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Is More Really Better? Examining Perceived Benefits of an Extended Student Teaching Experience

August 30, 2008

By Spooner, Melba Flowers, Claudia; Lambert, Richard; Algozzine, Bob

Abstract: The authors surveyed student teachers in a yearlong internship and their peers in a traditional semester-long internship to compare perceptions across different practice teaching experiences. All participants were enrolled in the same university and were similar across gender, age, ethnicity, and undergraduate educational experiences. The students in the yearlong internship reported a better relationship with their supervising teacher, greater knowledge of school policies and procedures, and higher scores for the perceived adequacy of time spent in school than did the students in the semester internship. The two groups did not differ in perceptions of their teaching ability, which were generally favorable. The authors discuss the outcomes regarding continuing challenges professional development programs face when building and sustaining effective clinical experiences. Keywords: first-year teachers, internships, teacher preparation, urban education

As institutions of higher education and school districts strive to meet their commitment to children, communities, and the common good, researchers examine and reinvent opportunities that support and define new teachers’ preparation for and entry into the field (e.g., Abdal-Haqq 1998; Darling-Hammond 1998, 2005; Darling- Hammond, Chung, and Frelow 2002; Darling-Hammond and Youngs 2002; Fine, Bloom, and Chajet 2003; Goe 2002; Harriman 2000; The Holmes Group 1986; Irvine 2003, Melser 2004; National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) 2001; Nieto 2003a, 2003b; Pelletier 2000; Roe 2002; Senne 2002; Teitel 2001). Often-repeated critiques of teacher education programs include (National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, ctd. in Darling-Hammond 1998):

* Inadequate Time. The confines of a four-year undergraduate degree make it hard to learn subject matter, child development, learning theory, and effective teaching strategies. Elementary preparation is considered weak in subject matter, secondary preparation in knowledge of learning and learners.

* Fragmentation. Elements of teacher learning are disconnected from each other. Coursework is separate from practice teaching; professional skills are segmented into separate courses; faculties in the arts and sciences are insulated from education professors. Would-be teachers are left to their own devices to “put it all together” (i.e., bring learning to practice in real classrooms).

* Uninspired Teaching Methods. For prospective teachers to learn active, hands-on, and minds-on teaching, they must have experienced classrooms and instruction in them themselves. Too often, faculty do not practice what they preach and instead allow traditional lecture and recitation to dominate in much of higher education.

* Superficial Curriculum. “Once over lightly” describes the curriculum. Traditional programs focus on methods and a smattering of educational psychology. Candidates do not learn deeply about how to understand and handle real problems of practice.

* Traditional Views of Schooling. Because of pressures to prepare candidates for schools as they are, most prospective teachers learn to work in isolation rather than in teams and to master chalkboards and textbooks instead of computers and CD-ROMS. (230-31)

One proposed direction for change is to increase the amount of time preservice teachers spend in the classroom working with children and experienced teachers, rather than in content courses interacting with their undergraduate or graduate peers and professors (e.g., Abdal-Haqq 1998; The Holmes Group 1986; Kleinsasser, Bird, and Warne 2000; Morris et al. 2000; NCATE 2001). Common sense indicates that candidates who receive increased amounts of field experience and mentoring opportunities to help them understand the realities of teaching are better prepared to deal with the complex realities of today’s schools, classrooms, and students. Qualitative and quantitative research supports this perception (Andrew 1990; Atkinson 2004; Beck and Shanks 2005; Boser 1990; Caruso 2000; Darling-Hammond 1998; Darling-Hammond and Youngs 2002; Griffin 1998; Nieto 2003a; Penso and Shoham 2003; Weisner and Salkeld 2004). Of course, more is not necessarily better if the interactions and experiences the candidate gains while in the schools and classrooms do not enhance the quality of learning (Abdal- Haqq; Darling-Hammond 1998, 2005; Kleinsasser, Bird, and Warne; Melser 2004; Morris et al.). With the increasing efforts to provide yearlong internships, it is important to look at the impact on, the value added to, teacher education candidates, the schools in which they are preparing, and the children they are teaching.

The culminating experience in teacher preparation is typically student teaching. This field-based assignment, which has traditionally involved a semester of supervised teaching in a pre-K- 12 school setting, is often viewed as one of the most critical elements in the development of a preservice teacher’s pedagogical skills and his or her socialization into the teaching profession (Baker 1990; Darling-Hammond 1998; Harriman 2000; Melser 2004; Nieto 2003a, 2003b; Pelletier 2000; Rikard and Beacham 1992; Roe 2002; Senne 2002; Svengalis 1992; Tannehill and Goc-Karp 1992; Teitel 2001). Although most preservice students and experienced teachers regard student teaching as the most valuable aspect of their preservice education (Evertson 1990; Koerner 1992; MacGillivray and Freppon 2000; Mitchell and Schwager 1993; Pelletier; Roe; Senne; Teitel; Weisner and Salkeld 2004), this experience has also come under attack for the isolation it promotes, its practical expediency, and its dependence on conventional wisdom (Goodlad 1990; Melser; Pelletier; Roe; Schlagal 1996). As a result of these particular criticisms and other education reform efforts, many colleges and universities are engaged in reinventing student teaching by altering its duration, timing, requirements, connection to university courses and seminars, and type and intensity of supervision (Andrew and Schwab 1995; Atkinson 2004; Cochran-Smith 1991; Darling-Hammond; Thompson and Ross 2000; Weisner and Salkeld; Wilson and Saleh 2000). Yearlong internship programs in education, however, are relatively new and researchers have conducted few empirical research studies to assess their effects (Boser and Kennedy 1993; Pelletier; Roe; Wilson and Saleh) or to measure their benefits (perceived or other) in preparing preservice teachers in comparison with the benefits of more traditional student-teaching experiences (Darling-Hammond; Senne; Teitel).

In this study, our objective was to compare the perceptions of teacher education students involved in a yearlong culminating internship with those of their peers participating in traditional student-teaching experiences. We hypothesized that the additional clinical experiences would provide increased opportunities to encounter the realities of teaching and would be reflected in student teachers’ more positive perceptions of supervising teachers, knowledge of school policies and procedures, teaching ability, and overall perception of adequacy of time spent in schools during the internship.

Method

We conducted a survey to examine differences in the perceptions of student teachers in a yearlong internship compared with those in a semester-long internship. Enrollment in the yearlong internship was voluntary; therefore, random assignment was not possible. In all the analyses, the independent variable was type of internship- yearlong or traditional semester. The dependent variables were student perceptions of (a) quality of relationship with their supervising teacher, (b) knowledge of school policies and procedures, (c) teaching ability, and (d) adequacy of time spent in schools during the internship. No members of the research team were actively involved in the compared programs.

Context

The participating university is part of a collaborative initiative (University Teacher-Education Partnership) of the schools, colleges, and departments of education in the state’s public education system. In this context, each teacher-preparation institution works with public-school partners to simultaneously improve student teaching, induction, and continuing professional development of teachers through shared involvement and responsibility. A component of these partnerships is that teacher- education students in their final year of preparation are engaged in an extended yearlong (two semester) internship, including intensive classroom experiences and student teaching in carefully selected school sites. At the beginning of the first semester of the yearlong internship, preservice teachers are assigned to a school and cooperating teacher. The preservice teacher works in the cooperating teacher’s classroom during the first semester to complete school- based activities linked to specific professional education courses. The preservice teacher also works with his or her cooperating teacher to complete a series of activities (e.g., observe other classrooms and learn more about the school environment) designed to enhance the relationships between the ideas and practices of teaching. During the second semester, the intern spends time teaching, with extensive supervision from his or her cooperating teacher and university supervisor. Professionals reason that increased amounts of field experience with increased mentoring opportunities will help student teachers understand and handle real problems of practice and be better prepared to deal with the complex realities of today’s schools, classrooms, and students. In comparison, when students are engaged in the traditional semester internship, they are assigned to work with a cooperating teacher and university supervisor. Students work in the school and classroom for approximately fifteen weeks and must complete at least four weeks of full-time teaching during that time. They do not have the full-year experience in which they witness the start and end of the school year and do not participate in student-teaching experiences simultaneously interwoven with coursework and university supervision.

Participants

Most participants were female (91 percent) and ranged in age from twenty-two to fifty (M = 22.93, SD = 6.64). The majority of participants were white (91 percent), followed by African American (5 percent) and other ethnic groups (4 percent). We found no differences in the gender, age, or ethnic demographic characteristics of the two groups of student teachers; they also had similar undergraduate grade point averages. Because students in both groups participated in the same undergraduate program and shared common demographic characteristics, we assumed similarities in background knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and educational experiences.

Instruments

We administered three questionnaires to all participants to obtain perceptions of relationships with supervising teachers, knowledge of school policies and procedures, and teaching ability. All three questionnaires required respondents to rate items using a fivepoint Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). We used a single item to describe perceptions of the adequacy of time spent in schools during the internship.

The Relationship with Supervising Teacher Questionnaire is a twenty-seven-item inventory used to measure the extent to which the student teachers perceived their supervisors as a valued source of encouragement, feedback, and mentoring (see table 1). We included items based on recommendations from university and clinical supervisors. We tabulated an average score using all items; higher scores (close to five) indicated a better relationship with the supervising teacher. To support content validity, experts familiar with the purpose of the questionnaire examined the items and judged the extent to which they were adequate and representative for measuring relationships with supervising teachers. We included no item with less than 100 percent agreement from these individuals. We obtained a high internal-consistency reliability (alpha = .97) for this scale.

The Knowledge of School Policies and Procedures Questionnaire is a twenty-five-item inventory assessing perceptions of administrative policies related to areas such as attendance, textbook adoption, and homework and school procedures (e.g., how to report discipline problems; plan, schedule, and conduct field trips; and use the media center; see table 2). We used the same scoring procedure implemented on the previous questionnaire. To support content validity, experts familiar with the purpose of the questionnaire examined the items and judged the extent to which they were adequate and representative for measuring general knowledge of school policies and procedures. We included no item with less than 100 percent agreement from these individuals. The reliability coefficient for this scale using coefficient alpha was .94.

The Teaching Ability Questionnaire is a thirty-item scale based on the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC 1992) standards (see table 3). Items focus on the student teachers’ beliefs about teaching; their ability to motivate students, adapt instruction for learning difficulties, and handle discipline problems; and their overall ability to teach. In this questionnaire we implemented the previously described scale and scoring procedures. To support content validity, experts familiar with the purpose of the questionnaire examined the items and judged the extent to which they were adequate and representative for measuring general perceptions of teaching abilities. We included no item with less than 100 percent agreement from these individuals. The reliability using coefficient alpha was .96.

We used a single item to examine the students’ perception of the adequacy of the time spent in the schools during their internship. The item was: My classroom experience and student teaching provided ample time in the public school to prepare me for my teaching career. We recorded responses on a five-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).

Procedures

We administered the questionnaire to all participants at the end of their internship experience when they attended a required exit interview to complete all the final paperwork for graduation. At the end of their exit interview, we asked the participants to complete all questionnaires as well as the single item that addressed adequacy of time. We did not require the participants to place their name on the questionnaires but instructed them to indicate whether they participated in the extended yearlong internship or traditional semester-long internship.

A graduate research assistant transferred responses provided on paper questionnaires to electronic datasets, and two members of the research team checked for accuracy. We completed all statistical analyses using imported files and Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) software.

Results

We performed a multivariate analysis of variance on perceptions in four dependent variable domains: (a) quality of relationship with their supervising teacher, (b) knowledge of school policies and procedures, (c) perception of teaching ability, and (d) adequacy of time to prepare for profession. The independent variable was type of student-teaching experience, which consisted of two levels: extended yearlong and traditional semester-long internship.

Results of evaluation of assumptions of normality, linearity, and multicolinearity were satisfactory, and there were no univariate or multivariate outliers at the alpha = .001 level. With the use of Hotellings’ criteria, the association between the combined dependent variables and the type of internship experience was statistically significant (F^sub (4, 110)^ = 2.71, p =

We report the sample sizes, means, standard deviations for each group (extended yearlong and traditional), t values, and effect sizes in table 4. For every dependent variable, the scores for perceptions of yearlong interns were higher. There were statistically significant differences between the yearlong and semester-long student teachers for all dependent variables except perception of teaching ability. The results were consistent with our hypotheses, and the magnitude of differences (see Cohen 1988) as measured by the effect sizes ranged from large (e.g., spending enough time in schools) to moderate (e.g., relationship with their supervising teacher and knowledge of school policies and procedures).

Discussion

Researchers blame inadequate experiences (e.g., too little time spent teaching; too much time spent in uninspiring classes studying superficial aspects of teaching; and stale, conventional, and traditional views of teaching) in teacher preparation programs for critical personnel preparation conditions requiring attention from education professionals (Darling-Hammond 1998, 2005; Darling- Hammond, Chung, and Frelow 2002; Darling-Hammond and Youngs 2002; Fine, Bloom, and Chajet 2003; Goe 2002; Harriman 2000; The Holmes Group 1986; Irvine 2003; Melser 2004; NCATE 2001; Nieto 2003a, 2003b; Pelletier 2000; Roe 2002; Senne 2002; Teitel 2001). Researchers have proposed extended student-teaching assignments in an effort to send better-prepared teachers into America’s classrooms; yearlong internships have become more common as professional development schools and school-university partnerships emerge in an effort to bring more teachers into the profession ready to teach (Abdal-Haqq 1998; Darling-Hammond and Youngs; The Holmes Group; Kleinsasser, Bird, and Warne 2000; Morris et. al 2000; NCATE; Nieto). The outcome of our research provides preliminary support for the perceived benefits of a yearlong internship. Student interns in the extended student-teaching experience reported higher scores on adequacy of time spent in the schools, relationship with supervising teacher, and knowledge of school policies and procedures, and the difference in scores from their traditional-internship peers was statistically significant. We found the largest difference in the students’ perception of the adequacy of the time spent in the internship. We noted moderate to small differences for students’ perception of their knowledge of the schools’ policies and procedures and the quality of the relationship with their supervising teacher. There was not a statistically significant difference between the type of internship and the perception of teaching ability, but the trend was in the expected direction.

Teaching is a complex skill and the classroom is a complicated, multilayered environment, but beginning teachers in this study responded favorably regarding their abilities after an extended yearlong as well as a traditional semester-long student-teaching experience, showing that perceived confidence in their ability to teach was not a concern following either type of internship program. Teaching is more than knowledge of the content area and planning and delivering instruction. It involves reteaching, providing multiple meaningful activities for diverse groups of students, managing behaviors, bookkeeping, management, organization, traffic flow, collecting and distributing materials, and more. In the internship experience, these dimensions come to life and take on new meaning for the preservice teachers. In other words, the more you know, the less sure you are about what you thought you knew. Time and experience provide more opportunities to identify areas in need of growth and development and to hone skills the novice teacher identifies as lacking. Benefits of extended internship experiences require continued investigation. In this study, participants volunteered to participate in the yearlong internship, which is a limitation in establishing a causal inference. We assumed similarities in demographic characteristics across students participating in different experiences. Knowledge and educational experiences may have differed in and between our groups, and because we gave no pretest, we cannot be sure the internship experience changed participants’ opinions. Another limitation was that students provided perceptions that may not reflect their actual ability and skills. We are planning to use careful attention and selection control for future studies. Others should also consider randomly assigning participants to internship experiences or establishing equivalence on pretest measures when comparing participants’ perceptions. Continuing research using additional methods (e.g., interviews and observations) and measures (i.e., other than self- report survey items) of knowledge, teaching ability, and performance is clearly warranted.

TABLE 1. Items on the Questionnaire of Relationship with Supervising Teacher

My cooperating teacher or clinical instructor

1. Provided valuable feedback

2. Shared teaching files and ideas

3. Acted as a professional role model

4. Provided freedom to try new things

5. Was receptive and supportive

6. Included me in the planning process

7. Provided realistic expectations for my performance

8. Shared responsibilities with me concerning classroom organization plan and grading system

9. Shared current or relevant teaching strategies

10. Allowed me to control the classroom when it was appropriate

11. Provided valuable feedback to my university supervisor

12. Helped me expand my content knowledge

13. Appreciated the ideas and experience I brought to my student teaching

14. Allowed me to experiment and make mistakes

15. Supported my decisions and actions without being overly critical

16. Provided positive comments and suggestions that were relevant to my duties

17. Included me in meetings or activities that helped to build my leadership skills

18. Was enthusiastic about teaching and learning

19. Offered encouragement and praise in recognition of my efforts

20. Treated me as a professional

21. Modeled a reflective approach to improving teaching

22. Provided me with opportunities for debriefing immediately following my teaching

23. Listened to my ideas in a nonjudgmental way

24. Exhibited a sense of caring

25. Made time for us to talk and share information

26. Provided suggestions about how I could have done things differently

27. Was patient and nurturing

TABLE 2. Items on the Questionnaire of Knowledge of School Policies and Procedures

Student teaching has helped me

1. Understand the school’s mission statement

2. Learn how to report a disciplinary problem and fill out a disciplinary report

3. Learn how to schedule and handle a parent-teacher conference

4. Know how to access and use a copy of the North Carolina Standard Course of Study

5. Learn how to secure supplies for my classroom

6. Understand what records must be maintained in a student’s cumulative folder

7. Understand attendance accounting procedures and policies

8. Learn how to report problems related to a student’s health or behavior

9. Understand the procedures that govern the collection and reporting of money

10. Understand procedures for taking a class to an assembly

11. Understand the procedures for planning, scheduling, and carrying out field trips

12. Understand the procedures that govern the administration of standardized testing

13. Learn different techniques or strategies for grouping students for instruction

14. Gain a wide variety of teaching methods and strategies

15. Understand different methods for assessing and evaluating student understanding

16. Learn how to make student referrals relating to learning difficulties

17. Understand the homework and grading policies at my school

18. Understand the procedures that relate to textbook adoption and use of supplementary materials

19. Learn how to report problems dealing with technology

20. Learn how to plan for students with learning problems

21. Learn how to check books, materials, and equipment out of the library or media center

22. Understand operating procedures for copiers, laminators, and other equipment

23. Understand ways I can use community organizations and resources in my classroom

24. Learn different techniques or strategies for managing student behavior

25. Understand the procedures for contacting appropriate resource persons or community agencies (e.g., police officer, nurse, social worker)

TABLE 3. Items on the Questionnaire of Teaching Ability

1. I like how teaching makes me feel.

2. Teaching is easy for me.

3. When I teach, I feel satisfied.

4. I am getting better at teaching.

5. I am confident in my ability to teach.

6. I am relaxed when I teach.

7. I need less help with teaching than I did before.

8. My students think I teach well.

9. My university supervisor thinks I teach well.

10. My clinical instructor thinks I teach well.

11. When I teach, lessons flow.

12. My lessons contain meaningful learning experiences.

13. My students understand the lessons I teach.

14. I understand how children learn and develop.

15. I have enough training to deal with student learning problems.

16. I know how and where to refer students with learning problems.

17. I have observed other teachers deal with student learning problems.

18. I know how to individualize instruction.

19. I feel comfortable with my classroom-management skills.

20. I know how to encourage positive social interaction.

21. I am able to handle discipline problems in my classroom.

22. I have observed other teachers’ classroom-management procedures.

23. I feel comfortable with my ability to plan instruction.

24. I feel comfortable with my ability to motivate students.

25. I have observed other teachers’ techniques to motivate students.

26. I am able to use a prescribed curriculum for instruction.

27. I know how to use a variety of instructional strategies.

28. I have learned ways to grow as a professional.

29. I feel comfortable with my ability to communicate with colleagues and parents.

30. I have observed teaching that I will model in the future.

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Melba Spooner, EdD, is chair of the Department of Middle and Secondary Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Claudia Flowers, PhD, is a professor in educational research, statistics, and measurement at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Richard Lambert, PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Bob Algozzine, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

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Copyright Heldref Publications Jul/Aug 2008

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