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Reading partnerships for teacher candidates.


An effective field experience is an important component in the development of teachers for elementary schools. Research shows that partnerships between university and elementary schools are one way to provide meaningful experiences for teacher candidates. However, one problem in developing these partnerships lies in the design of the experience. This study describes a partnership and reading activity between a university professor and an elementary teacher which was designed to enhance the learning experience for elementary students and teacher candidates enrolled in a content reading course.


The preparation of preservice teachers is intricately intertwined with public schools in terms of purposes, content, processes, and organization (Ishler, Edens & Barnett, 1996). The university curriculum designed to prepare teacher candidates typically includes classroom theory, operational curriculum (classroom teaching, instruction, and experiences) and experiential curriculum (meaningful learning experiences as perceived by the students). Methods courses, part of the operational curriculum, are part of most curriculum plans for teacher candidates. The courses are designed to provide opportunities for teacher candidates to create lesson plans and practice teaching the lessons to their fellow classmates (microteaching). Fortunately, this microteaching concept has evolved to provide opportunities for students to teach their lessons in actual classrooms during their field experience visits to classroom sites.

Research shows that in field experiences with focused, well-structured activities, significant learning can occur (Wilson, Floden, and Ferrini-Mundy, 2001). It is commonly accepted that those teacher candidates who participate in field based experiences will be better prepared to teach than those who do not. Consequently, the opportunity to interact with students in field sites is valuable in helping teacher candidates gain practical experiences in an authentic situation. For many years, schools of education have regularly partnered with P-12 schools to serve as field based sites for teacher candidates. Although there are many types of field experiences formed between schools and universities, the most common arrangement involves the teacher candidate placed at the school with the university supervisor visiting the school site. Designing partnerships takes time and a willingness on the part of both entities to make it work. This paper describes a four-year collaborative field experience between an elementary teacher of gifted and talented students (grades 3-5) and a reading professor at a university site.

A Different Type of Early Field Experience

An early field experience usually involves the placement of teacher candidates in a classroom to gain practical experiences while working with a classroom teacher and students. However, in our case, two major factors (distance and time) determined the redesign of the experience: The elementary school was located approximately twenty minutes from the university and the class time for the course was only eighty minutes. This distance prevented teacher candidates from 1) traveling to and from the elementary school and 2) having a sufficient amount of time to work with the teachers and students at the school site. The time of day for the course was situated between other courses of which several of the teacher candidates were enrolled. This small amount of time would not have been practical for the teacher candidates to enjoy a meaningful experience. The redesign of the experience allowed the teacher candidates to still gain a valuable experience with students and receive feedback from elementary students about the reading activity which they had designed. In the elementary and secondary reading methods course, the observation experiences are scheduled through the teacher education office. However, the observation experiences for students enrolled in this content reading course were designed by the teacher. In previous semesters, students were allowed to complete observation hours in classes for which they were currently observing. In that instance, the students would complete extra observation hours in a current observation site.

In the beginning of the collaborative experience, the university professor and elementary teacher met to work out the design of the field experience. This initial meeting involved the elementary teacher and university professor planning several steps in the process. The elementary teacher was responsible for 1) securing permission from the principal for the field trip, 2) choosing the elementary classes to participant in the activity, 3) securing consent forms for each of the students, 4) securing parental volunteers to help with the thirty students, and 5) setting up other activities that the elementary students would experience while away from their campus for the day. For instance, the elementary students would not only visit the reading classroom but they also were able to each lunch on the campus and visit to the museum which was located on the university campus. The university professor was responsible for notifying the dean, campus cafeteria, and campus security about the visitors (elementary students) who would be on campus. The university professor also invited a reporter from the campus newspaper to the class. The team also worked together to design possible activities for preservice candidates when visiting the elementary classroom outside of the university class time.

The next step in the process was to discuss different themes and activities which would be planned for the semester. The two groups involved in this study were elementary classes, consisting of gifted students in grades 3-5 (N=30) and teacher candidates from two classes (N=60) who were enrolled in a junior level content reading course at the university.

The Reading Activity

For the field experience that is discussed in this paper, the teacher and university professor proposed designing activities around the theme of "Talking Walls". This theme of "talking walls" provided the teacher candidates with an opportunity to integrate many subject areas in their lesson plans. These "walls" provided many opportunities for the teacher candidate to introduce the elementary students to not only different geographical lands and regions, and cultures but also abstract walls, such as walls of prejudice, peace, or hatred. The Berlin Wall was an example of a wall that divided two people from the same country and represented a wall of division. The books, "Talking Walls" (Knight, 1995) and "Talking Walls: The Stories Continue" (Knight & Chan, 1996) served as the main resource of the activity.

The "Talking Walls" book introduced stories behind fourteen walls and provided information about how the structures had influenced cultures and societies. The walls included were the Aborigine Wall Art, the Berlin Wall, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Cuzco, Peru, The Diego Rivera Murals, the Great Wall of China, the Great Zimbabwe, the Lascauz Cave, the Mahabalipuram's Animal Walls, the Muslim Walls, the Nelson Mandela's Prison Walls, Taos Pueblo, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Western Wall. Likewise, the "Talking Walls: The Stories Continue" book also introduced stories behind another fourteen walls. The walls included were the Barracks on Angel Island, the Belfast Peace Line, the Dikes in the Netherlands, Divali Festival Wall Paintings, the Dog Wall in Tokyo, the Hadrian's Wall, the Holocaust Memorial Wall, the Maya Murals, the Ndebele Wall Designs, the Pablo Neruda's Fence, the Philadelphia Murals, the Tibetan Prayer Wheels, the Walled City of Fez, and the War Po Temple.

The Reading Activity--The CAP

The Contract Activity Package (CAP) as designed by Rita Dunn (1992) served as the model for the creation of the lessons plans that would be used as independent study activities for the elementary students. A Contract Activity Package (CAP) is an individualized educational plan that allows a teacher to design lessons which would meet the needs of students with various learning styles. It facilitates learning and includes simply stated objectives that itemize exactly what the student is required to learn (Dunn & Dunn, 1992).

There are several important components in designing a contract activity package. One major objective of each lesson was to provide different learning opportunities for the elementary students. The purpose was to allow students to demonstrate their mastery of the objectives designed around the wall chosen by the teacher candidate. The elementary students were also required to choose an activity from each objective provide that met their particular learning style. Each CAP provided multi-sensory resources for each objective which must be mastered by the students. The teacher candidate was also expected to use a series of activities which allowed the student to creatively use the information that was to be mastered. It was also important for the CAP to include alternative ways in which activities developed by one student may be shared with one or more other students. The sharing was, however, restricted to no more than six to eight classmates. The last three components required to include in a CAP were to provide at least three small-group techniques (i.e., brainstorming, circle of knowledge), a pretest (assess prior knowledge), and a posttest (assess knowledge learned).

The teacher candidates worked in pairs to create an individual package on one of the fourteen types of walls in the Talking Walls books. They were encouraged to make the projects attractive in an effort to encourage the elementary students to want to complete the activities and learn more about the chosen wall. In the CAPs, students would have an opportunity to write, draw, compose and sing, and dramatize their knowledge about the theme. The contract activity packages also included all of the resources needed to complete the activities listed in the package. The resources included website addresses, articles, and other books and materials which would be needed by the student.

Toward the middle of the semester the teacher candidates were required to have the CAPs finished so that the elementary students would have ample time to complete the assignments. The elementary students would have between 2-3 weeks to complete the independent work. The exact timeline for students was determined by the classroom teacher. The university professor reviewed and gave comments to the teacher candidates about their CAPs before they were delivered to the elementary students.

The university professor and elementary teacher set a predetermined date for the teacher candidates and elementary students to meet and discuss the independent study activities. The elementary students were encouraged to visit the elementary classroom outside of class time to work with the teacher and elementary students which would be visiting later in the semester. When the elementary students visited the university, they worked in groups with the teacher candidates to discuss the CAPs that had been designed by the teacher candidates and completed by the elementary students. The culminating activity for the activity involved the two teacher candidates in teaching a lesson based on information from the contract activity package.

The Beginning of a Sample Lesson

An example of the beginning of a lesson on one of the walls, (for example a lesson on one of the wall, (for example a lesson on the "Great Wall of China"), the main goal was for elementary students to learn some interesting facts about the Great Wall of China. It was assumed that students had a general idea about certain facts about the wall but perhaps not all of the same facts. A behavioral objective was for the elementary student to assume the role of a travel agent and identify five interesting facts about the wall to share with someone who would be traveling to China. As activity alternatives and reporting alternatives were required for each objective, the teacher candidate required the elementary student to create a presentation depicting five interesting facts about the wall (activity alternative) and then to share the presentation with two classmates (reporting alternative). In this example the elementary student was able to choose an activity alternative and corresponding reporting alternative corresponding reporting alternatives to show mastery of an objective. There would be alternative activities which would appeal to students who enjoyed using different modalities. For example, students could have the opportunity to draw, use the computer, design a brochure, create a collage, or write a diary to demonstrate mastery of the objective. The teacher candidate designed the activities and corresponding reporting alternatives to address the needs of diverse students who demonstrated different learning modalities. These activities would be completed at the student's elementary school.


This experience of working with students on the university campus allowed the elementary students to experience a field experience on the university campus in conjunction with a visit to a museum and lunch on the university campus. The elementary teacher and her students met with the teacher candidates during the scheduled class time and during this time the teacher candidates and the elementary students were able to interact and discuss the activities. The teacher candidates were required to have one activity in the package that would be taught during this class period.

This experience was novel in that the teacher candidates received feedback from elementary students for whom the lessons were designed. In previous semesters, teacher candidates designed lessons which were taught to their peers. The feedback from elementary students enhanced this field experience and was different from the feedback which would have been received from fellow university classmates during a microteaching experience. The usual assignment of designing lessons that are graded by the university teacher with his or her comments or the opportunity of microteaching was replaced with elementary students providing feedback to the teacher candidates.

Comments from Teacher Candidates

A comparison between the different types of comments made before and after the teacher candidates constructed the packages and after receiving feedback from the elementary students was revealing. As part of the requirements for the course, teacher candidates were required to keep a journal. At the beginning of the creation of the CAPs, the teacher candidates expressed comments which showed their anxiety about their ability to create the assignments and the reception they would perhaps receive from the students. Their comments were:

"I hope they like these activities."

"I hope they learn as much as I am learning about this topic."

"This certainly makes me think about providing many different ways for students to show me that they have mastered an objective.", and

"This type of field experience is really different from the ones in my other method courses."

The above comments could be contrasted with comments such as:

"They liked the activities but I now know I should have included more interactive opportunities."

"I couldn't believe how much the students already knew about the topic."

"The pretest showed me that they already knew a lot about this subject."

"The students really enjoyed having more than one way to show that they had mastered an objective."

"Some students chose more than one activity under an objective", and

"I am glad that we had this type of field experience. I wouldn't have had enough time between classes to get the hours in."

The contrast of these before and after comments showed that as the teacher candidates reflected on the experience, they learned from their experience even though they were unable to work with elementary students in the usual designed field experience.


The comments above involve the teacher candidates in an important component in becoming an effective teacher--Reflection. They gained an opportunity to receive feedback from elementary students who had interacted with activities that had been designed for them. The opportunity to collaborate with other classmates in the design of the activities was also beneficial for the teacher candidates. The novel redesign of the field experience proved to be valuable in allowing teacher candidates an opportunity to interact with an elementary teacher and students despite the obvious distance and time conflict. This description of one collaborative activity between an elementary teacher of gifted and talented students and one university reading professor of teacher candidates enrolled in a content reading course is indicative of one type of authentic early field experience which can be planned and accomplished through collaborative experiences. The university activities planned by this team resulted in experiences for which the students (both elementary and university alike) felt were one of the highlights for the semester.


Dunn, R. S. and Dunn, K.J. (1992). Teaching students through their individual learning styles: A practical approach. Prentice Hall College Division, ISBN: 0879098082

Ishler, R. E., Edens, K. M., & Barnett, W. B. (1996). "Elementary education". In J. Sikula, Buttery, T., & Guyton, E. (Eds.), Handbook of research on teacher education 2nd Ed. (pp. 348-377) New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Macmillan

Knight, M. B. and Chan, T.V. (1996). Talking walls: The story continues. Tilbury House Publishers. Illustrated by Anne Sibley O'Brien. ISBN: 0884481689.

Knight, M. B. (1995). Talking walls. Tilbury House Publishers. Illustrated by Anne Sibley O'Brien. ISBN: 0884481549

Wilson, S.M., R. E. Flodden, and J. Ferrini-Mundy (2001). Teacher Preparation Research: Current knowledge, gaps, and recommendations. U.S. Department of Education and the Office for Educational Research and Improvement.

Nancy Reese-Durham, Fayetteville State University, NC

Nancy Reese-Durham, PhD., is currently an associate professor in the Department of Middle Grades, Secondary and Special Education
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Author:Reese-Durham, Nancy
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2006
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