We first identified the frequency of participants’ use for each of the five targets in the Targeted Field Observation Guide. We then analyzed the ways participants used the targets in their weekly Google Doc posts. The management target, which encouraged preservice teachers to consider many logistical aspects of teaching, was chosen most frequently by participants. The second most frequently used, the behavior target, centered on observing and considering secondary students’ behaviors in relationship with peers, themselves, or teacher(s). The pedagogy, assessment, and motivation targets were utilized much less. The pedagogy target required preservice teachers to center their observations on their supervising classroom teacher, rather than secondary students. The assessment target focused preservice teachers’ observations on ways inservice teachers and secondary students engaged in and responded to various assessment experiences. Finally, the motivation target required preservice teachers to observe and notice examples of their supervising teacher’s and students’ personal/academic motivations.
When participants used the targets to notice, observe, and share their reflections, our coding revealed that they did so in two different ways: generating report-based posts or report-analysis posts. In the majority of posts, which were report-based, preservice teachers used a target to purposely observe and then report on something that occurred during their field placement experience. Peers’ follow up comments to report-based posts often contained content indicating similar observations and experiences. In these report-based posts, we saw little evidence of preservice teachers’ abilities to use the Targeted Field Observation Guide to connect their own or their peers’ observations to the content of our courses.
In the report-analysis posts, which occurred less often, we noticed that in addition to sharing observations from their weekly field placement experiences, these preservice teachers included aspects of analysis and interpretation based on what they reported and in some instances, included explicit course-based connections. Peers’ comments in response to report-analysis posts appeared to afford additional opportunities for further dialogue and connections, sometimes connected to the field and in other instances connected to specific course content.
As noted earlier, when using the Targeted Field Observation Guide many of our preservice teachers reported what they observed. An example of a report-based post centered on the management target is illustrated in a WC participant’s post about a disruptive student chewing gum in class.
Watching Ms. T. [supervising teacher] from the perspective of classroom management, I noticed some subtle tricks she uses to keep order and not interrupt the flow of the class. One of the students was chewing gum, which is not allowed in class. Instead of calling him out directly, she said, “someone is chewing gum and should spit it out” and then continued with her discussion of the concert. The student didn’t spit out his gum so 5 minutes later she said “[student’s name], doesn’t someone have gum?” The student apologized and had just gotten distracted from the first time she asked. No one was mad and the class kept flowing. (WC: Group 2)
In this example, the participant used the Targeted Field Observation Guide, connected to the management target, to report something that happened but did not offer additional commentary or observations as to how this situation served to inform or further develop her understanding of classroom management or content from the teacher education course. Although neither of our courses focused directly on classroom management, we both included content at various points during the semester connected to ways in which content area literacy instruction can influence classroom management and classroom management decisions.
Additionally, some of the report-based posts contained information from participants’ previous observations in their placement classroom. For example, in a WC participant’s post focused on the assessment target, she discussed her supervising teacher, Mr. S., and wrote about how he generally assessed his students in his seventh-grade math classroom.
As far as assessment goes Mr. S. gives lesson quizzes on the more difficult lessons, to see how the students are doing with the harder material. He gives a quiz about every other week and a test every chapter. He also uses other assessment tools like quick checks on the homework problems. We talked a little about assessment and about standardized tests the last time I was at my placement. He told me that [hard copies of the required state standardized tests] will be no longer and that a new online test will be taking its place. It is all electronically graded and is supposed to help create consistency. (WC: Group 2)
While this participant connected ideas from the assessment target related to both in-class assessment practices as well as state and national standardized testing, there existed no additional reflections or analysis connected to how, if at all, this information aligned with issues of adolescent literacy and assessment, which was an ongoing focus in both of our courses.
Another example of a report-based post is found in a DU preservice teacher’s post, when he used the pedagogy target to frame and report what he observed in his middle school science classroom placement.
My [supervising] teacher started things off with a brief class about the video they had watched the day before with a sub, how it applied to the plate tectonics unit at hand, and ended the discussion with a brief overview of the concepts the class needed to know about plate tectonics. The video discussion started off between desk partners [and] was a great way to give everyone in the class a voice. Full class discussion of the video followed, in which my host teacher pieced together the important themes from the film by asking several students what they talked about with their partners. … Overall, I was very impressed with my [supervising] teacher’s pedagogical scope and the size of her metaphorical toolbox. (DU: Group 3)
Similar to other report-based posts, while this participant suggested that using desk partners “was a great way to give everyone in the class a voice” there was no pedagogically informed rationale following this assertion. Nor did this preservice teacher’s post explore or examine the use of a multimodal text to extend adolescents learning, which is an important consideration for supporting adolescent literacy development, and an idea we hoped was made clear in our respective courses.
The content of these report-based posts focused on what happened. There was not an exploration of possible reasons for what was observed or any connections to course material. When we first coded these report-based posts, we were inclined to discount these kinds of posts because they appeared to offer little information regarding participants’ abilities to understand the nuanced, multifaceted nature of teaching and learning or to connect these observations to the teacher preparation courses we taught. However, upon further analysis we realize that these types of posts provide potential insight into our preservice teachers’ development and offer information as to what our preservice teachers actually observe and notice and how they choose to frame their observations and what they noticed prior to completing a student teaching field placement experience. Moreover, as teacher educators, it became clear throughout data analysis that while we thought we were explicit in helping our preservice teachers make connections between their embedded, required field experience and the content of the courses we taught through the ongoing use of the Targeted Field Observation Guide, these connections were often missing in preservice teachers’ weekly posts. As a result, this leads us to reconsider how to best support preservice teachers’ learning in the field-based courses we teach so that what our preservice teachers learn in the field and what they learn from their teacher education classes more clearly align and complement one another.
Although much less evident, when participants generated report-analysis posts using the Targeted Field Observation Guide, they provided information about what happened and also, to varying degrees, included follow-up discussion, analysis, and reflection connected to the specified event or experience. In some instances, participants also made direct connections between the Targeted Field Observation Guide, their observations, and what they learned in the courses we taught. In report-analysis posts, participants shared more than narration regarding what took place during their weekly field placement. They also offered opinions and rationales, at times asking questions and making suggestions. Some drew on their own experiences as P–12 students, connecting their experiences to what they observed and thought about during their weekly field placement experience.
For example, drawing on the behavior target one DU participant shared what he observed during a class period in which students completed an assigned worksheet. Following a report of what occurred, this participant provided additional analysis regarding this experience.
A second student who I wanted to discuss did not raise his hand or ask for any help. However, at the end of the class when I had him turn in his worksheet, he had only completed three questions. Again, I questioned his behavior as lazy, but then I started to think that maybe there were other things going on that prevented him from completing the assignment. Next class, I plan to take a closer look at this student and try and get a better understanding of what is going on with him. (DU: Group 1)
Although this participant initially used the term “lazy” to describe the student they observed, the participant then offered evidence that there might be an alternative narrative from what was observed and then acknowledged the contextual nature of teaching as illustrated.
Drawing on the motivation target, one participant focused on middle-school students’ motivation connected to completing in-class work and the ways their supervising teacher motivated certain students. Although the participant’s initial post began with a brief discussion of the behavior target, this preservice teacher quickly shifted to the motivation target and also connected one of the required course texts to the situation described and analyzed.
One of the first things I noticed at the beginning of class was how the teacher would ask a series of questions in reference to a few paragraphs read together by the class. The questions seemed to “motivate” the students to give answers and to be a part of the discussion. More than half of them wanted to consistently give responses to every question asked. The questions were aimed to relate with the students’ personal lives. … Creating a link between the reading and the student, as [author of a required course text] has emphasized, is a wonderful way to teach to students, but it also is a great way to motivate students to learn. … All in all, I was able to observe a few different methods for motivation but am still wondering about what works best, and for particular students, what even works at all? (DU: Group 4)
In this post, the participant first shared observations about an event that occurred in their field placement classroom. Then, unprompted, made a connection to a required course text and something they learned in Tara’s class. In doing so, this preservice teacher used the Targeted Field Observation Guide to frame their observations as well as connect these to what they learned in their corresponding teacher education course.
Similarly, using the pedagogy target a WC participant shared observations regarding their supervising teacher, Mrs. C., who used conferencing and mini-lessons to support her writing instruction.
Mrs. C. employs pedagogical moves through conferencing with her students. She’ll have detected reading and writing levels of each student in her class, and work with each student at their own level of proficiency. Each day, Mrs. C. will gauge which students have completed work and which students need further attention. Even though Mrs. C. does step in, she lets her 12th-graders take their own responsibility for learning and writing. Sometimes when reviewing grammar, it’s hard to tell if the students are understanding what is going on. She will do mini lessons on grammar, but surprisingly will not ask the students to answer questions. For example, when teaching on the semicolon, there was no give-and-take. I wonder if checking for understanding would be helpful so that students are thinking more deeply about what is being taught. (WC: Group 3)
Although the participant does not go in-depth in their analysis of what they observed, they are able to use the pedagogy target to ask questions regarding secondary student learning connected to Mrs. C.’s instructional choices. Moreover, although the preservice teacher does not explicitly connect this post to Lynn’s course, the importance of formative, literacy-based instruction, including application of writing to students’ own lives, is directly embedded in both of our courses.
These report-analysis posts illustrate ways some preservice teachers were able to utilize the Target Field Observation Guide to share their observations regarding their field placement experience as well as offer additional analysis and connections between these experiences and the courses we taught. The preservice teachers’ analyses within their Google Doc posts, although often limited in scope and depth, provided further insight to us into the ways participants interpreted and understood the Targeted Field Observation Guide as well as how they were able, although minimally, to use it to connect their field experiences to the content-area literacy courses we taught.
When we discovered the preponderance of report-based posts in comparison with the report-analysis posts during data analysis, we went back and once again reviewed the data connected to our uses of the Targeted Field Observation Guide within our respective courses. During additional rounds of analyses, we came to understand that although we each introduced the guide to our preservice teachers, which included opportunities to practice using the guide prior to applying it to their weekly field experiences and referencing the guide throughout the course, the only “assignment” explicitly connected to the use of the guide in both courses was the Weekly Google Doc posts.
Moreover, on further examination of the weekly Google Doc prompts and directions we provided to preservice teachers, either in writing, verbally, or both, we realized that the wording of the written prompts, which included directions such as, “write about and comment on your placement experiences” and, “what targets [in the Targeted Field Observation Guide] are easiest and/or hardest for you to use when you’re in your [field] placement and why?” centered on asking preservice teachers to report observations and experiences connected to their weekly field placement experiences. Based on the data, they did just this, as evidenced by the preponderance of report-based posts. We realize that we did not generate and share prompts explicitly requiring preservice teachers to provide further analysis or connect these field experiences with course content, which likely predisposed participants toward generating report-based posts.
In the end…
By requiring preservice teachers to use all of the targets in the Targeted Field Observation Guide at different points during the semesters we taught our courses, we sought to further develop their ability to purposefully observe and consider various aspects of teaching and learning. Our data provide evidence that participants did draw on the Targeted Field Observation Guide to frame their responses and were able to connect the various aspects of teaching and learning in the guide to support field-based observations but not to the extent we had hoped. Moreover, teacher education programs vary in length, requirements, and purposes and as such we acknowledge that this guide may not be applicable in other teacher education contexts.
An aspect of the study we found particularly generative were the peer responses to the posts captured and documented in the Google Docs. Capturing and sharing these posts with peers via Google Docs offered opportunities for us, as instructors, to more readily access participants’ thinking. Preservice teachers also had opportunities to learn and think about their peers’ field experiences, including sharing feedback and asking questions. These responses shed further insight into participants’ sense-making about teaching within the context of their separate field placement classrooms. As a pedagogical strategy, using collaborative Google Doc groups gave our preservice teachers access to an authentic audience of peers with whom to share their thinking, reflections, questions, and observations. To varying degrees, these small groups’ Google Docs also allowed participating preservice teachers to peripherally learn about peers’ field placement experiences.
Future research in this area could include studying a different guide or extending the duration and scope of this study to include multiple teacher educators and their preservice teachers over a longer period of time. Future research could also include preservice teacher use of a common guide over their entire teacher education trajectory.