in a number of contexts. It may happen when teacher education institutions do not take into account the contextual factors in schools.

Russell (1988) identifies three types of tensions in theory-practice relationship: firstly is between campus-based course work and school-based relevance; secondly, between child and teacher-centered approaches; and finally, between what a student teacher can be told and what that person does in the classroom. Such tensions can be addressed by carefully designing and implementing the teacher education courses keeping in view the context of real school teaching and student teachers’ previous experiences.

3.2. Gaps between Theory and the Practicum

Lack of connection between campus-based teacher education courses and field experiences has been a perennial problem in teacher education programs (Bullough et al., 1997, 1999; Zeichner, 2007, 2010). Studies show that student teachers feel there is a lack of ‘connection’ between the teacher education programme and the school-based teaching experiences (Hobson et al. 2008, 414). Different reasons may be attributed to the gap between theoretical and the practical component of teacher education programmes. Ashcroft & Griffiths (1989) say that it is very hard to preserve the unity of theory and practice during a short teaching practice period in schools. It is very common that cooperating teachers in schools know very little about the methods courses the student teachers have completed on campus and the course teachers in the university know very little about the specific practices used in the classroom where student teachers are placed. (Zeichner, 2010).

Lack of well planned supervision and guidance on the part of cooperating teachers may also lead to disconnect between what the students have learnt and what they actually practice. It is often assumed that good teaching practices are caught rather than taught (Darling-Hammond, 2009). Zeichner and Tabachnick (1981) found that many newly learnt teaching theories or conceptions developed during teacher education programmes are diluted by the initial confrontation during their teaching practice and it raises doubts whether insights from teacher education had actually been achieved (Cole & Knowles, 1993). As a result of the falling short of the expected practice of the theoretical knowledge, the student teachers may adapt to the common habit of teachers to consider teacher education too theoretical and useless (Elliot, 1991).

Sometimes, the courses taught at the university may not be context specific to prepare teachers. In Australian context, Commonwealth Department of Education, Science & Training (2002, p. 104) reported that the theoretical components of teacher education programmes are ‘distant, irrelevant and inaccessible’. The disconnect may be in various types like the disconnect between university coursework and the teaching context, gap or lack of cooperation between the student teachers and the supervisors or/and cooperating teachers, conflict between student teachers’ perceived competencies and their actual performance in the practicum etc. The gaps need to be minimized if teacher educators want to produce effective teachers for complex teaching tasks. In the next part I discuss how to minimize the gaps and strengthen the link between theory and the practicum.

3.3. Strengthening the Link between Theory and the Practicum

Darling-Hammond (2006) suggests that carefully constructed field experiences coordinated with campus courses are more influential and effective in supporting student teacher learning than the unguided and disconnected field experiences. Evidence shows that traditional and loosely planned and monitored model of field experiences may create obstacles in student teachers’ learning (Feiman-Nemser & Buchmann, 1985; Zeichner, 1996). One way to prepare student teachers for actual classroom is simulative teaching in which simulations of classroom situation are enacted (Cohen, 1981). Simulative teaching sometimes proves to be a fallacy and student teachers may encounter with ‘reality shock’ when teaching in actual classrooms (Korthagen et al. 2006, p. 1027).

Zeichner (2010) suggests that some portion of the methods courses can be taught in partner schools to mediate the gaps between their campus courses and the students’ school experiences. The course tutors should deliver model lessons in the actual classroom in the partner schools where the student teachers are required to do the practice teaching. Ball & Forzani (2009) also support the notion that clinical experiences should be the central focus of pre-service teacher education from which everything else in a program emanates.

Cheng et al. (2010) examined theory-practice gap as perceived by student teachers in Hong Kong. On the basis of their findings, the researchers propose four strategies to close the gap and strengthen the link between theory and practice. They recommend: student teachers need to develop their own competencies and reflect on their pedagogical practice; promoting self leaning or independent learning; encouraging teacher educators to model lessons and; arranging study abroad programmes for non-native student teachers to some English speaking countries.

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Darling-Hammond (1994, 1999) & Fullan et al. (1998) recommend more involvement of university faculty in the student teachers supervision so that they may get detailed feedback and guidance on the practicum experiences. Casey & Howson (1993, 365) suggest a three-person teaching team who should meet to discuss goals and strategies and attempt to build ‘a strong scaffolding for pre-service students’. The team includes education professors, field supervisors, and cooperating teachers. Korthagen et al. (2006) argues for a close cooperation not only in the sense of school-university partnerships, but also in three-way cooperation among teachers in schools, teacher educators in universities, and those who are learning to teach. Goodlad (1990) also recommends including teacher candidates’ perspectives in the mentoring process. In the next part I review literature on how to improve the practicum in teacher education programmes.

4. Improving the Practicum

Student teachers perceive the practicum to be the most valuable part of their teacher education for its strong influence on their views of the roles of teachers (Smith & Snoek, 1996). Organizing and conducting well planned and effective practicum may better help teacher education institution to realize their objective of producing more effective teachers. There can be number of problems which reduce the effectiveness of the practicum. Yan and He (2010) identify six problems in the practicum as perceived by English language student teachers in Chinese EFL context. These are: tension between vision and reality, unreasonable schedule of the practicum, practicum school’s distrust, lack of supervision, student teachers’ lack of motivation in preparing lessons plans and lack of sound assessment system. These problems are associated with organization of the practicum, role of supervisors, assessment system and level of motivation among student teachers to teach. As teacher educators, we will need to address such issues to make the practicum more effective.

Some of the most significant factors which can contribute to improve the practicum in schools are school-university partnership, role of the faculty in preparing student teachers for the practicum and supervising their practice and support and cooperation of the cooperating teachers. I will discuss these separately.

4.1. School-University Partnership

School-university partnership does not mean that schools are only the ‘practice fields’ for student teachers. This view limits the collaboration and cooperation between schools and universities. (Korthagen et al. (2006) argues that common view of learning to teach includes the assumption that the university-based components of teacher preparation offer the theoretical underpinnings of teaching and that school teaching experience (practicum) offers a situation in which those previously learning principles of teaching are practiced. This view creates many difficulties, including the fact that the ”expertise” of teaching practice is often assumed to reside largely in schools with teachers. Further Gorodetsky, Barak, and Hadari (2007) pointed out that even in the current wave of school-university partnerships in teacher education, colleges and universities continue to maintain hegemony over the construction and dissemination of knowledge, and schools remain in the position of practice fields where student teachers are to try out the practices provided by the university.

This view implies that schools are always at the giving end. Why should the head teacher and the cooperating teachers spar enough time to mentor the student teachers and collaborate with the faculty supervisors if they are not involved in any other component of teacher education programmes? The exclusion of school teachers from designing and pedagogy of teacher education courses also limits the actual training needs of the student teachers and the scope of the practicum. The practicum in particular and teacher education programme in general can be strengthened if experienced school teachers are involved in the university programmes. Zeichner (2010) gives an example of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where teachers with evidence of a high level of competence in the classroom spend 2 years working in all aspects of the pre-service teacher education program, including student recruitment, general education, professional education sequence, ongoing program evaluation and renewal efforts, and in supporting graduates in their early years of teaching. University faculty may also join the partner schools to teach the actual classroom for some period of time to refresh their knowledge of school teaching. This sort of ‘useful’ partnership may help improving the practicum.

4.2. Role of the University Faculty in the Practicum

In addition to working as course developers, course tutors, examiners, evaluators, managers etc. teacher educators serve as role models for the actual practice of the professional (Korthagen, Loughran, & Lunenberg, 2005). This role model may be intentional or not. Loughran (1997) is of the view that modelling behaviour by the educator gives the student teachers an opportunity to experience and understand some likely outcomes of teaching. Research shows that explicit modelling of teacher educators can facilitate the translation into the student teachers’ own practice (Lunenberg, Korthagen & Swennen 2007).

Modelling is an effective tool to prepare student teachers for actual classroom teaching. The teacher educator can also deliver model lessons in the partner schools instead of creating simulative classrooms in the university. Supporting the concept of modelling, Russell (1999, p. 220) goes on to say that ‘Universities generally, and university-based teacher educators particularly, have no right to recommend to teachers any teaching practices that they have not themselves used successfully at the university’. Korthagen et al. (2006) argues that if teacher educators advocate some innovative practices that they do not model and explain in their own teacher education classrooms, teacher education reform will continue to elude us. University faculty can use modelling as a powerful strategy to prepare student teachers for the practicum. There can be some implications of ‘model’ lessons as it may not be possible for trainee teachers to adapt themselves to the model lesson after some period of time. Furthermore, there may be more than one method of teaching the same lesson; sometimes it can be ridiculous to confine the student teachers to the ‘method/methods’ used by the faculty in his/her model lesson.

4.3. Cooperating Teachers and the Practicum

Support from cooperating teachers may be useful for student teachers during the practicum. But sometimes, cooperating teachers are overburdened because they also need to do their routine teaching and other school assignments simultaneously. In such a case it is likely that they do not take the practicum seriously and may not assist student teachers as they should have or would have wanted to help them. Guyton & McIntyre (1990) emphasise the role of the cooperating teacher, who is most available, in developing student teachers’ practice. Farrell (2001) argues for support from the practicum school and cooperating teachers. He further contends that student teachers should be placed with competent cooperating teachers. If the cooperating teachers are not competent enough, they are likely to be less effective in student teachers’ development. Randall (1992) says that the cooperating teacher may heavily influence student teachers’ teaching styles through direct contact. He can provide on the spot guidance to the student teacher. It is very common that cooperating teachers in schools know very little about the methods courses in the universities (Zeichner, 2010). Cooperating teachers need to be involved in the university courses and also trained by the university faculty for mentoring of the student teachers. It can help them perform their role more effectively in helping student teachers. In the next part I review research on the practicum in teacher education and English language teacher education and also argue for my proposed study.

5. Research on Practicum in Teacher Education and English Language Teacher Education

Darling-Hammond (2006) states that there has been much discussion about the structure of teacher education programmes but there has been less discussion on what actually goes on in the teacher education courses and the clinical experiences that student teachers encounter and how the programmes add up to the knowledge and skills of the student teachers to prepare them for classroom. Yan (2010) argues that research on the practicum is mainly limited to general higher education programmes from the Western world, and the English language teaching practicum has received scarce attention. Little is known about how learners ‘conceptualize their initial teaching experiences, and about what impact these experiences have on their professional development as teachers’ (Johnson 1996, 30) and what actually occurs during the practicum (Richards & Crookes 1988; Freeman 1989).

Snoek (1996) claimed that student teachers perceived the practicum to be the most valuable part of their teacher education for its strong influence on their views of the roles of teachers. Hodge et al. (2002) reported that the practicum had a positive impact on the student teachers’ attitude towards their work. Yan, (2010) contends that most second-language teacher preparation programmes simply assume that once pre-service teachers have completed their required coursework, they will be able to transfer their knowledge into effective classroom practices. It is, therefore, well worth investigating complexities and problems arising from the practicum to enhance its effect on student teachers’ professional growth and teacher education programmes.

Cheng et al. (2010) examined the theory-practice gap by reporting a study that researched the inconsistencies between student teachers’ best teaching strategies and their most commonly employed ones. They conducted this study in the context of Hong Kong. A questionnaire and in-depth interviews were used to generate data. Total 228 final year student teachers of 4 years B. Ed programme completed and returned the questionnaire. In addition to it, 31 Year 4 student teachers enrolled in these programmes participated in in-depth interviews. Findings revealed three main dimensions of consideration attributing to the inconsistencies in the conceptions of teaching: pre-training experiences of student teachers, teaching context of the partner school and student needs. These considerations lead to expansive or constraining impacts on the student teachers’ selections of teaching strategies. Nevertheless, teacher education programmes are expected to have an expansive impact on the student teachers’ conceptions of teaching as well as to help them overcome constraining impacts from other sources of influence.

Koeppen (1998) observed that student teachers face multiple difficulties in classroom instruction as theory versus practice occurs. Her case study of a student teacher found that the student had problems in linking university courses and classroom context during the practicum. What the student had studied for example, planning instruction and modeling did not match the reality he found in school. This student teacher struggled to reconcile himself to the teacher-centered teaching he was doing which was totally against the theory of teacher-centered learning which he had learned in his course.

In the context of Pakistan, no such study has been conducted on the link between theory and teaching practicum in English language teacher education. Keeping in view the above cited literature, the present study aims to analyze the link between English language student teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge learnt from the university coursework and their practice of teaching during the practicum in schools. By pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) here, I mean the knowledge to teach English as a second language at secondary level. The focus of my study is to find out what PCK student teachers learn during their English language teaching course at the university and how they apply that knowledge in the classroom during the practice teaching. I pose the following questions to achieve the aim of the study:

What type of pedagogical content knowledge the student teachers learn during English language teaching course at a selected teacher education department in Pakistan?

How and to what extent English language student teachers apply/practice their pedagogical content knowledge to teach during the practicum in schools?

What is the relationship between student teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge and their practice of teaching English at secondary level in Pakistan?


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