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Helping teacher candidates become reflective about their practice. (Teacher Educator/Professional Standards).

While teacher education traditionally has focused on curriculum and instruction, assessment and accountability have become just as important. Teacher candidates must be able to document their knowledge and skills, in order to meet state and national teaching standards. Through this documentation process, teacher candidates reflect upon the products of their teaching and learning. Artifacts may range from teaching portfolios, videotapes, creative projects, and conferences, to exams and papers. Reflecting and writing about these artifacts is now a critical developmental process for teacher candidates.

Educators value the reflective process as key to good teaching. The certification process established by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), for example, emphasizes teachers' ability to scrutinize their practice, considering what might improve their teaching (NBPTS, 1999). The ability to be reflective is not new to education. Plato wrote of the "rational soul" who discerned and judged what was true and right and made subsequent decisions (Delphi Plus, 2000). In the 1930s, Dewey (1933) wrote that teachers should intellectualize the difficulty of the situation, elaborate on an idea, and test a hypothesis. More recently, Schon (1987) stated that teachers can modify their instructional repertoire only if they have the knowledge and skills for this inquiring, critical thinking process. Schon (1983) also recommends that teachers frame the question or cause of the problem before attempting to find an answer.

Our teacher candidates in the Department of Elementary, Early, and Special Education at Southeast Missouri State University have many opportunities to develop their ability to think critically and reflectively about their teaching practices. Education courses are arranged into four blocks. Each block has specific requirements and a related field experience. Typically, the length of one block is a year. During the first block, the teacher candidates begin the process of developing their reflective skills by observing in K-6 classrooms and reflecting on their personal choices related to the field of education. Self-assessment is used at this point as a first step toward becoming more reflective (Diez, 1996). During this time, the instructor plays the important role of mentor by offering guiding questions or suggestions.

The second block requires teacher candidates to teach independent lessons. They keep a reflective journal in which, in addition to recording their classroom observations, they discuss their teaching experience. They also comment on what they might do differently if they taught this lesson again. This is another step in the process of moving from self-assessment to reflection (Diez, 1996). In this block, teacher candidates also begin developing their course portfolios. In the beginning phases of this development, they write about their understanding of the required state performance standards for educational professionals (adapted from INTASC). Their reflective statements are a measure of their beginning knowledge relative to each standard, as well as their ability to connect their observations and teaching to the course's concepts and theories.

The third block and related field experience revolve around subject matter methods courses in math, science, social studies, and language arts. During this block, the teacher candidates teach units in each of the subject areas. During their initial observations of the classroom activities, they collect information and make observations that will be used in their development of a contextual factors and assessment plan for a unit that uses the "Teacher Work Sample Methodology." Discussions during their university class time help the teacher candidates relate their observations to the lesson planning; they incorporate these ideas in their development of a curriculum unit. This planning helps preservice students anticipate what they think will happen when they teach a lesson. The college instructor utilizes scaffolding as an instructional strategy to develop reflective thinking. After teaching the lessons, the students reflect on the experience and consider what they would do differently. As they examine and reflect on the "inner conversations" that are taking place in their minds (Duff, Brown, & Van Scoy, 1995), they develop a foundation upon which they will build their professional lives. During the semester, teacher candidates collect evidence for their portfolios that documents their completion of most of the required standards. They then write reflections, demonstrating their understanding of: why they selected the artifact, what it shows about their knowledge and skills, what they learned from the experience, and what they still have to learn. Throughout this process, the teacher candidates gradually take responsibility for their own reflection (Diez, 1996).

In the final block--student teaching--teacher candidates document their efforts to meet the remaining standards. With the guidance of their cooperating teacher and university supervisor, and through interactions with colleagues, they continue to refine their reflective abilities (Freese, 1999). The teacher candidates also complete a four-week unit in which they assimilate what they learned about contextual factors, learning goals, assessment plans, design for instruction, instructional decision making, analysis of learning results, self-evaluation, and reflection. Through this process, they develop a total picture of their teaching performance and student learning.

Becoming reflective is a developmental process. Teacher educators bear the responsibility of guiding teacher candidates through this critical thinking process. Hopefully, teaching then develops into "... attitudes of open-mindedness, responsibility, and whole-heartedness" (Hitchcock & Hughes, 1995). Likewise, as Blase and Blase (1998) write, these attitudes or dispositions demonstrate a willingness of teacher candidates to be reflective and to evaluate teaching in terms of the broader perspective of educational disciplines and best practices. As teacher candidates begin their professional careers, their ability to be reflective about teaching enables them to learn from experience and provide their own students with the best possible education.

References

Blase, J. L., & Blase, J. (1998). Handbook of instructional leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Delphi Plus. (2000, September 16). Plato: The republic 1-4. Retrieved from http://people.delphi.com/gkemerling/hy/2g.htm

Dewey, J. (1933). How we think: A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process. Boston: DC Heath.

Diez, M. E. (1996). The portfolio: Sonnet, mirror and map. In K. Burke (Ed.), Professional portfolios: A collection of articles (pp. 18-26). Arlington Heights, IL: IRI/Skylight Training and Publishing.

Duff, R. E., Brown, M. H., & Van Scoy, I.J. (1995). Reflection and self-evaluation: Keys to professional development. Young Children, 50(4), 81-88.

Freese, A. R. (1999). The role of reflection on preservice teachers' development in the context of a professional development school. Teaching and Teacher Education, 15, 895-909.

Hitchock, G., & Hughes, D. (1995). Research and the teacher: A qualitative approach to school-based research. London: Routledge.

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. (1999). What teachers should know and be able to do. Washington, DC: Author.

Schon, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner. New York: HarperCollins.

Schon, D. A. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner. New York: Basic Books.
--Deborah A. Moberly and Kathleen D. Conway,
Southeast Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau,
and Mary Ransdell,
University of Kentucky, Lexington
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Author:Ransdell, Mary
Publication:Childhood Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2002
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