Pre-student teaching field placements are important learning experiences in which preservice teachers transition from theory to practice, and the purpose of these placements, described as “practice-based teacher education” (Ball & Cohen, 1999) is often similar across different institutions and teacher preparation programs. Specifically, these pre-student teaching field placements are intended to support preservice teachers’ learning about the profession through engaging in activities central to the learning about the profession, such as observing, assisting, teaching alongside practitioners, and being embedded in P–12 contexts. The assumption is that these field experiences will enable preservice teachers to better understand and facilitate their own transition from classroom student to classroom teacher (Heafner, McIntyre, & Spooner, 2014).

Preservice teachers often enter education programs with predetermined images and beliefs that filter how they understand and interpret teaching and learning processes (Feiman-Nemser, 2001). In addition, there are often varied requirements and parameters for preservice teachers’ field placements that are further influenced by individual supervising teachers’ expectations and their mentoring capabilities as well as university/college field supervisors’ expertise and experience. Thus, despite the inclusion of field placements in teacher education programs, research has shown that simply placing preservice teachers in P–12 classrooms does not necessarily improve preservice teachers’ preparation, pedagogy, or practice (Grossman & McDonald,2008).

Moreover, many teacher educators struggle to help their preservice teachers make connections between theory and practice (Whitford & Villaume, 2014). Zeichner (2010) notes that a perennial problem in traditional college and university sponsored teacher education programs has been the lack of connection between campus-based university-based teacher education courses and field experiences. Although most university-based teacher education programs now include multiple field experiences over the length of their programs and often situate field experiences in some type of school–university partnership (e.g., professional development schools, partner schools, community-based organizations), there often exists a disconnect between what preservice teachers are taught in on-campus courses and opportunities for directly connecting and/or learning to enact learned pedagogy and practices in their field placements.

Perception, observation, and reflection

When learning to teach, preservice teachers must become aware of the complexities and tasks involved in teaching (McDonald et al., 2014).
Therefore, preservice teachers need opportunities to use all of their senses to practice what Houston and Warner (2000) call the “art of perception” (p. 75) and what Van Es and Sherin (2000) term “noticing.” Perceiving and noticing enable preservice teachers to more readily learn from situated learning experiences, such as observing inservice teachers teaching in their respective classrooms (Osmanoglu, Isiksal, & Koc, 2015). Within the context of on-site, real-time pre-student teaching field placement experiences, perceiving and noticing also give preservice teachers opportunities to develop a sense of understanding and knowing related to teaching and learning.

These perceptions and observations should also be directly connected to preservice teachers’ university coursework to connect content and support their learning. Although often difficult, Schön (1987) contended that creating opportunities for productive and purposeful reflection is necessary for a teacher’s growth and development. Reflection is a process that includes considering one’s experiences, deliberating, making choices, and producing decisions based on experiences and what one learns through them (Parkinson, 2009; van Manen, 1991). Using reflection within university coursework may more readily help preservice teachers apply theory to practice. In other words, through reflection preservice teachers can begin to align what they learn in their coursework to what they observe and learn in their field placement.

Scherff and Singer (2012) explored the use of framing among preservice teachers as a way to promote a multifaceted approach to course-based reflection. They examined how to create opportunities for preservice teachers to engage in productive reflection through the use of computer-mediated communication. They also argued that the use of a clear framework offered preservice teachers manageable, specific ways to consider what they observed in schools. Drawing on a common framework also helped them reconsider and reframe their initial observations and assumptions about P–12 education. Scherff and Singer’s work suggests preservice teachers’ learning is extended and expanded when employing a framework with a common vocabulary to reflect on, interpret, and connect what they learn in their university-based coursework and their pre-student teaching placements.

Targeted field observation guide

We designed the Targeted Field Observation Guide to give our students a common language with which to describe and reflect on their different field placement experiences. Grossman and McDonald (2008), for example, suggest that identifying and agreeing on common language with regard to the parsing of teaching, and by extension learning to teach, “could dramatically transform both the field of research on teaching and the enterprise of teacher education” (p. 188). The importance of a common language is well documented in the field. It is important to identify and agree on common language with regard to the parsing of teaching and by extension learning to teach.

These researchers also posit that this common language should build on existing research and provide preservice teachers a common vocabulary for learning about, examining, and reflecting on one’s own teaching as well as the teaching practices and pedagogies of inservice teachers. To facilitate one’s use of an agreed-on common vocabulary, it is essential to “describe components common to both direct instruction and more inquiry oriented teaching while offering the flexibility required to recognize the significant differences in how such components may be enacted” (p. 186). Common vocabulary and definitions should seek to recognize and honor teaching and learning as complex, multifaceted endeavors.

We designed the Targeted Field Observation Guide (see Figure 1)
drawing on Grossman and McDonald’s (2008) call for using agreed-on common vocabulary to describe components of teaching and learning.

Figure 1. Targeted field observation guide.

To generate the content contained in this guide, we reviewed Danielson’s (2007) and Marzano’s (2007) frameworks for teaching and teacher evaluation. These frameworks assisted us in identifying and defining five specific aspects of teaching and learning that our preservice teachers could observe and consider during their embedded pre-student teaching field experiences, namely behavior, pedagogy, assessment, management, and motivation. Moreover, these five aspects most readily aligned with the content of the teacher education courses we taught. In the process of identifying these aspects, we acknowledged that without accompanying definitions to clarify meaning, these aspects could very easily be defined and interpreted in multiple ways.

In this study, we examined how the Targeted Field Observation Guide helped, if at all, our preservice teachers make explicit, purposeful connections between their required, course-embedded field placements and the secondary undergraduate content area literacy courses we taught. The following questions guided this study:

How did the implementation of the Targeted Field Observation Guide impact preservice teachers’ field-based observations and reflections?
In what ways, if any, did our preservice teachers’ uses of the Targeted Field Observation Guide enable them to connect our course content to their field-based experiences?

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