At the University of Northern Iowa, the student teaching semester is, among other things, intense. Student teachers in preK-12 areas complete a rigorous semester long student teaching experience, typically consisting of two 8-week placements. In addition, most participate in the Human Relations course and Seminar in Student Teaching during the same semester.
The student teachers are spread among more than a dozen student teaching “centers” across the state, nation, and internationally. Thus, each student teaching experience boasts commonalities across locations, as well as unique differences from center to center. This unique configuration, along with close UNI faculty supervision, creates unique opportunities for a highly challenging, reflective, and insightful learning experience.
The area to which I am assigned as Student Teaching Coordinator consists of more than a dozen rural school districts in north central Iowa, surrounding the university’s Cedar Falls campus. The university has, over the years, built strong and productive relationships with these districts, which range in enrollment from 350-1000 K-12 students.
The strong and productive relationships between the university and local districts and the assignment of faculty as coordinator and supervisor affords the student great opportunities for evaluation and feedback. In my center, I’m typically able to observe the student teacher in action between 6 and 10 occasions per semester. Detailed notes, videotapes, reflective journaling, and electronic communication are all employed in this process. In addition, our student teacher/cooperating teacher handbook, Defining the Relationship, gives cooperating teachers important guidance and tips for observation and evaluation of the student teachers’ instruction. Building administrators, when possible, also observe, evaluate, and critique the student teachers as the semester progresses.
In my student teaching center, we have employed the use of INTIME as a means to increase students’ use of reflective practice by providing the opportunity to observe, evaluate, and critique another instructor’s work in the same content area and to assist student teachers in determining how they might adapt the lessons, curriculum, or instruction to their own setting. I believe the results have been very worthwhile.
In accordance with the Technology as Facilitator of Quality Education model, we’ve applied the concept of students at the center of their own learning. To that end, we reserve Studio IT on campus; a room equipped with a smart board and wireless laptop computers. We arrange students in groups of two based on their certification areas and ask them to create a model that they believe includes the key elements, broadly speaking, of a quality education.
After allowing a few minutes for collaboration, students present their ideas using the smart board. We’ve been pleasantly surprised and intrigued by the extent to which students posit concepts that are clearly evident in the TFQE model, such as mastery of content standards and the principles of learning. Following presentations of their ideas, we compare their ideas to the TFQE model, its definitions, and components.
Following discussion, student groups begin examining video vignettes that match their certification or subject areas (English, 2nd grade, Biology, etc). We change and adapt the vignettes to reflect the make up of the group, which changes from semester to semester. Utilizing a case study format, students collaborate in viewing the overview of the teachers’ lessons and how the teachers’ actions and decision making process relates to the TFQE model, as well as their own.
Throughout the process, we focus on several points of emphasis. We remind the students that they’re recipients of a considerable amount of feedback and constructive criticism from local staff and administration and the university faculty member. We’ve found it helpful, engaging, and enjoyable for the students to apply a critical, questioning eye to another’s instruction while making comparisons to their own classroom situation.
In addition, we ask the students to critically examine specific aspects of the instruction they’re seeing in terms of specific components of the model. For example, we may ask students to examine how the teacher is (or is not) working to create an enjoyable setting and compelling situation in the classroom. We may then push students to critically examine their own behaviors and classroom climates for comparison and reflection sake. Emphasizing the inherent differences across teachers and districts, we allow students freedom to further explore specific aspects of the model that they view as particularly present (or absent) in the classrooms in which they are placed. Discussion centers on the students’ plans for incorporating and enhancing (or implementing) these practices in their own, future classrooms.
In reviewing the teachers’ lesson plans, students examine lesson objectives, standards, and etc. As the teacher is the key decision maker in the classroom, we ask students to evaluate the teachers’ actions in moving toward the lesson objectives as well as the appropriateness of the objectives. Emphasizing contextual differences present from section to section and district to district, we ask students about alterations and adaptations they might choose to make in their own settings.
Throughout the semester, we place considerable emphasis on the importance of professional networking and equipping oneself with as many contacts and resources as possible. In utilizing INTIME, we draw particular attention to the email addresses and phone numbers of featured teachers, as well as links to professional organizations, resources, and additional resources. This is particularly important in our student teaching center, which is predominately rural and mirrors the vast majority of other districts in Iowa, many of which are even more distant from an urban center or college campus.
Feedback and assessment of our particular use of the INTIME project has been encouraging, though informal and anecdotal in nature. Consistently during the session, students comment about interesting, engaging, and creative instruction and uses of technology exhibited through the vignettes. Many comment that they plan to consider how they could adapt the lessons they’ve seen to their own settings. Others seem convinced that certain goals, activities, or lessons would not likely succeed in their settings, for a variety of reasons. Each group of students is asked to specifically identify aspects of the lessons they liked, aspects they have questions about, and how they might adapt it to their own setting.
To the extent that we seek to have students sharpen their critical eyes and reflect on their own practice, our efforts with INTIME have met the mark. Evidence of their ideas, criticisms, hopes, and ponderings can be readily seen in their reflective journals, which are completed in the days after the project. Students’ comments reflect our initial goals of increasing students’ critical examinations of instruction as well as their reflection on their own practices and settings. A number of students comment that, although they feel nearly overwhelmed by the demands of the student teaching semester, they plan to return to INTIME to go further in the direction of the above goals, as well as the practical notion of gaining new ideas for engaging and productive lessons for their students.
Many student teachers consistently report amazement at the real world demands of student teaching. We suggest to them that the demands are only a glimpse of the real world demands of full time professional teaching. Our work and experience with INTIME allows us one more opportunity to emphasize reflective practice, resourcefulness, and constant evaluation and adjustment. It helps us place one more resource, experience, and source of ideas into our future teachers’ knapsack for success.