Guided practice--what the professionals often call practicum--is essential to effective teaching, but undervalued in nearly all current American preparation programs. EdWeek quoted a key researcher on the needed shift last spring:
“Right now, coursework is in the foreground, and the clinical piece is in the background,” said Barnett Berry, the president of the Hillsborough, N.C.-based Center for Teaching Quality. “What we need to do is reverse that.”The McKinsey report on Top-Performing School Systems made the point this way:
Research shows that in the United States many teacher education programs have little impact on teacher effectiveness. Frequently, this is because the connection between what the trainee teachers do during their training, and what they are expected to be able to do once they arrive in the classroom, is not strong enough. Angus McBeath, former superintendent of Edmonton's schools in Alberta, noted, "We would never turnout a freshly minted doctor and say, 'go operate on somebody' without three or four years of practice - guided practice. But we turn out teachers, put them in classrooms, and ignore them.And when U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called for major change in teacher preparation programs last week, his examples of good models put guided practice front and center:
[Tennesee’s] Board of Regents has decided that all undergraduate teacher candidates will spend their senior year in year-long residencies in P-12 schools.For Kentucky, we will need this new focus on practice to meet Senate Bill 1's mandate to equip teachers to organize instruction around meeting standards, including analyzing individual student progress and making repeated adjustment to keep each one on track.* * *Every student teacher in the elementary education program at [Teachers College] completes at least two semesters of student teaching, and unlike some education schools, every student teacher works under the careful supervision of a well-qualified mentor teacher. About half of TC's graduating teachers in 2007-08 ended up in high-needs schools in New York City. Your commitment to research what really works to advance student learning is impressive.* * *At Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas, home of the National Teachers Hall of Fame, the Teachers College is the crown jewel of the school. Roughly 80 percent of students are supervised by full-time education faculty instead of adjuncts—and all elementary education professors are in the public schools every day. Senior year is a 100 percent field-based program in Emporia's public schools, where student teachers do everything from assisting with grading to sitting in on parent-teacher conferences.* * *Alverno College, a Catholic women's college in Milwaukee, also requires a rigorous field experience in the public schools and has faculty and local principals assess videotapes of student teachers. Eighty-five percent of Alverno graduates are still in the classroom five years after graduation, an extremely high retention rate.
At the state policy level, people have been talking at and about and around those ideas for at least two decades.
In our education programs, I'm essentially certain that the same talking and talking and talking has been happening in lecture halls--but hearing lectures will not do the job. To apply those strategies well, future teachers need to practice them, hands-on, with feedback and mentoring and opportunity to reflect and opportunity to practice again.
I put practice-driven teacher preparation at the top of the agenda for building teaching quality.