Theorising the practicum in teacher education

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Abstract

This paper questions whether the practicum can deliver valuable professional learning experiences for preservice teachers. My recent research indicates that practicum learning is often left to chance and many learning opportunities are wasted. It appears that frequently the practicum is a time of tension, frustration, confrontation, acquiescence and mis-communication. An immense investment of time and energy by preservice teachers is necessary for a successful practicum and a complete rearrangement of lifestyle and responsibilities is often demanded. Rather than being left to chance, the practicum should be a time when clearly articulated outcomes are aspired to and achieved through timely quality guidance and support. Yet there has been limited interrogation of the process of the practicum beyond 'taken for granted' expectations developed from uncontested traditional understandings. This has led to a range of untheorised and inequitable experiences for preservice teachers with mentors (who also invest much time) reporting that the guidelines and anticipated learning outcomes are unclear. It is important that preservice teaches and their mentors are helped to 'make sense of' the practicum so that a clearer understanding of its purpose and what it can deliver emerges. To progress this view I have devised nine 'principles of practicum learning' and a learning cycle based on the sharing of stories of practicum learning that have been created from classroom observation and considerable critique and analysis from preservice teachers, their mentors and their teacher educators (Rorrison, 2007). Through acting upon the themes that emerged from the stories with the critical questions of 'how did it get to be this way?' and 'who is benefiting?' robust theories that create spaces and opportunities for practicum learning are presented. Understandings around the receptivity of school cultures, contemporary views of young people as learners,productive mentoring and the importance of collaborative relationships between the schools and the universities help re-vision teacher education to make sense of the practicum. There is no certainty in a democratic learning environment but what is exposed is the need for teacher education to reflect on, harness and learn from the complexities of the practicum. With little evidence to support secondary practicum learning and much anecdote doubting its effectiveness, I was tempted, before this study, to suggest that we replace the directionless and time consuming experience akin to 'jumping through hoops' with more worthwhile culminating experiences. I realise now that I missed the point. The practicum sits within a very full and demanding teacher education course structure and on the periphery of a complex and only partially understood education system. What are needed are changes in attitude and ways of conducting practicum relationships through agreed and explicit practicum learning principles. With a refined sense of teacher identity and an awareness of the role of context, culture and the socio-political dimensions of learning to teach during the practicum, the preservice teachers, supported by their teacher educators and enabled by their school based mentors, will begin to understand why the hoops spin as they do and take pleasure in spinning them anew.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTeacher Educators at Work
Subtitle of host publicationWhat works and where is the evidence?
EditorsTania Aspland
Place of PublicationAustralia
PublisherATEA
Pages319-338
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)0977568512
Publication statusPublished - 2008
EventAustralian Teacher Education Association Conference - Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia
Duration: 08 Jul 200811 Jul 2008

Conference

ConferenceAustralian Teacher Education Association Conference
Country/TerritoryAustralia
Period08/07/0811/07/08

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