ERIC Identifier: ED429054
Publication Date: 1998-12-00
Author: Huling, Leslie
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Teaching and Teacher Education Washington DC.
Early Field Experiences in Teacher Education. ERIC Digest.
Prior to the 1980s, the dominant mode of teacher preparation in this country
consisted of course work on a university campus followed by one semester of
student teaching. Today, quality teacher preparation programs provide candidates
with a wide variety of early field experiences in a variety of settings to lay
the foundation for and to supplement the capstone or culminating field
experience of student teaching. This Digest briefly examines some of the
complexities and challenges related to early field experiences and shares
findings about the nature and degree of early field experiences occurring in the
nation's teacher preparation programs.
WHAT ARE FIELD EXPERIENCES?
Field experiences in teacher
preparation are in a sense like the experiences provided to medical students in
the active participatory roles of internships and residencies. Through field
experiences, teacher candidates observe and work with real students, teachers,
and curriculum in natural settings (i.e., PK-12 schools). Field experiences are
typically distinguished from clinical experiences, which occur in more tightly
controlled educational settings (i.e. clinics, laboratory schools, etc.). The
culminating or capstone field experience in teacher preparation is typically
student teaching in which the candidate gradually assumes total teaching
responsibility under the joint supervision of a cooperating teacher, who is the
teacher of record, and a university supervisor. Field experiences prior to the
student teaching experience are commonly referred to as early field experiences.
A HISTORICAL LOOK AT FIELD EXPERIENCES IN TEACHER
The rationale for field experience in teacher preparation is
grounded in the work of John Dewey (1904; 1938) who spearheaded the progressive
movement in the 1930s and emphasized learner-centered instruction. He was a
strong advocate for the experiential training of teachers. Dewey viewed the
teacher as learner, and thus the need for that learner to be provided
experiences for constructing his or her own learning.
In spite of the visionary thinking of Dewey, until the early 1980s, the most
prevalent field experience provided to teacher candidates was simply student
teaching. Early field experiences, if they were provided at all, typically
consisted of candidates being sent to observe in schools and classrooms. While
these early attempts to provide field experiences for teacher candidates were
clearly a step in the right direction, the experiences were often fragmented and
lacking in coherence (Smith, 1992).
Within the past two decades, a number of national reports have stressed the
need for major improvements in the preparation of teachers as a foundation for
other educational reform efforts. The Carnegie Forum on Education and the
Economy (1986), the Holmes Group (1986), the National Commission on Teaching
& America's Future (1996), and others (National Commission on Excellence in
Education, 1983; Goodlad, 1990; Darling-Hammond, 1997) have recommended that
future teachers have more rigorous preparation and more authentic experiences to
enable them to cope with the increasing complexity, challenges, and diversity of
current schools and classrooms. What has been advocated is a more holistic
conceptualization of the preservice teacher experience and increased
collaboration between universities and public schools (Guyton & McIntyre,
1990; McIntyre, Byrd, & Foxx, 1996).
A GLIMPSE OF THE COMPLEXITIES SURROUNDING FIELD
How and what teacher candidates learn from early field
experiences are questions mired in complexity. Just as the typical person
doesn't learn much about ice skating from watching the Olympics or performing
heart surgery from observing a heart operation, sending teacher candidates to
observe in schools doesn't result in the type of substantive learning needed to
become a successful teacher. Careful guidance and mediation to help candidates
focus on critical aspects of classroom teaching and interactions and to
interpret what they see is necessary for candidates to benefit from field
experiences. For example, professors can present candidates with a variety of
classroom management strategies and then have them participate in classrooms and
record the strategies they observe and the effects these strategies have on
student behavior and performance. Following this experience, professors can
debrief with candidates about what they observed and the implications of these
experiences related to their own teaching and classroom management.
In a very real sense, the goal of the teacher preparation program is to
provide the teacher candidate with the experiences necessary to build the
complex schema required to be an effective classroom facilitator of teaching and
learning. In addition to observing, these field experiences would include, but
not be limited to, tutoring individual and small groups of students, preparing
instructional materials, grading student work, and supervising students at
assemblies and on field trips.
The difficulty of providing quality field experiences is increased when sheer
numbers make it difficult to place each candidate with an outstanding teacher
who can model the type of learner-centered instruction advocated by most teacher
preparation programs. Also, it is important to provide cooperating teachers with
formal preparation for working with teacher candidates and supporting their
learning, but frequently there is little time and few resources available for
this training (Slick, 1995). Teacher educators are faced with the perplexing
dilemma of balancing the need to provide candidates with early field experiences
in a variety of settings with the need to allow candidates time to become
familiar enough with a setting to make it feasible for them to do more than
Some teacher preparation programs have attempted to address these various
complexities by delivering field-based programs on-site in schools, or by
field-basing specific faculty members who deliver certain portions of the
teacher preparation program in collaboration with public school educators. These
arrangements most often occur in professional development schools (PDS), which
have collaborative teacher preparation as one of the primary purposes. While the
establishment of a PDS greatly facilitates the delivery of early field
experiences to teacher candidates, it is a highly time- and labor-intensive
endeavor that requires ongoing commitment, collaboration, and resources to
THE AACTE/NCATE SURVEY ON CLINICAL AND FIELD EXPERIENCES
spite of the complexities and challenges involved, teacher preparation programs
across the country provide substantial amounts of early field experiences for
teacher candidates in a variety of settings, according to the 1997 Joint Data
Collection System (JDCS) Clinical and Field Experience Survey. This survey was
an addendum to the JDCS, which is conducted annually by the American Association
of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) and the National Council for the
Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) (Huling, Raffeld, & Salinas,
1998). The addendum was completed by 490 (85%) of the institutions that
completed and returned the 1997 JDCS Institutional Reports.
According to survey results, the vast majority of teacher candidates first
engage in field experiences prior to their junior year in college. A total of
77% of elementary programs and 70% of secondary programs require candidates to
first participate in field experiences in PK-12 settings during their first or
second year of college. Candidates spend a substantial number of clock hours
engaged in early field experiences, although elementary candidates spend more
time in field experiences than secondary candidates. At the elementary level,
70% of programs report candidates spending more than 90 clock hours in early
field experiences. At the secondary level, 49% of the programs reported
candidates spending more than 90 clock hours, while 51% reported that they spend
between 16 and 90 clock hours. The difference between the amount of time spent
by elementary and secondary candidates is likely related to the fact that
elementary teacher preparation programs typically require more credit hours of
professional studies and emphasize the teacher as a child development
specialist, while secondary preparation programs typically require more credit
hours in the major content field and emphasize the teacher as a specialist in a
specific academic discipline.
Teacher candidates participate in early field experiences in a variety of
schools and classrooms. In elementary preparation programs, 77% of the
candidates work in more than one PK-12 setting while 73% of secondary candidates
participate in early field experiences in more than one PK-12 setting. Only 14 %
of elementary programs and 16% of secondary programs place candidates in only
one classroom for early field experiences. In addition to observing, candidates
report doing a variety of other tasks during early field experiences. More than
75% of programs reported that both elementary and secondary candidates engage in
teacher aide tasks (e.g., grading papers, bulletin boards), tutor individual
students, teach small groups of students, and teach the whole class.
More than 90% of programs at both elementary and secondary levels report that
university supervisors provide some degree of on-site supervision to candidates.
The most common supervision model used in early field experiences is one in
which the supervisor makes periodic on-site visits to candidates. This is the
case in 89% of elementary programs and 87% of secondary programs. In 7% of the
elementary programs and 4% of the secondary programs, supervisors are always
on-site when candidates are in PK-12 settings. Most likely, these are the
preparation programs that operate in PDSs.
DO INCREASED FIELD EXPERIENCES MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
sense alone would indicate that candidates who receive increased amounts of
field experience will be better prepared to deal with the complex realities of
today's schools, classrooms, and students. For example, principals frequently
report that candidates who were prepared in field-based programs perform in
their first year of teaching more like second- or third-year teachers.
Collectively, the anecdotal reports of candidates, teacher educators, and
employers alike confirm the belief that more, and earlier, field experiences
result in better prepared teachers. Now, a recent study conducted in Texas
(Fleener, 1998) has provided evidence that candidates who receive increased
amounts of field experience in their teacher preparation programs remain in the
profession at significantly higher rates than those prepared through traditional
campus-based programs. Fleener's study included 1,959 elementary teachers
produced by three of the state's largest teacher-producing institutions, each of
which was in the process of transitioning from traditional teacher preparation
programs to field-based programs (Houston & Huling, 1998). About half of
candidates in Fleener's study were prepared through newly implemented
field-based programs and about half were prepared during the same years by the
same institutions through the traditional teacher preparation program. The 1,959
candidates graduated and began their teaching careers in the years of 1993 to
1996. By fall 1996, only 4.8% of those prepared through field-based programs had
left the profession compared to 12% of those prepared in traditional programs.
These data indicate that field experiences are an important factor in the
preparation of teachers and that candidates whose preparation involves increased
amounts of field experience remain in the profession through the induction years
in greater numbers than those who receive less field experience.
References identified with an EJ or ED number
have been abstracted and are in the ERIC database. Journal articles (EJ) should
be available at most research libraries; most documents (ED) are available in
microfiche collections at more than 900 locations. Documents can also be ordered
through the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (800-443-ERIC).
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