Working Towards ‘Doing it Better’: Seeking the Student Voice in Teacher Education
Working Towards 'Doing it Better': Seeking the Student Voice in Teacher Education
Judith L. Wilks 0 1
0 Southern Cross University
1 Southern Cross University; University of Notre Dame
Working Towards ?Doing it Better?: Seeking the Student Voice
in Teacher Education
Judith L Wilks
Southern Cross University; University of Notre Dame
Southern Cross University
Abstract. In this article we report on the monitoring of pre-service
teachers? experiences of their course at a regional university in NSW,
Australia. The intention of this research project was to engage with
pre-service teachers to gauge their perceptions and their awareness of
their developing teacher knowledge and skills. Our aim was to gather
more comprehensive and meaningful data than that generated by
standard, centrally administered, student evaluation surveys. Our
research was conducted across four consecutive years to gather
thirdand final (fourth) year students? expectations for, and reflections on,
their secondary education course. Drawing from the extant literature,
and set against a context of shifting political agendas surrounding
teacher education, the surveys were designed to capture the student
voice. Key findings included the perceived need for increased
behaviour management strategies, the inclusion of more ?practical?
assessment tasks, and improved university-to-school transitions,
including sustained professional learning agendas.
The notion of involving students in their own education is not new. Morrison (2009,
p.103) reminds us of this citing the body of works of Freire, Dewey, Illich, Giroux and others,
who ?have all, in some form or another, argued for a ?democratic? education ? [asserting] that
students should have more voice and choice in what they study, and how and when they study
it?. However, the idea of seeking student voice about the knowledge and skills they deem to be
important is new to teacher education
(with some exceptions, for example Clark and Byrnes,
2015; Morrison, 2009)
Hattie (2010, p.12) has been scathing of teacher education courses, arguing there is a
?woeful lack of evidence about the optimal ways to be effective teacher educators? and that
teacher educators possess virtually no data about the effects (positive, or negative) that they
have on pre-service teachers.
Korthagen, Ploughman and Russell (2006
, p. 1035) observed
that, ?all over the world, candidates? [teacher education students] voices are rarely used to
ascertain whether their teacher education program achieves its goals?. Questions about the
nature of the dissonance between pre-service teachers and teacher educators? valuations of
their courses have received scant attention in the research literature. We concluded that
investigating this dissonance was timely.
Knowledge is becoming an increasingly fluid concept, as is the nature of where
, p.238/9) maintained that teacher knowledge, being so
complex, relied on relationships between ?knowledge about subject matter, pedagogy, and
context?. Although these dynamics are challenging to study, it is vital that we understand
these interactions along the continuum of teacher knowledge development if we are to
continue to refine and improve teacher education curriculum, and additionally, understand the
?changing perceptions of relevance? around teacher knowledge
(Clark and Byrnes, 2015, p.
As teacher educators, we are not deaf to anecdotal but persistent student demands for
more practical knowledge associated with things such as classroom (behaviour) management
and assessment design skills, and to their oft-repeated claim that they glean more knowledge
about teaching on their professional experience placements than they do from us. And we are
not alone. The Productivity Commission Schools Workforce (2012, p. 72) identified that
?students consistently rate their practicum as the most important part of their teacher
education courses?. Clark and Byrnes (2015, p.390) concluded that ?professors cannot
compete with the practical experience and learning gained from interacting with a class of
students under the guidance of an experienced [classroom] teacher?.
Given the above, we sought to investigate what our students considered important, as
opposed to what we as teacher educators held as important and necessary to their preparation
as teachers. This paper thus highlights the findings of a four-year longitudinal research
project that took place in a school of education at a regional university in NSW, Australia.
The rationale for the research was to gather more comprehensive, meaningful data than that
generated by end of session university-wide student evaluation surveys.1 In addressing the
problem of low response rates to such surveys, Jansen (2008) cited in
Fullan and Scott (2009
p.94) suggested ?part of the problem may be that we are not engaging emotionally with
students ?in their world?. We felt this was an idea worth interrogating and thus developed
supplementary course experience surveys designed to foreground the student voice around
teacher knowledge and skills they considered as important.
Over four consecutive survey periods we investigated student-reported experiences of
their course. A survey period consisted of the administration of a questionnaire at the
beginning (the ?pre?) and the end (the ?post?) of the third year of a four-year undergraduate
secondary education program, over four consecutive years. Some participating students were
enrolled in a one-year Postgraduate Diploma in Education, thus two surveys were
administered during this year. In all, 485 students completed the pre-course surveys and 494
completed post-course surveys. The following summarises our journey through the literature
as we strove to understand the many contemporary influences on curriculum design in
teacher education. It is included here as both prelude and background to our research.
Contemporary Learning Agendas
Until the extant pressures exerted by external accreditation imperatives, many teacher
education programs rather than having evolved as integrated curricula, consisted of individual
1 In our experience, the manner of student feedback elicited by the standard online student evaluation instruments is deficient
in useful insights, and as students are not required to complete such evaluations, results in skewed samples. A major flaw of
the end of semester surveys is that students do not understand their purpose, and anecdotally, lecturers are aware that low
survey response rates are a significant issue. At our university response rates generally fluctuate between 20 ? 30% of the
cohort responding, rarely more.
units of work, which seemed to have developed like ?cottage industries? reflecting the skills,
interests and professional gaze of the individual academics who wrote and taught them.
Little change occurred in curriculum development, until the end of the 2000?s when the
impact of the ?Digital Education Revolution? [DER]2, new teaching standards (News South
Wales Education Standards Authority [NESA]), and a looming Australian Curriculum
(Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority [ACARA]) combined into ongoing cycles of
accreditation, major change and innovation in school curricula and teacher education courses
The assumption underlying these new agendas was that learning programs and spaces
needed to adapt and cater for students? evolving learning needs, the new learning contexts,
and for ICT-related pedagogies.
, p. 300) summed up these
demands as a ?spectacular array of things that teachers should know and be able to do in their
work,? which for teachers and teacher educators alike, presents a confronting new era in
curriculum and learning design.
A significant challenge for teacher educators is to design and deliver pre-service
teacher education programs that assist teachers to understand a wide variety of multi-modal
and cultural contexts, while catering for the diversity of students in their classrooms. Teacher
educators must respond rapidly to change in all of these arenas, and their role is increasingly
one of fostering and promoting adaptability and flexibility in the programs their teams
, p.587) observed, ?after more than two decades of educational
reform, educators, parents, researchers, and policy makers are still asking what constitutes an
effective teacher, of which a corollary is what constitutes effective teacher education?? This
debate has raged on into the second decade of the 2000s, evidenced by constant media chatter
regarding teacher (in) effectiveness and the most recent Teacher Education Ministerial
Advisory Group [TEMAG] Report (2015).
There appears to be as many points of view about what constitutes rigorous and
relevant teacher education as there are parties espousing them. Hattie (2010, p.4) observed
that as teacher educators we ?promulgate the ?core? knowledge and experiences that
beginning teachers need to learn ? and this is often a vexed, hard fought, and long process
and each of us decide different answers ... we all claim to our students that ?our way? is
In such a politically-charged climate, teacher educators are compelled to constantly
evaluate and re-evaluate through teaching and research, and other dealings with schools and
school systems, the essential and the desirable characteristics, skills, and knowledge for
teachers. Further, these things must be viewed against the shifting contexts for learning, and
meanings of learning, in the 21st century. The following briefly explores some of these
contexts and their implications for teaching and for teacher education.
Skills for Young People in the 21st Century ? Changing Contexts
Since 2000 conceptualisations in the educational lexicon have included things such as
?21st century learners?, ?learning in the 21st century?, and ?21st century skills and
competencies?. Although it is probably high time to question this terminology given that we
are eighteen years into this century, what this terminology has come to signify remains
salient, as does the underlying assumption that teachers will need to be sufficiently prepared
to deliver the skills and develop the qualities thus promoted. Therefore, it surely follows that
2 The ?Digital Education Revolution? [DER], involved an investment by the federal government of over two billion dollars in
ICT implementation in all schools in Australia.
such aspects should also be an integral component of teacher preparation as the following
Crockett, Jukes and Churches (2011
) argued that in addition to important literacy
skills, young people needed to be fluent across many other areas in the twenty-first century.
These fluencies included: solution fluency; information and media fluency; creativity and
problem solving fluency. Lists of 21st century learners? attributes can be found in the
publications of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (for
example, Ananiadou & Claro, 2009), and in the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals
for Young Australians
(Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth
Affairs [MCEETYA], 2008)
3. Since 2009, the OECD has been active in publishing,
promoting and testing for so-called 21st century tendencies, competencies and skills that
workers and citizens will need in order to be effective. There are three dimensions to these
attributes: information; communication; and ethical and social impact dimensions.
As noted, the early-mid 2000s also witnessed the rollout of the Digital Education
Revolution [DER]. The DER was the Australian government?s response to a common
perception, fueled no less by popular literature at the time4 proposing the notion of an entire,
homogenous generation of learners as ?digital natives?
, and that Information
Communication Technology [ICT] was the silver bullet education needed to succeed in the
21st century. However, with ICT skills necessarily come other thinking skills.
developed a list of ?must have? skills, or core competencies that the ?Net generation? will
need for the future: critical thinking and problem-solving; collaboration across networks and
leading by influence; agility and adaptability; initiative and entrepreneurialism; effective oral
and written communication; accessing and analysing information; and curiosity and
imagination. It could be postulated that such skills are core to ICT mastery, and also to
The Challenge for Teacher Educators in their Curriculum Design
Gillett-Swann and Grant-Smith (2017
, p.325) remind us of ?the increasing complexity
and diversity of the pre-service teacher cohort? in an era when teacher education itself is
?growing and changing at all levels?
(Ell, Haigh, Cochran-Smith et al, 2017, p. 327)
education is therefore evolving in dynamic circumstances, and in the sphere of practice,
teachers? roles are likewise being continually reconceptualised. For example, in Australia and
internationally in recent years, a strong theme emerging in teacher education theory and
praxis has been the recasting of teachers as researchers and data gatherers and analysers5, and
as such, as evidence-based practitioners. Hattie (2010, p.14) has been singular in his view that
our primary role as teacher educators is to teach pre-service teachers ?how to be evaluators of
their impacts on students?. He has urged teacher educators to go further by modelling to our
3 The Melbourne Declaration document outlined characteristics of successful life-long learners, such as ?creative and
productive users of technology? creative, innovative and resourceful? collaborate, work in teams and communicate
ideas? are enterprising, show initiative and use their creative abilities? (MCEETYA, 2008, pp.8-9).
4 The term ?digital? natives was first coined by Prensky in 2001 (See: Prenksy, M. (2001a). Digital natives, digital
immigrants. On the Horizon, 9, 5, 1?6. Also, Prenksy, M. (2001b). Digital natives, digital immigrants, part II. Do they really
think differently? On the Horizon, 9, 6, 1?6. Subsequent research, for example,
Bennett, Maton and Kervin (2008
emerging evidence that challenged the assumption that there is a homogenous generation with a distinctive learning style.
They argued, it may very well be the case that ?there is as much variation within the digital generation as between the generations? (p. 799).
5 For example the work of researchers such as Fullan and Scott ; Hattie; Marzano; and Petty
students the ways in which we are inquiring into our own practices and how this impacts on
A major challenge for designers of teacher education programs therefore, is to
promote pedagogies that cater to an increasingly diverse student cohort
capture multiple learning agendas such as those outlined above. Further, this needs to be
achieved whilst simultaneously keeping up with broader and constantly shifting regulatory,
political, socio-cultural and neoliberal contexts of school education. Broadly and by way of
summary, the required pedagogies should therefore be:
? Capable of teaching students how to research and gather data;
? Capable of teaching students how to cater for diversity;
? Interdisciplinary, innovative and creative; and
? Capable of promoting the development higher order thinking, inquiry and critical
However, in our devotion to responding in our curriculum design to this kaleidoscope
of influences on teacher education, have we been forgetting the most important element?
Namely, how were our students positioned in relation to all of this? More specifically:
(1) Were/how were our students engaging with the elements of contemporary pedagogies
and learning agendas canvassed above, as represented in our curriculum design? and,
(2) Was there a dissonance between students? and our own (teacher educators?)
valuations of the constitutive knowledge and skills comprising effective teacher
Thus our research sought to give our students a voice in relation to these questions,
and to thereby develop a better understanding of their experiences of the course. Our methods
and findings are outlined below.
Our surveys were designed to capture students? expectations, and their developing
teacher knowledge, as they looked towards a key stage in their course (containing the
majority of their education units and two professional experience placements), and their
reflections on their experiences at the conclusion of this year. The research employed a mixed
methods methodological approach, utilising both quantitative and qualitative data collection
methods. This design allowed for one type of data to enrich, clarify and inform the other in
the analysis and interpretation
(Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011)
Data were collected from students, ranging in age from the early twenties (the
majority) to early fifties, and enrolled in what we termed two ?core? secondary education
units (subjects), delivered in the third or final year of a four-year of a combined degree
depending on their enrolment pattern (e.g. Bachelor of Arts/ Bachelor of Education; Bachelor
of Science/Bachelor of Education etc.). Demographic data about the students was not
6 This sentiment has been supported by the findings of the recent TEMAG report (2015).
collected, however they were asked to identify whether they were enrolled in the subject in
on-campus learning mode or online learning mode.7
Materials and Procedure
In each survey period in the second week of teaching session one (February), students
enrolled in on-campus classes across the university?s three sites completed an 18-question
pre-course survey. Students who were undertaking their studies on line completed the
questionnaire during a mandatory residential workshop early in the teaching session. The
post-course questionnaire was completed two weeks before the end of Session 2 (September)
each year in the same manner according to the students? mode of enrolment.
Although participation was voluntary, the majority of our students (95%) completed
the surveys. In total, 485 students completed the pre-course questionnaires, and 494 the
postcourse questionnaires over the four survey periods. Although most students would have
completed both the pre- and post-surveys in the same year, course attrition rates and unusual
or part-time study patterns should also be taken into consideration with a small percentage of
students present for the first survey no longer enrolled for the second.
The first thing the pre-course survey asked the students to do was to rate from 1 to 7
(Likert scale) a series of statements in relation to what they considered the most important
elements that would contribute to their success at SCU. The findings are displayed in Table 1
(below). The statements to which students were asked to respond were a mixture of items
encapsulating what we termed short term course satisfaction elements indicated in Table 1 by
an asterisk [*]; and of elements reflecting broader contemporary and longer term
learner/learning agendas, identified in Table 1 by a hashtag [#]. The actual question students
were asked was:
On a scale of 1 ? 7, 1 being not important at all and 7 being essential, how do
you rate the following statements in relation to what you consider to be the most
important elements that will contribute to your success at SCU?
The post-course questionnaire sought a ranking of only six of the eighteen pre-course
survey items presented to students in the pre-course survey (refer Table 1). Here our purpose
was to encourage students to reflect on (and accordingly rate on a 1-7 Likert scale) the
importance of six specific items (refer Table 1) representative of broader and contemporary
longer term learning agendas. The other twelve items relating to short term course
satisfaction attributes were not applied in the post-course surveys because our aim here was
to encourage students, who had by this time undertaken at least one professional placement,
to critically reflect on elements relating more specifically to the development of skills
associated with longer term professional learning (refer Table 2).
Thus instead of being asked, as they had been in the pre-course survey to rate these
elements in relation to what they considered to be the most important elements ?that will
contribute to your success at SCU?, students were asked to: ?rate the following elements
along the scale in terms of how important you think they are as part of your learning in a
secondary teacher education course.?
The majority of the pre-course survey items were replicated over the four survey
periods, however some varied slightly in their wording after the first survey when it was
7 There was no statistically significant difference between external and internal students? responses. Although process of
data gathering was slightly different, the two groups however showed no significant impact over all, thus we have not
included this element in the presentation of our findings.
realised they contained equivocal or repetitive aspects. Data were extracted from questions
that were proximally related. Individual participants were not tracked across pre- and
postcourse surveys because they were cohort surveys. Accordingly, these findings should be
interpreted with caution as they are not suggestive of a cause and effect relationship between
students? expectations/experiences and completion of a one-year period in their respective
course pathways. Rather, the data indicate the expectations /experiences of independent
groups at varying times that were measured using questions in which the wording, while
proximally similar, was not repeated exactly for the reasons outlined above. To compare the
responses to the six post-course items to the six equivalent pre-course items, independent
groups t-tests were used.
The post-course questionnaire also consisted of four additional open-ended questions
designed to obtain qualitative data relating to the students? reflections on their course
experiences. These were coded into broad categories then axial coded - broken down into
major themes and sub-themes - and ranked according to the number of mentions, as shown in
Figures 1 to 3. Every time an item was mentioned, it was recorded, with the lists of
nominated elements growing considerably in length and depth during the four year period in
which the surveys were conducted. To make the data more manageable, nominated elements,
where appropriate, were compared and/or contrasted and reintegrated as categories
developed. Axial coding was then applied to the data to refine these major categories and to
construct key themes in the students? responses. Where something was mentioned fewer than
twenty times (or by less than 5% of students) it was generally not recorded in Figures 1 ? 3
(below) unless its small number of mentions was unexpected and therefore worthy of
Table 1 shows the descriptive statistics for the responses to the questions on both the
pre- and post-course surveys. Table 1 also illustrates that the majority of students rated most
items as very important or essential (scores of 6 or 7), indicated by the means of these items
being 6 or above. Items considered by students to be highly important included:
? Quality teaching in units;
? Clear and concise study materials;
? Fairness in grading assessments; and
? Supporting transition from university to employment.
Items considered to be the least important included those related to research (Pre-Q9
and Post-Q3) and collaboration (Pre-Q5 and Post-Q3). However the ratings of both of these
items increased from pre-to post-course surveys (see below). Reasons for this will be
proposed in the Discussion section.
Proximal meaning of question
Items included in the ?pre? course survey
Pre or Post
Pre - Q1
Pre - Q2
Pre - Q3
Pre - Q4
Pre - Q5
Pre - Q6
Clear concise study materials*
Clear communication about resources*
Sufficient administrative assistance*
Collaborative opportunities with students#
Sufficient teaching assistance*
Additionally, independent t-tests were conducted to compare the mean ratings for the
six items presented both pre- and post-course. Data for the full four survey periods were used
to compare the ratings for Questions Q5, Q8, Q9, and Q17, but due to the lack of equivalent
questions Q12 and Q13 in the pre-course questionnaires for the second two years of the
survey, the comparisons for these questions involved the first two years only. The means for
the six items and outcomes of the significance test is shown below in Table 2.
Referring to Table 2 above, the implications of each of these t-tests, that is, of the
changes (or in some cases, no change) in students? ranking of the importance of items from
pre-course questionnaire to post-course, are expanded in the following interpretation:
Q5: Collaborating with other students: There was a significant increase in the students?
rating of this item in terms of its importance from pre to post-course, indicating they
considered working collaboratively was more important post course than prior to it.
Q8 Improving personal communication skills: There was no change in the rating of
importance from pre to post course for ?improving personal communication skills?.
This may imply simply that participants in this study already possessed a suitable
level of personal communication skill and hence felt that this item of learning did not
apply to them.
Q9: Opportunity to engage in research: There was a significant increase in mean rating for
?opportunity to engage in research?, indicating that students considered that this was
more important subsequent to the course. This finding illustrates that participation in
research is an element students consider should be entrenched in educational course
design. We reflect on this finding in our Discussion section.
Q12 Stimulating course that challenges my thinking: There was a small and marginally
significant decrease in mean rating for this item. This finding might suggest that
students do not feel the need to be either challenged or stimulated. However, a more
cautious interpretation might be that students are preoccupied with the here and now
of teaching and feel that they have little time to wander down interesting but
diversionary tracks on their journey through their teacher education degree, and the
intense content and professional experience demands accompanying it.
Q13 Opportunity to improve academic skills: There was a significant decline in mean
rating for this question. The results here are indicative of the learning stages of a
university student. Upon entry to the university, academic skills are being learnt and
practised. Towards the end of the course students will have significantly improved
their academic skills and feel less need to improve them.
Q17 Facilitation of independent learning: There was no change in the mean rating for this
question, however this finding should be interpreted carefully. Although this item?s
value did not increase over time, students rated it moderately high on the Likert scale
at both pre- and post-survey times. This indicates that students realise the value of
independent learning upon entering university and maintain this belief throughout
As previously mentioned in the ?post? surveys students were also asked to write
responses to four open-ended questions. The first was:
List 3 skills you believe to be important or essential for beginning teachers to possess.
Figure 1 summarises responses to this question. Coding of the students? responses to
this question over the four survey periods resulted in the three clusters depicted in Figure 1.
? Cluster 1: Practical teaching skills;
? Cluster 2: Personal qualities; and,
? Cluster 3: Life-long learning skills.
The findings presented in Figure 1 (below) illustrate that items students listed were
not all, as the question specified, ?skills?. Most students applied a broad interpretation to this
question, and nominated aspects more akin to ?qualities?. However, this added depth to their
responses and provided us with valuable insights into students? thinking at this critical
beginning point in their teaching career.
itm ed 25
fro ino 20
eb ten 15
Cluster 1: Practical Teaching Skills
Cluster 2: Personal Qualities
Cluster 3: Lifelong Learning Skills
KLA Syllabus knowledge
Pedagogical skills and strategies
Understanding students? differences
Tools of designing lessons
Knowledge of resources
Knowledge of assessment design
Ability to self-reflect
The top-rating items across the four-year period for Cluster 1: Practical teaching
skills, were ?communication skills? followed by ?behaviour management? and ?Key Learning
Area syllabus knowledge?. The fourth highest rating item in any of the three clusters was
?emotional intelligence? (see Cluster 2, in Figure 1, above). As exemplars of this, the students
nominated qualities such as: open-mindedness; empathy; compassion; approachability;
intuition; tolerance; and self-knowledge. The overall nomination of this item showed strong
growth across the four survey periods.
These top four items were followed by ?classroom planning and organisation skills?
and ?knowledge of pedagogical skills and strategies?. However importantly, to put these two
items in perspective, students nominated ?emotional intelligence? more often than ?classroom
planning and organisation skills?, and ?confidence? slightly more often than ?knowledge of
pedagogical skills and strategies.?
Next was ?adaptability/flexibility?, followed by: ?time management?; ?understanding
students? differences - learning needs/styles?; ?resilience, enthusiasm/passion?; ?creativity?;
and the ?ability to self-reflect/critically reflect?. Students? responses to this question were
articulate, succinct and thought provoking, and we provide some excerpts in our discussion of
It was noted that very few students nominated skills of ?collaboration? and
?teamwork? over the four years in which the surveys were conducted. This is consistent with
the outcome of the item [Q5 (pre) and Q1 (post)]:?Collaborative opportunities with students?,
which had a mean rating of 5.03 for the pre-course questionnaire, increasing to 5.59 on the
The second of the four open-ended questions asked students to:
List 3 things that you believe characterise effective assessment in the context of a
preservice teacher education course.
This question was included to elicit more specific information and insights from the
students that might usefully enlighten future assessment design. As indicated in Figure 2, the
most nominated aspect was that students wanted ?practical? assessment tasks. Responses
indicated that by ?practical? students meant realistic, authentic, relevant, scenarios that mirror
real world situations, and role-plays ? certainly not essays. One assessment mentioned
particularly positively by the students was a micro-teach activity. Students also related that
they valued assessment with clear guidelines, rubrics and marking criteria. They also called
for ?encouraging, constructive and detailed feedback?, and for assessment that is ?relevant,
useable, and gives an allowance for growth and development?.
Clarity and consistency
Valid / transparent?
Variety and spread
Included in the top three nominated items was a desire to have assessment that related
more critically to practicums, i.e. linked to, or performed during, the professional experience
placement. Students? notions of assessment also included their professional experience
portfolio.8 Figure 2 illustrates that the students also valued assessments that developed their
lesson and unit planning skills, and their self-reflective skills. They were however, not so
futures-focused in their conceptions of effective assessment. In their responses an
engagement was not evident with the notion that a key underlying purpose of assessment is to
promote life-long learning skills and to articulate with post-education contexts, for example
through research-based assessment (evidence gathering) tasks. This finding will be examined
in the discussion.
The third question asked of students:
In addition to your practicum experience can you identify an element of the course
that has contributed to your ?classroom readiness??
In their responses students identified the importance of on-campus face-to-face tutorials
which gave them the opportunity to practice and model their skills, discuss and exchange ideas with
other students, and learn from the anecdotes and ?real life? experiences of their tutors see Figure 3,
sem edn 80
ifo tno 60
tTo it 20
Creating lesson plans
Here again the micro-teach assessment was singled out as a particular affordance of
their course. Many students also nominated curriculum specialisation units in which
discipline-related material is taught as having played an important role in assisting them
towards becoming ?classroom ready?. One student stated that they had rated these units
highly because of their capacity to ?increase knowledge around the profession?. Curriculum
relating to behaviour management rated third highest in their responses as an element of their
course that contributed to their classroom readiness. Conversely, and consistent with its low
rating in relation to the previous two questions (refer Figures 1 and 2), research again rated
low in students? estimations. Possible reasons for this are proposed in the discussion.
The fourth and final question asked students:
In addition to your practicum experience can you identify an element you would
like to see introduced into the course to assist students to become ?classroom
Students? responses to this question again signalled to us that they wanted to see more
practical elements in their course. They nominated: more simulated ?real world? scenarios to
engage with using learning strategies such as role-plays, mock classrooms and
8 This finding displayed the common wisdom that assessments should not be set while students are undertaking their
professional experience placement (at our university rules prevent assessments being set for the duration of the professional
experience placement period).
teaching. Their responses demonstrated that they desired more hands-on activities that
prepared them for practicum and classroom practice and that teaching as a task/skill should
be presented realistically, and not, as one student put it: ?a walk in the park?.
The students also demonstrated a strong desire to be in school classrooms more
frequently, to have longer professional experience placements, and for professional
experience placements to commence earlier in their course. One student put this particularly
I believe many of us won?t be ?classroom ready? until we experience more of the
real classroom environment and work [things out] through trial and error as
well as building on our strong points
Another, alluding to action research cycles, stated:
We need to observe, then teach, then observe. Observation after teaching allows
for greater reflection ? knowing what to look for ? knowing what to observe.
A further significant element in relation to this fourth question was represented in the
students? desire to have more time in their courses devoted to behaviour/classroom
management. Students reflected that they needed more of the ?nuts and bolts? of behaviour
management strategies, and ?fewer idealistic theories?. Students also requested additional
curriculum items that provided more understanding of ?how students tick? and of ?mental
health first aid.? Below we explore some of the implications of the above reported findings,
and identify their influence on future approaches to course design.
Discussion: What we learnt
This research set out to explore our students? perceptions and critical consciousness of
the dynamics and relations of their developing teacher knowledge and skills. In order to
maintain coherence and authenticity of their voice in relation to these things, our key findings
are organized into the following four key themes arising from the data coding methods
(1) ?Classroom Survival Skills? are Paramount
The acquisition of classroom survival skills was clearly uppermost in students?
thinking in most of the qualitatively oriented questions in the post-course questionnaire. It is
only natural that students would rate elements relating to ?practical teaching skills? so
dominantly in their thinking about the qualities beginning teachers should possess, with the
four most commonly cited desirable elements in this category being:
? communication skills;
? behaviour management;
? KLA syllabus knowledge; and
? classroom planning and organisation skills.
In addition, the personal quality of emotional intelligence was nominated by
approximately a quarter of students over the four-year survey period. Students also identified
the importance of confidence: ?we need confidence x 1000?; while others were seeking to
?understand the language of learning,? to ?think fast, think in the moment,? and to know
when it?s time to ?pull the pin on your lesson plan?.
Perhaps indicating a short term gaze for these beginning teachers, those aspects
associated with lifelong learning skills received the lowest ranking. For most beginning
teachers, their first year or so in schools is very much about survival, and it is often not until
they are a few years into their careers that they start to make the bigger links between what
they learnt in their teacher-education course to their everyday experiences as classroom
teachers. It is at this point that they start to leave behind their ?cherry picking? days
, and begin to strengthen their evolving and longer-term personalised, praxis-based
frameworks, assimilating new professional information and ideas.
(2) ?Doing Research? Rated Low
One of the most contested curriculum elements from the students? point of view was a
staged action research assessment coinciding with the first survey period, and involving data
collection during two sequential professional experience placements. Accordingly in the
precourse survey students gave a low rating to the item ?opportunities to engage in research?, and
additionally students demonstrated to their tutors (in classes and in online discussion forums)
they saw little value in undertaking research during a teacher education program. We found
this perplexing because in their ?post? survey responses students had asked for more
professional experience-based authentic tasks and experiences. However anecdotal feedback
outside of the survey (comments, conversations etc.) suggested that students do not like doing
assessment whilst on professional experience placements; they see it as an imposition on their
time and focus, as do many of their teacher-mentors, despite the ?golden opportunity? of the
placement to collect data or execute a small action research project.
In accounting for this dissonance,
has suggested that pre-service
teachers view their practicums as a performance for their teacher-mentors and university
visitors, and do not appreciate distractions from the focus thus required. The students?
responses supported this interpretation, for example one student observed: ?We need more
opportunities to show our skills as teachers?, and another: ?Teaching is basically about
acting, acting, and acting.?
(3) ?Practical Assessments? Desired
It is unsurprising that our pre-service teachers in the early stages of developing
mastery, crave opportunities to both observe practice, and to practise in environments where
they have the opportunity to gain direct feedback on their performance. In our courses, we
ensure that this occurs in balance with the more lofty theoretical and research-based
assessments. The coordinator of the unit that containing an embedded micro-teach
assignment that continually received positive comments in the survey, reported that students
initially strongly objected to this task, finding it confronting and located too early in their
That the students? strongly articulated a desire for more opportunities to practice and
observe classroom and behaviour management strategies, and indeed be in practical settings,
is not a surprising finding for teacher educators who repeatedly hear this from new teachers,
and see it in related research
(for example, Clark and Byrnes, 2015)
. Nor were we surprised
by the students? insistence on their desire to be given more practical assessments and spend
more time in a face-to-face learning environment, as essential pieces of teacher preparation in
their view. One student reflected: ?I thrive when everyone teaches each other and learns
from each other?. Yet pushing back against the move for less face-to-face teaching is the
reality that neoliberal institutions across Australia, schools, and faculties of education are
moving rapidly towards online programs
(Cutcher & Cook, 2016)
. However as we have
found, this phenomenon is in direct contrast to the distinct and articulated learning
preferences of our students.
(4) Transitions and Teacher Knowledge
Some aspects of desired/desirable teacher knowledge increased significantly in
importance in the students? reckoning over the four survey periods, for example the skills of
collaboration. Others slid in the opposite direction (e.g. viewing the course as an opportunity
to improve academic skills), while some remained significant to them across the survey
period (e.g. communication skills). When reflecting on these findings, we are reminded of
Nilsson?s observations concerning the inherent complexity of teacher knowledge (2012,
p.238/9), however we would also argue that there is nevertheless more than enough space for
future studies that include the voices of pre-service teachers in exploring this complexity;
indeed it is vital that teacher educators do this more often.
This inquiry also revealed valuable insights into our students? expressed need for
more elements in their courses that endow them with the ?freedom to apply creative,
innovative solutions?, and for ?assessment that encourages us to monitor our own learning.?
As teacher educators we must endeavour to find ways to connect with our students along
their journey through teacher education, and this ultimately means actively seeking out and
involving our students in course and assessment design, indeed in an authentic ?democratic?
education (after Freire, Dewey, Illich and Giroux).
Our research was set against a context of ever-increasing contemporary professional
and political demands on the teaching profession and therefore on the education of teachers,
including escalating numbers of accreditation cycles, caveats, and standards regarding what
pre-service teachers must know and be able to do. Not only are teacher educators feeling the
stresses of keeping up with budgets, governance, accountability frameworks, and timelines of
their our own institutions, they are also experiencing increasing pressure from external
agencies to cram more and more content into their courses. However in so doing, we have
not been finding the time to listen to our students; indeed, we have not really asked them
about their needs and their lived experiences of our courses.
Our aim with this inquiry was to ask students directly, thereby engaging with their
perceptions and critical consciousness of the dynamics and relations of their developing
teacher knowledge and skills. We wanted to know if and how our students were engaging
with elements of our curriculum design, and whether there was a dissonance between our
students? and our own valuations of the constitutive knowledge and skills comprising
effective teacher education.
Into this complex mix is the reality that contemporary pre-service teachers? needs are
more complicated than in previous generations; there are myriad competing demands upon
their time and ways of engaging in learning material. Although the variety of offerings
available to students has increased in order to bundle online learning into ergonomic
packages, it has been the experience of the authors that contemporary students find the
vagaries of studying under such conditions to be demanding in the extreme. Ultimately for
them, real learning is about positive relationships developed in face-to-face teaching settings.
Our students signalled to us their belief that teaching is a performance, real,
spacebased profession, and that they desired the same in their preparation. They were direct and
consistent in their desire for more practice; for more practicalities; and for more exploration
of the issues of importance to them as they face their first years in the classroom. These
young teachers were seeking more guidance and enlightenment on classroom management,
behaviour management, curriculum understandings and pedagogical development. In relation
to these findings,
has reported from her own research that what pre-service
teachers consistently related was that they wanted fewer topics and in more depth, and this is
certainly the message we received from our inquiry. Perhaps in our dedication to the sector
and the profession, we are attempting to cover too much, and in the process, we are doing so
ineffectively and inefficiently. We have not been providing a clear line of sight through the
course for the students around the elements they value.
Rather than reacting to anecdotal feedback from our students, or to the at best
questionable data we receive from the university-wide student evaluations of our units, we
believe we now have better data to inform our future course design. It may not be within
teacher educators? powers to halt the juggernaut has been the rapid move towards on-line
delivery of teacher education, but we do have the opportunity through our surveys to learn
from the students, and to reflect and capitalise on their ongoing feedback. Our research has
signalled to us the importance of creating a channel flow through our curriculum to assist
students to conceptualise and ultimately shift to sustained and longer term learning agendas,
and to assist them to monitor and evaluate their own learning experiences. Engaging in deep
and critical evidence-based reflection in teaching and learning design on our part is crucial,
but as we have found, it is also vital that we involve students in this process as they clearly
have much to tell us.
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