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Modifying field experiences to service-learning.


Most teacher education programs utilize field experiences to provide teaching candidates with the opportunity to practice learned pedagogy. Field experiences often are apprenticeships where the teaching candidates' primary focus is to develop teaching skills. Service-learning combines community service with academic learning and provides teaching candidates the opportunity to collaborate with site staff to design and deliver programming and instruction to meet the site's holistic needs. Service-learning has the potential to foster the teaching competency of teaching candidates, professional development of existing site staff, and programming for students. A described inappropriate field experience prompted the modification of a physical education teacher education program's requirement to service-learning.


Towards physical education teacher education's (PETE) goal of preparing competent physical educators, field experience is a highly regarded component (Strand, 1991; Dodds, 1985; Bell, Barrett, & Allison, 1985), and required for national and state accreditation (National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 2001; California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, 2001). Traditional field experiences, though, might be enhanced by restructuring according to the pedagogical technique of service-learning. Traditional field experiences often can be considered internships (characterized as apprenticeships), where time is spent with others more experienced learning about a particular career, or becoming job-ready (Furco, 2002). As such, it might be generally said that as interns, teaching candidates primary focus is to develop their teaching skills, in part by watching and learning from those considered expert. As an alternative to traditional field experience, service-learning combines community service with academic learning (Erickson & Anderson, 1997) and focuses on the holistic needs of the sites served (students, teachers, and/or environment). Teaching candidates work alongside site staff to determine specific needs, and conduct instruction and programming accordingly (Root, 1997). As a result, the opportunity to authentically cooperate and collaborate with the entities of a learning environment is created (Erickson & Anderson, 1997). While the literature examining teacher education service-learning is still growing, strong evidence has emerged that it positively impacts teaching candidates" teaching skills and serves to motivate K-12 teachers and students (LaMaster, 2001).

Further considered, the process of service-learning might also be valuable toward developing teaching candidates' skills in being change-agents in their subsequent school contexts. While most physical education teachers want students to learn, develop lifelong physical activity participation, and value teaching for the opportunity provided to enhance growth and development (Ennis, 1996), other physical education literature has addressed the plague of non-teaching (Locke, 1975) and revealed that K-12 students' experiences in physical education are negative (Locke, 1999), often times due to being bored and marginalized within their classes (Carlson, 1995a). Recently, there is growing evidence that a reformed approach to programming and instructional delivery creates positive physical education environments that foster student learning and enjoyment (Carlson, 1995b; Ennis,, 1999; Tannehill, 1998). This includes programming that is based on current state and national standards, and student assessment that goes beyond dressing-out and attendance (Hastie, 2003).

While it is reasonable to state that many PETE programs are aligned to these reforms and develop teaching candidates accordingly, many existing physical education teachers are reluctant to change and maintain instructional and programming practices that are ineffective, if not worse. Some known reasons for the reluctance to change are anxiety created by the unfamiliar and unwillingness to alter interaction patterns with peers (Fullan, 1991). Simply put, teachers can be averse to change because they do not understand how to implement reforms and/or do not have quality, working relationships (i.e., trust, open communication, support) with their peers to foster implementation (Fullan, 1991). As a result, existing faculty may not accept (and may even hinder) new teachers' innovations. During service-learning, however, existing faculty actively collaborate with teaching candidates to jointly determine need, and design and conduct corresponding pedagogy. This is notable because collaboration, particularly joint work among and between teachers, is considered an effective way to sustain and motivate teachers toward the improvement of programming and instruction. Existing faculty have the opportunity to become familiar with programming and instructional reforms while teaching candidates gain experience in real contexts.

A recent experience I had over the course of observing a PETE teaching candidate's required field experience illuminates the aforementioned contention. During my observations, I was disturbed by the grossly inappropriate exhibit of teaching I witnessed. This manifestation was not seen in the candidate but rather by five of the school's physical education teachers who were supposedly charged with mentoring the candidate's teaching readiness. Perhaps, what is described over the next several paragraphs will not be surprising, and others may have observed similar situations or some even more dire. However, this experience led to the modification of content of upper-division PETE courses and prompted this narrative as an offering to suggest that other PETE programs consider such modifications as described herein, namely, changing the focus of field experience to that of service learning and including "change-agent" skills as a specified course learning outcome.

The context of this field experience was an overcrowded (enrollment 4800, grades 6-8) urban school located in an impoverished neighborhood chronically plagued by crime and unemployment. Academic testing rated literacy extremely low and ranked the school among the worst performing in its district. Physical education took place in the so-called "yard:" a vast combination black-topped and grass area with 12 basketball and 6 volleyball courts and three each soccer and softball fields. The yard was bordered on three sides by a cement wall that was topped by a razor wired, chain-linked fence. The coed classes were enormous (70-80 students), and at any one time 450 students occupied the yard during each period. Surprisingly, there was ample quality equipment available to the department. A recently built storage shed convenient to the yard neatly stored several rows of a variety of functional balls and other assorted items.

Upon entering the yard for the first time, I noticed several students (approximately 8-12 in each class) wearing one-size-fits-all bright yellow jumpsuits emblazed with LOANER across the back and chest. Teachers told me the jumpsuits are for students who either don't have or forget their required physical education clothes (a t-shirt and shorts with the school name), and "someone had gotten them from the County." Upon further observation, those wearing jump suits were grouped together after their class's warm-ups, given garbage bags, and instructed to collect trash by their teachers for the remainder of the period as punishment. I further learned that students who didn't have their required clothes and who refused either to wear a jumpsuit for class or oblige to collect trash, received a "double-F," the equivalent of two fails of which one could be made up by running laps a subsequent class period.

As my observations continued over the length of the term, several observations occurred while the state-mandated Fitnessgram fitness testing was conducted. Once testing is completed and the results are compiled, the scores are submitted to the state for review and posted on the state's education department web site. This school's previous year's scores revealed that only 2% of the students scored in the healthy range for all six of the items, and only 5% scored in the healthy range on at least three. Excluding the teaching candidate I observed, every other teacher conducted fitness testing in a similar manner. While the students were seated at their attendance spots (approximately 8-9 rows of 8-9 students each), teachers, who were sitting in chairs, called each individually to the front of the class to perform the various assessments in front of their peers. Among other comments, the teachers told their classes that the tests "were something they had to do," "were a waste of time," "would be done one-at-a-time so no one would cheat," and that "everyone will watch everyone else so we find out who the weaklings are." Also announced was that each student's grade would be determined by his/her performance, as well as what performance levels corresponded to an A, a B, etc., for each item. There was no observed distinction made for gender.

When called to the front of the class to begin their test, students were referred to by their attendance row, and number in the row (i.e., 1-A, 1-B, etc.). No effort was made to ask the students their name, only to verify their assigned spot. As such, the results were cumulatively and anonymously compiled, but it is presumed that students could, if so desired, inquire about their individual assessment by referring to their participant identification. The teachers did not offer nor were the students observed to seek this information. Once called to the front, the students assumed the positions appropriate to the particular fitness items and the teacher looked to verify the students' proper alignment. The teacher said "Go," then counted aloud the number of completed repetitions (crunches, push-ups, etc.). When finished, the teachers announced how many had been completed, the corresponding grade, and often voiced some derogatory characterization of the performance ("You looked like a girl doing those"). Likewise, it was observed that the students were not given the opportunity to do modified versions of the items ("Everyone is going to do boy push-ups").

While testing was being conducted at the front of the class, the rest of the students were relegated to remain seated at their attendance spot. This amounted to the students sitting on their spot for the entire period, only moving when called to perform a test item. After testing was completed on the final two days, though, each class was divided into two teams to play bombardement (a.k.a., war-ball, dodgeball, etc.). The games were played in an area such that for each class, one team had their backs to the cement wall and the other team had their backs to open space. The teachers provided about five rubber playground balls to each team at the start of each game. No directives were given, but one teacher was observed to say, "Saving your face from getting hit is a good way to learn to catch or get out of the way." Once the games began, the teachers congregated in the middle of the yard and chatted among themselves. As expected, each class's game was dominated by the highest skilled (boys), and most of the lower skilled (girls) were observed to retreat from the mid-line as far as possible. Some girls developed the strategy of standing in the back, trying to intentionally get hit by the balls thrown more softly than others. This tactic allowed them to get out of the game quickly, presumably interpreted by this observer so as to not get hurt. Others simply never engaged in the game and instead walked unnoticed by the teachers to an open area of the yard to wait until class ended.

The teaching candidate's PETE program espoused developmentally appropriate, outcomes-based instruction and fitness testing, and programming models alternative to the traditional, multi-activity model. The intent of the field experience was to provide the opportunity for teaching candidates to put into practice that which was taught in PETE and gain experience teaching in a real context. During this experience, this teaching candidate was neither able to put into practice learned concepts about teaching nor gain teaching experience. This was not due to a lack of effort, though. Throughout the field experience, the teaching candidate regularly made suggestions to the cooperating teacher about teaching practices that could be more effective. Concerted attempts were made to specifically modify the procedure used for students who didn't have their clothes and restructure the conduct of fitness testing, but the suggestions consistently were disregarded, including several that occurred in my presence. When the teaching candidate initiated conversations with students who didn't have their clothes to inquire about their reasons, the cooperating teacher interrupted to interject the effort was not worth it because, for example, "they [the students] will never be able to handle remembering their clothes." As well, the attempt to conduct fitness testing in a manner alternative to the status quo was thwarted the instant it began. The prevailing message given was that the cooperating teacher had been there for a number of years, and the teaching candidate's position was to "'learn from me I am the expert." The teaching candidate became so frustrated and disillusioned that the decision to become a physical educator was questioned.

As conducted, this field experience hindered the teaching candidate's development as a teacher. While weekly seminars perhaps offered a venue to de-brief and helped reinforce that which is known to be good instruction (particularly identifiable as it is in polar opposition to the school's exhibited conduct of physical education), the structure of the experience did not allow for the candidate to practice good pedagogy. It did nothing to help instill confidence or develop a sense of contribution to the effect of student learning. Restructuring PETE field experiences to ones focused on service-learning seems to have the potential to foster the development of teaching candidates' teaching competency while contributing to the improvement of existing K-12 physical education. In addition, concurrently including the concept of change among the topics addressed in PETE holds the promise of familiarizing teaching candidates with the skills necessary to enact related strategies upon working in contexts where the existing programming and instruction are ineffective and/or out-dated.

Epilogue--once this teaching candidate's field experience site was switched, and the focus was modified to be aligned toward service-learning, a positive experience was realized, and a subsequent offered teaching position was accepted with great excitement.


Bell, R., Barrett, K. & Allison, P. (1985). What preservice physical educators see in an unguided, early field experience. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 4, 81-90.

California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (2001). Standards of quality and effectiveness for professional teacher preparation programs. Sacremento, CA.

Carlson, T. (1995a). We hate gym: Student alienation from physical education. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 14,467-477.

Carlson, T. (1995b). "Now I think I can": The reaction of eight low-skilled students to sport education. ACHPER Healthy Lifestyles Journal, 42, 6-8.

Dodds, P. (1985). Delusions of worth-it-ness: Field experiences in elementary physical education programs. In H. Hoffman & J. Rink (Eds.), Physical education professional preparation: Insights and foresights (pp. 90-109). Reston, VA: American Alliance for Health.

Ennis, C. (1996). A model describing the influence of values and context on student learning. In S. Silverman & C. Ennis (Eds.), Student learning in physical education: Applying research to enhance instruction (pp. 127-147). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Ennis, C., Soloman, M., Satine, B., Loftus, S., Mensch, J. & McCauley, M. (1999). Creating a sense of community in urban schools using the "Sport for Peace" curriculum. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 70, 273-285.

Erickson, J. & Anderson, J. (1997). Introduction. In J.A. Erickson & J.B. Anderson (Eds.), Learning with the community (pp. 1-4). Washington, DC: AAHE.

Fullan, M. (1991). The new meaning of educational change. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Furco, A. (2002). Is service-learning really better than community service? In A. Furco & S. Billig (Eds.), Service-learning: The essence of the pedagogy (pp. 23-50). Greenwich, CN: Information Age Publishing.

Hastie, P. (2003). Teaching for lifetime physical activity through quality high school physical education. San Francisco, CA: Benjamin Cummings.

LaMaster, K. (2001). Enhancing preservice teachers field experiences through the addition of a service-learning component. Journal of Experiential Education, 24, 27-33.

Locke, L. (1975). The ecology of the gymnasium: What the tourists never see. Proceedings of Southern Association for Physical Education of College Women. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 104823).

Locke, L. (1999). Retrieval and review. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 18, 357-371.

National Association of Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) (2002). Initial physical education program report manual (5th ed.). Reston, VA: NASPE

Root, S. (1997). School-based service: A review of research for teacher educators. In J.A. Erickson & J.B. Anderson (Eds.), Learning with the community (pp. 42-72). Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.

Strand, B. (1992). A descriptive profile of teacher preparation practices in physical education teacher education. Physical Educator, 49, 104-113.

Tannehill, D. (Ed.), (1998, May and June). Sport education. Two-part feature presented in the Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 69 (4) and (5).

Anne Larson, California State University, Los Angeles

Larson, Ph.D., is assistant professor of kinesiology. Her teaching-research interests include pedagogical caring, secondary-physical education, and underserved youth.
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Author:Larson, Anne
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Mar 22, 2004
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