The use of Mentoring Group Conversations as a tool for Professional Development in Teacher Education
The use of mentoring in educational settings as well as a tool to support pre-service teachers during their education has become more common recently. When it comes to teacher education two trends have been recognised in the relevant literature, one is about the use of mentoring as a way to support the socialization into the academic tradition and another is about mentorship as a tool for professional development. The study that will be presented in the present research paper focuses on the latter, with a point of departure in how a group of pre-service teachers use the mentoring group conversations as a resource in their search for professional knowledge. Previous research (Kizildag & Eriksson, 2013, Kihlström, 2007, Santerini, 2010) have shown that different kinds of group mentoring models have been used as a way to support pre-service teachers construction of professional knowledge. However, there is still a lack of research as to how these conversations are used by pre-service teachers in their search for and construction of professional knowledge.
This research paper aims to contribute with close descriptions of how the pre-service teachers in four mentoring groups use these conversations as a tool in their search for professional knowledge and to investigate how the content in these conversations is related to professional knowledge in formal policy texts.
The mentoring model that will be presented in the present research paper is a formal group mentoring model initiated by the Department of Teacher Education at a Swedish University. According to local policy documents this model aims to support the pre-service teachers in the process of developing professional knowledge and identity. The mentoring group meeting is described as an arena for discussion and reflection over the connection between theoretical knowledge and the teaching practice. The teacher’s professional role and the pre-service teacher´s personal development are topics that ought to be discussed during these meetings. Each mentoring group consists of a mentor, who is an experienced teacher working in preschool or compulsory school, and a group of six to nine students. The group meets for one and a half hour three times per semester during the whole course of their educational program.
A combination of policy ethnography (Beach, 1995, 1997) and critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 1992, 1995, 2003) are used as a theoretical and methodological framework for the data production and the analysis. It is this way feasible to investigate and contextualise the findings in the field of social practice, i.e. the teacher education program and mentoring model, within the framework of national and local teacher education policy. More specifically the theoretical understanding used as an analytical tool when analysing the conversations in the mentoring group is based on a combination of a sociocultural- (Vygotsky, 1978), experiental- (Dewey, 1997, 1999) and conversational perspective (Bachtin, 1981, 1986, 1991). As this contributes to a way of understanding the process of professional development from without the conversational interaction between the pre-service teachers and their mentor as well as the pre-service teachers in between.
Methodological research design
The data are twofold: on the one hand it consists of 25 ethnographical observations of mentoring group conversations in four different mentoring groups completed over a period of one and a half year at a teacher education program for preschool and primary school teachers. On the other hand it consists of analysis of professional knowledge in national and local teacher education policy documents (Government Bill 1999:2000:135, Government Bill 2009/10:89, SOU 1999:63, SOU 2008: 109, Programme syllabus, 2001, 2009; Course syllabus, 2002, 2009). Participant observations have been carried out during the last three semesters in the teacher education programme. The ethnographical approach allows in-depth descriptions of the conversations in the mentoring group and for what purposes teacher students use these conversations. This design also permits to interpret detailed descriptions of what is going on in the mentoring group conversations while the researcher is producing knowledge about the perspectives and needs as well as about the conditions for professional development through participating in a formal group mentoring model.
I expect to be able to contribute with in-depth descriptions of what kind of knowledge pre-service teachers share, discuss and reflect over during the conversations in the mentoring group in relation to their professional development and future profession. Furthermore, I expect to be able to highlight how the content discussed in the mentoring group is related to how the discourse about pre-service teachers professional knowledge is described in formal policy documents.
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