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Scholars Review Student-Teaching's Impact

There are some large gaps in what researchers know about how student-teaching impacts teacher-candidates' skills, according to a a lengthy review published recently in the Review of Educational Research.

The existing body of research tends to focus on development of teachers' beliefs, rather than on how beliefs translate to practice, or the role that faculty play in guiding them, conclude authors Lauren Anderson and Jamy Stillman, both of the University of Southern California.

The scholars summarize: "The review highlights a disproportionate emphasis on belief and attitude change, a relatively slim evidence base concerning the development of actual teaching practice, a tendency towards reductive views of culture and context, and a need for more longitudinal analyses that address the situated and mediated nature of preservice teachers' learning in the field."

The review comes as teacher education policymakers call on training programs to lengthen and strengthen the "clinical" part of teacher preparation. The problem? As this review indicates, the field lacks a clear roadmap about how to accomplish that goal.

For the review, the two professors examined peer-reviewed articles published between 1990 and 2010, focusing on articles about student-teaching in schools with many historically underserved students. They culled those studies focusing on preservice placements of a duration of at least six weeks in a single classroom. In all, the review analyzed 54 studies.

The studies shared a few common features, the researchers found:

  • They tended to focused on changes in teachers' beliefs, rather than on whether, or how, those changes affected their subsequent knowledge about how to teach;
  • Similarly, the studies did not emphasize whether, or how, candidates' actual teaching practices or skills improved over time;
  • Finally, the authors found that some of the articles had a tendency to oversimplify attitudes toward urban schools or disadvantaged students.

The authors call for more concerted efforts for understanding the "black box" of student teaching, including how teacher education faculty and others help candidates become more skilled. This will mean coupling qualitative research methods with other tools, and supporting faculty to expand their research beyond discrete classrooms and schools.

"What we argue for in the review is an expansion in the kinds of methods that are used, and the scale of studies that are used," Stillman said in an interview. "It would be terrific to support teacher educators to partner with other researchers ... to engage in more mixed-methods, cross-institutional studies, as well as longitudinal studies that look at [candidate] development over time."

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