Practicum Experience In Teacher Education

Practicum Experience In Teacher Education

ABSTRACT

Teacher education programs are designed to develop professionals who are prepared to meet the  challenges  of the  21st century  classrooms  and  workplace.  To this  end,  the teacher  education  program  must aim to develop the knowledge, skills and attributes  of pre-service teachers  to prepare  them to teach  effectively in the schools systems. It is, therefore, argued that the academic program of the teacher education should be coupled with  an   important   and   integral   component   called  school  -based  experiences   i.e. practicum  which  provides students  with supervised  experiences  and  help  the  student teachers  to understand  the full scope of teachers  role. Many have also suggested that these experiences are very powerful in shaping  pre-service teachers  as they are real in contrast  to the  artificial  environment  of the  tertiary  education  courses.    Hence,  the purpose  of  this  paper  is  to  address  the  need  of  and  justification  for  school  based practicum  experience.   Attempt was also made to show the current  debates and future direction of practicum in teacher education.

*  Lecturer, Department of Pedagogy, Eduction Faculty, Jimma University.

**  Lecture, Department of Mathematics, Eduction Faculty, Jimma University.

Practicum Experience In Teacher Education

INTRODUCTION

Education is universally acknowledged in vast body of literature as an essential element in the process of national development (UNESCO, 1997; UNESCO, 2005; TGE, 1993; GCE, 2000; Psacharopoulos, 1985; Lockheed and Verspoor, 1991). It unlock human potential and helps individuals to better understand the world in which they live, to address the complexity and interconnectedness of problems such as poverty, wasteful consumption, environmental degradation, urban decay, population growth, gender inequality, health, conflict and the violation of human rights that threaten our future and also seeks to empower people to assume responsibility for creating a sustainable future.

Today, with a great understanding of the function that education has to the society and  to  the country as  whole,  Ethiopia is striving to expand education at all levels (primary, secondary and tertiary education) with the intention to transform society through education. To this end, new goals of  access,  equity,  quality  and  efficiency have been articulated/ formed at national level in Ethiopian education and training policy of 1994 to reform all aspect of the education system. To achieve these mission due  attention  was  given  to  teacher education program since the issuance of the Education and Training Policy in 1994, accompanied with educational sector development programs. Because teacher education institutes have the potential to bring changes in the society, have the potential to shape the knowledge and skills of the future generation, and can play a critical  role  in  preparing  quality  teachers for the 21st century.

There is no doubt that teachers play a significant role to the success of any ongoing educational reform (Darling- Hammond and Berry, 1998) and agents for positive societal change (MoE, 2003). Well prepared and well qualified teachers are not only agents of positive societal change but also have a multiplying effect while executing  his/her  regular  duties.  In  the same vein Muhammad (2006) stated that teachers of the highest quality will lead to education of the highest quality. Correspondingly, UNESCO-IBE (2003) explained that teachers can guide learners in an ever-expanding universe of knowledge, helping them to learn how to access information and communicate effectively.  As  teachers  have  many  roles and responsibilities in an education system, it seems that the goal of education is unattainable  without  them,  and  someone can boldly say that there is no substitute to having better teachers.

Teacher Education and Preparation Although, the purpose of teacher education is to produce effective practicing teachers ( George, et al., 2000)  the question of how trainees  can  best  be  prepared  to  become effective classroom practitioners has been on the minds of teacher educators world- wide for many years (ibid). The teaching profession   is   currently   facing   several challenges;    the    global    economy    and competitive  market  place,  the  changing nature  of  job  and  advanced  technology, changes in demographic nature of students and the growing bodies of knowledge about how  people  learn  and  what  makes  for effective   teaching   have   caused   teacher education     to     re-examine     the     basic principles  and  methodologies  of  teacher preparation. Research also suggests that the act  of  teaching  is  becoming  increasingly complex    and    that    highly    competent teachers  apply  a  range  of  practices  for varying purposes, incorporate and integrate different kinds of knowledge, build up a sophisticated pedagogical repertoire, and adapt to learner diversity and shifting contextual  forces.      It  is,  therefore, imperative that teaching professionals responsible for teacher preparation must continually find ways to respond to these challenges.

To achieve the goal of training effective teachers, different approaches to teacher education have emerged in teacher preparation   program   around   the   world. One of such approach is the introduction of practicum in teacher education which is the most highly valued component of teacher preparation (Hill and   Brodin, 2004; High and Tuck,2000 ; Glickman and Bey, 1990), provide a firm foundation for future professional   development   (MoE,   2003), and   has   been   a   site   where   students’ teachers can practice the art of teaching in real  school  context  (Knnedy,  2006),  and has  the power  of  experience  to  critically shape the student teachers perception of teaching and learning (Gustafson and Rowell, 1995).

The Need for  Practicum  in Teacher Education

Teacher expertise is the single most important factor in determining student achievement and fully trained teachers are far more effective with students than those who  are  not  prepared  (National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, 1997). What knowledge and skills do expertise teachers possess?   According to Shulman (1986b), Teaching has been described  as  a  combination  of  an  art,  a craft,  and  a  science.  Knowing  what  to teach, how to teach it, and what methods to use with particular topics, particular kinds of students and in particular settings all combine to form the knowledge and skills that define teaching expertise. To this end teacher education programs should aim to develop the knowledge, skills and attributes of pre-service teachers’ inorder to prepare them to teach effectively in twenty first century classrooms. However, most teacher education programs fail to do so and Ethiopia is not exceptional.

Teachers are ill prepared for the world of work (MoE, 2003) especially, professional competency of teacher is deficient, unsatisfactory  content knowledge, weakness at practical teaching, and graduates are not up to the standard. In addition, university course don’t duplicate real life (Arnett and Freeburg, 2008). In order to fill these identified gaps the practicum came to its existence, and many literature started to argue that the bast way to educate teachers is to give them real experience of school and students (MoE,

2003) which led to the introduction of the practicum in teacher education- through which   student   teachers   understood   the socio-cultural, political and economic factors underpinning  education,  and  also can have first hand experience and knowledge about the public school environment  and  secondary  school students. It also provides student teachers with a frame of reference for the skills they are building. It is a critically important part of initial teacher education.   Therefore, practicum experiences among pre-service teachers are often described as the most important part  of  teacher  education program.

Futures of Quality Practicum

Practicum has been considered as a site where student teachers practice the art of teaching in real school context with student teachers assigned to one teacher and class for specific block of time (Zeichner , 1996) and   allow students to investigate current work place conditions, internal and external factors influencing current structural / organizational features and the impact of school planning processes on classroom practices in relation to curriculum, evaluation and pedagogy (Groundwater-smith, 1996).   Eyers (2004:1) stated that the practicum provides a flexible linkage and focus across the three learning domains in the teacher preparation programs at the higher     education     level     –     content knowledge, professional knowledge (‘what to know about schooling, schools and the people in them’), and the knowledge and skills needed to function as capable and caring professionals   in   those   schools (sometimes called the ‘how to teach’ part).

Quality practice within the practicum component of pre-service teacher education programs were high related to the preparation of quality teaching professionals. With regard to quality practicum program Eyers (2004) identified the  desired  characteristics  of  quality practice within the practicum component of pre-service teacher education programs as follows:

A high quality practicum program:

•      integrates  theoretical  knowledge and  professional  practice  across the three domains of a teacher education program; ‘content’ knowledge  gained  through  a liberal education, professional

knowledge, pedagogical skills and insights.

•      is    designed    and    implemented within a partnership involving teacher education institutions (TEIs),  schools,  school  systems and relevant professional bodies

•      articulates  clear  and  progressive stages for the development of the acquired knowledge, skills, attributes    and    dispositions    of beginning teachers

•      provides diverse experiences in a range of school contexts and with a variety of students

•      assesses against clear delineations of  purposes,  roles  and expectations  of  TEI  student activity and performance

•      includes an assessment of resource needs and implications

•      is     flexible     and     encourages innovation

•      involves  ongoing  evaluation  and response.

With   regard   to   how   is   the   practicum planned and implemented the same author summarized  the  general  nature  and planning and operation of a quality practicum as follow:

•      The  practicum  is  devised  as  a clearly   identifiable   part   of   a program   to   prepare   beginning teachers. While from its legal responsibilities   a   TEI   takes   a leading role in developing a plan in  concept  and  in  detail  for  the practicum  as  part  of  the  whole program,  it  does  this  in  active partnership    with    the    schools, school systems and other relevant professional parties.

•      The  practicum  typically  consists of ‘on-campus’ and in-school components/units  which  are closely related or integrated with one another, and which progressively  lead  the  TEI students towards developing and demonstrating a set of well- regarded knowledge-based skills, capabilities and dispositions that the profession agrees are essential for  a  teacher  at  the  beginning stages of a professional career…

•      The TEI practicum staff are well- qualified  and  capable professionals who can work across both campus and school settings, earning and enjoying a high standing both with their academic

colleagues and with their counterpart teacher colleagues in the schools.

•      TEI    administrators    acting    in cooperation with schools and school-systems locate schools willing and capable of providing quality places and support for the school-based professional experiences  required  of  its students.

•      Selected teachers in those schools have the knowledge, skills, dispositions and time to collaborate with their TEI colleagues. Together, they support, mentor and evaluate the activities of the TEI students through  progressive  stages towards their goal of gaining an initial qualification as a teacher.

•      Led   by   the   mentor   teachers, collaborative reports are prepared which clearly and reliably document the practicum-related attainments of the students, enabling the TEI to confidently certificate their achievements.

Implication  of  Current  Trends for the Practicum in Teacher Education

Despite the fact that Practicum is the most highly    valued    component    of    teacher education program, there has been much discussion   and  debate   in  the   literature (Zeichner,1996;   Segall,   2002   cited   in Schulz, 2005) of what form it should take by questioning the educative value of the traditional      approach      to      practicum. According to Schulz (2005) the traditional approach to practicum emphasize technical knowledge which is small part of teachers knowledge   and   not   sufficient   to   the preparation of teachers for the professional role of teaching. This type of experience according to Darling-Hammond (1999) can socialize   the   pre-service   teacher   in   to maintenance   of   status   quo   rather   than developing   critical   inquiry  approach   in which    teaching    as    a    profession    is underpinned by lifelong learning.

Teacher educators (e.g. Schulz, 2005; Zeichner, 1996; Darling-Hammond, 1999) provide  an  alternative  view  and  promote the importance of relevant practical experiences as a critical components of effective teacher education program. They suggest the need for change from the traditional,  skill  and  technical  model  of practicum experience to one with a broader educative  focus:  a  practicum  experience that provides teacher candidates with opportunities  for  inquiry,  for  trying  and testing  new  ideas  with  in  collaborative relationship, and for talking about teaching and learning in a new ways. In addition, viewing  the  practicum  as  an  important opportunity for growth and learning rather than demonstrating things already learned Zeichner (1996) contended that a practicum is educative if it helps teacher candidates to understand  the  full  scope  of  a  teacher’s role,  to  develop  capacity  to  learn  from future experiences and to accomplish the central purpose of teaching.

CONCLUSION

Today’s schools face great challenges ever than before. At the times of most profound social,  political,  economical  and educational  changes  and  challenges, schools are   asked to educate the most diverse and complex student   body. To respond to these challenges and meet contemporary challenges that face schools, it has been recognised that teaching professional must continuously find ways and adequately prepare teacher for the complexities   of   today’s   classroom   and work  place.  One  of  such  approach  is  to give    students    adequate    school    based practical     experience.     Therefore,     the academic component of teacher education program must incorporate practicum so that the  students  can  understand  the  socio- cultural, political and economic factor underpinning   education,   and   learn   in context      from      firsthand      experience. Accordingly, practicum is considered to be the   most   highly   valued   component   of teacher  education  program  that  aim  to prepare   teachers   who   are   thoughtful, reflective and inquiring.

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