Experiential learning: Best practice for students (and their teachers)

How are teachers being prepared for the classroom in other parts of the world? Many countries are providing education students with more clinical practice in real school settings. In this roundtable post, guest author Jessica Roberts advocates for pre-service teachers getting into classrooms earlier and more often.

By Jessica Roberts

Jessica is a National Board Certified Teacher with 16 years of experience in grades K-2. She currently teaches second grade at a Teacher-Powered Charter School in Asheville, NC. In addition to teaching, she serves as a facilitator, administrator, and teacher leader. She is currently pursuing her Masters of Arts in Teacher Leadership through Mount Holyoke College.  

At the beginning of this roundtable, John Holland challenged readers to think about how and why we became teachers.

I struggled in school. Learning was a challenge and I worked hard for mediocre grades. I remember the day my high school guidance counselor told me college wasn’t an option. Instead of being discouraged, I left her office feeling angry and determined. Deep inside I knew she was wrong.

My own learning challenges inspired me to be a teacher — I wanted to provide opportunities for children who, like me, learned atypically. I’m proud to say I attended a college that fit my kinesthetic and social learning style, offered small classes, and provided individualized, career-focused programing. It was a turning point in my education experience. With the right environment and proper support, I experienced success for the first time in a school setting. In my teacher preparation program I received ample hands-on experience from the first class through the final field experience. I excelled in this program and graduated not only fully prepared to enter the classroom, but also inspired to provide this same type of experience for my own students.

Champlain College in Burlington, VT has a strong partnership with local schools. They provide a field study experience in every education class, which allows for more classroom exposure than is typical for education students in traditional prep programs. Veteran classroom teachers teach education courses in elementary schools in collaboration with university professors. I was immersed in the classroom environment, analyzed student work, and learned from experienced teachers in the field.

Recently, as I learned more about teacher leadership in my Mount Holyoke Masters of Teacher Leadership program, I realized that the type of experiential learning I craved as a student is the norm in teacher preparation programs in the top scoring nations around the globe. Many countries are providing education students with more clinical practice in real school settings. Pre-service teachers are getting into classrooms earlier and more often.

Finland

In Finland, every year thousands of general and upper-secondary school graduates apply to the highly competitive educational programs in Finland’s eight universities. Only about 1 out of 10 students are accepted into this esteemed program. In her new book, Teaching Policy Around the World, Linda Darling-Hammond explains that Finland has always trained their teachers in what they call model schools which are connected to the university master’s programs. Expanding school and university partnerships to provide teacher training that helps connect theory and practice is a growing trend in  many parts of the world.

Singapore

In Singapore, to attract and encourage students to enter the field of education, they offer internships during students’ secondary/high school years. Students gain exposure to the profession before making a commitment to apply to higher education programs. Singapore also partners with local schools to support pre-service teachers during their clinical experiences.

Australia

In Australia, the University of Melbourne created a two-year clinical Master of Teaching degree for early childhood, primary, and secondary teachers. This high demand program enrolls more than 1,200 candidates each year. It integrates academic study with practical work in partnering schools. Pre-service teachers learn to analyze student performance data to guide them in planning and implementing lessons.

Another program in the Melbourne University system is the Charles La Trobe Teaching School. This school provides the latest educational facilities where pre-service teachers can attend courses with their clinical practice in the same place, not unlike a teaching hospital where doctors fulfill their residency.  

Singapore, Finland, and Australia have created a culture that supports and values teachers, which in turn attracts highly qualified individuals. They showcase systematic ways to recruit and prepare teachers for success in the profession.

North Carolina

Although the US does not have a national, systematic approach for recruitment, small steps have been taken in pockets throughout the country. Recently, in my home state of North Carolina, teacher preparation requirements have been revised. These revisions were outlined during a University School Teacher Education Partnership (USTEP) meeting at the University of North Carolina at Asheville (UNCA). This committee meets twice a year to improve and strengthen collaborative efforts between local schools and the university. Local school district leaders come together to learn about teacher preparation policy changes. For example, starting in July 2017, the required length of time for clinical practice will shift from 12 weeks to 16 consecutive weeks to include time in the classroom at the beginning and end of the year. This change in North Carolina represents a promising step forward that supports getting pre-service teachers into diverse classroom settings early and often.

Collaboration, critical thinking, reflection, and passion are essential to further enhance teacher preparation systems across our nation.

Continued collaboration between public schools and higher education faculty that promotes co-teaching and mentoring opportunities are crucial to powerful clinical preparation.

Recently, I have been working toward a partnership with our local university to provide quality in-classroom education experiences for budding educators. My vision is to host small groups of university students, teacher education students, and teachers working at other area schools, to engage and participate in Professional Rounds. This experience will serve as an opportunity to develop meaningful conversations and purpose around a shared experience. By doing this, teacher education students experience teaching from the other side of the classroom and engage in discourse with teachers who are reflecting on their teaching and student learning.

I believe that this type of experiential learning will help prepare a new of kind teacher: educators who are ready and able to facilitate learning in children and adults, as well as evoke change in school culture and policy.


Jessica’s post is part of CTQ’s May/June blogging roundtable on teacher shortages. To join the conversation, comment on this blog and read the other blogs in this series. You can find an updated list of all posts on this page. Follow CTQ on Facebook and Twitter to see when each new blog is posted, and use #CTQCollab to join the conversation on social media.