The Role of the Practice Teacher in Vocational Student Teacher Training and Education
The UNESCO TVET Conference 2012 concluded, amongst other points, that “Countries must develop pathways to vocational education that provide young people with skills that are relevant to the labour market; and to make it more attractive for learners “. If this is to be achieved it is important that vocational teachers’ knowledge be renewed and developed so that what is taught is relevant and meets the requirements of the future.”
This paper addresses a collaborative action research between Practice Teachers, University and vocational student teachers undertaking a Postgraduate Certificate in Vocational Education at the University.
The research question being addressed in this paper is: “How can Practice Teachers, University teachers and students cooperate to ensure the quality of vocational pedagogy, for vocational student teachers, during their pedagogical practice?”
Our experience with student teachers in school practice shows limited focus on vocational pedagogy (didactics) in their teaching. More often the students have a general approach; with limited focus on the job the learners are interested in learning about. That the teaching in vocational studies has limited work relevance is a challenge in education in Norway. (Dahlback, Hansen Haaland & Sylte 2011). Vocational Teacher Education on the other hand has a primary focus on developing relevant teaching skills by strengthening the relationship between educational and professional content in the teaching programs.
In developing the students teachers’ vocational pedagogical competence the practice teacher has a central role. If the practice teacher does not see the need for an emphasis on vocational pedagogy, then vocational pedagogy is not available for the student teachers to access and learn from. A survey conducted by the Centre for Professional Studies at the University indicates that what new graduate professionals learn in the first period in the workplace plays a greater role than what they learn on campus for their mastery of the teaching profession (Smeby and Mausethagen, 2011). This indicates that schools offering pedagogical practice for student teachers have an important role other than just offering a placement as part of the students’ overall professional education.
Other studies conducted in Europe and further afield also indicate that the pedagogical competence of vocational teachers poses a central pre-condition for the education and training of future skilled workers (Schröder 2013). Other research on campus education and school practice also emphasises the need for closer cooperation between these too, (Zeichner 2010, Young 2004) and on the necessity to define the practice teacher’s role (White, Dickerson &Weston 2015). We see therefore a need for further research which can contribute internationally to practical and vocational learning.
Our paper will address what is distinctive about vocational pedagogy, what vocational student teachers are doing when they are learning well in practice, what methods work best and how Practice Teachers’ knowledge, expertise, and best practice can best be used effectively to teach the students and to lead research processes.
According to Hiim & Hippe (2001) practical and theoretical vocational knowledge is an insoluble whole (p. 91) and there is little advantage to seeing them separately. This is interesting with a view to our ideas on pedagogical practice, as an integrated part of the student’s professional development, and along with theories from Young (2004, 2007) and Billett (2011), and it can contribute to this study.
Reflective practice is an important tool in practice-based professional learning Schön (2001) Kolb (2012), and can contribute to show how student teachers can best develop their competence through reflection and experience. Theories by Lave & Wenger, (2003) can contribute to our understanding of how teachers work together and share practices, along with theories from Dreyfus and Dreyfus, (1986) on competence developmentment.
The research is an “under” project of the “Recarol project” being led by professor Hilde Hiim, which aims to strengthen cooperation between the University and Working Life. The research addressed in this paper takes a pragmatic, experiential and socio-critical approach. We are concerned with learning that cultivates people’s everyday experiences in a social perspective and with participant empowerment and involvement in the research process. (Skjervheim 2001; Kolb 2012; Nielsen & Svensson 2006; Schwencke 2006; Hiim 2009, 2010, Mc Niff 2002).
Participants in the study are two University lecturers, 25 practice teachers and 25 vocational teacher students. The participants were informed that their anonymity would be protected. The study was established in August 2015 and has 4 phases with research activities at each phase. Triangulation is achieved through interrogating the in-depth data collected from the various participant planning and evaluation meetings, interviews, our observations and logs and the practice teachers and student teachers, questionnaires’ and students’ group discussions logs and rapports.
Phase one: Planning and implementing.
Participating schools and student participation established. Problems and intended outcomes identified are discussed.
Meetings with practice teachers to start the process of finding out what practice teachers meant were relevant and meaningful practices for student teachers and how they saw their role as practice teachers. Analyses of the relevant documents which are directive for vocational teacher education in Norway.
Phase two. Implementing, Planning, Action and Reflection
Student participants answered a qualitative questionnaire about the first part of pedagogical practice. They were also involved in group discussions evaluating the practice and what changes they wanted to initiate to improve the practice. Student logs were also used to give further insight into their pedagogical practice. Our observations and discussions in pedagogical practice are documented in log form.
Practice teachers’ experiences, evaluations, how they would improve that practice is documented through qualitative interview approaches (Kvale 2001)
Phase three: Implementing, Planning, Action and Reflection
Stage one research activities are repeated. Analyses of the practice teachers’ rapport from practice will also be conducted.
The practice teachers will evaluate the pedagogical practice process as a whole through a questionnaire and this will be followed up by qualitative interviews of some of the teacher participants.
A workshop for both practice teachers and students is planned. The workshop will involve discussing findings and plans for future pedagogical practice with an emphasis on Vocational pedagogy.
Phase 4 Final analyses and publishing activities.
We hope that this article will contribute to further knowledge in the field of vocational teacher education and as to where and how student vocational teachers should and can develop their teaching skills.
Our paper will address what is distinctive about Vocational pedagogy, what vocational student teachers are doing when they are learning well in practice, what methods work best and how Practice Teachers’ knowledge, expertise, and best practice can best be used effectively to teach the students. Further, how might challenges be overcome to create outstanding vocational teaching practice and learning through a holistic approach between universities and teachers in school practice.
We are interested in the following outcomes:
• Further knowledge of what is distinctive about vocational pedagogy in today’s globalised world.
• A deeper understanding of where is it best that students learn their profession.
• Improved quality of practice for practice teachers and students.
• Practice teachers are better prepared to reflect on their role in the preparation of student teachers.
• That students learn about action research through participation in this project.
• That practice teachers have an improved focus in vocational pedagogy
• Participation in this action research will change participants’ understanding of their practice and have opportunities for reflection which will lead to improved school practice in vocational pedagogy for both student teachers but also school learners.
• Better cooperation, increased understanding and confidence between University education and professional learning in schools.
• Development of a 15 study credits course for practice teachers. The course’s central aspects will be Vocational pedagogy and principles of mentoring.
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