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Leadership in teacher education: providing structure in field placement.

Because of teacher preparation programs, preservice teachers are spending more hours in schools before they student teach. Program accreditation is certainly a key factor driving this trend. Also, research strongly supports the theory that increased field experience enhances preservice teachers' knowledge and performance. Without attention to the quality of these experiences, however, increased field hours may provide little benefit. If field experiences are as carefully planned and supported as classroom instruction, they too can be meaningful and valuable.

A survey of elementary education seniors in Texas and Arkansas examined the students' most productive field experiences. In the survey, students midway through their student teaching semester were asked to reflect on field experiences prior to their student teaching. The students identified four ways to ensure successful field placement experiences and prioritized them in order of importance. Effective field experiences result from clear expectations and objectives, careful correlation with theory and methods taught in the classroom, opportunities for feedback and discussion, and well-defined procedures.

The students unanimously selected clear expectations and objectives as their first priority. They reported that productive field placements were only possible when they had a clear understanding of what they were going to learn. They stressed that expectations and objectives must not be too broad. Even in early observational experiences, students requested specific direction. One student reported that she "missed many significant events in her first observations because I was not advised what to watch and what events were significant." Those students who found their early observations to be useful received very specific assignments from their college instructor. One such assignment was to draw a detailed diagram of the classroom and then label areas where the children received instruction individually, in small groups or as a whole class.

The second priority for field placement that students identified was the need to correlate classroom theory and field experiences. Even when clear expectations and objectives were established for both the college class and the field experience, the students often found no relationship between theory presented in the classroom and the field activities. Observations and tutoring experiences in the field enhanced and extended the theory presented in the classroom only when they were presented as an integrated experience.

One student recalled a classroom discussion on the positive and negative features of basal readers in her reading methods class, and even recalled giving a report on the advantages of using trade books over basals. She reported, however, that she began to understand this issue only after she began her student teaching. In her field placement assignment for her reading methods class, she tutored individual children in a small room down the hall from the classroom. She never observed how the teacher taught reading to the rest of the class.

Students in the survey were well aware that setting up field placement assignments is a very complex undertaking. None of the students in the survey expected every field placement assignment to match classroom instruction perfectly. They reported learning significantly more, however, in field placements that either intentionally or accidentally related to topics discussed in the classroom.

Opportunity for feedback and discussion was the third priority recommended by the students. Once expectations and objectives are clearly established, students must be held accountable for meeting those expectations. Even when students were given specific assignments for a field placement, they took the task more seriously when the assignment was collected and evaluated by the college instructor. The survey also revealed that students believed they learned more from field experiences when the quality of their field performance contributed to their grade.

Another accountability factor was identified as necessary for effective field placements. The students reported that they learned more if the college instructor periodically visited the school site to observe them. One student reported that her college instructor not only visited the school, but often modeled instructional strategies for the students and classroom teachers alike. This student reported that she had great difficulty understanding how to use a Directed Reading-Thinking Activity until the instructor modeled it at her field site. She now uses it regularly in her student teaching assignment and has taught the procedure to her cooperating teacher.

The amount and quality of feedback influenced the degree to which students believed they were "learning what they needed to know" and "doing what they should be doing." Most of the students in the survey reported that they had very little feedback about their field experiences prior to student teaching. Many reported that it was only during student teaching that they came to understand the classroom issues they had "discovered" in earlier field experiences. Most of the students expressed regret that their discoveries had not been affirmed sooner.

Students also reported that their experiences in the field were rarely discussed in the accompanying classes. When instructors regularly and systematically reviewed field experiences in class, the students reported learning a great deal more. Students found that discussions with peers also helped them digest their field experiences, and were most beneficial when they were a structured part of the class. The survey revealed that experiences without reflection are often shallow and the benefit is often incidental.

Establishing well-defined procedures, the fourth priority for field placement, will be examined in the Fall Exchange.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Association for Childhood Education International
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Pierson, Carol Anne
Publication:Childhood Education
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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