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Helping Teacher Candidates

John Caranci, teacher Faculty of Education University of Toronto

Usually I brief teacher candidates on what to expect when they go out to practicum. During the discussion I found that the candidates have a different perspective than experienced teachers like us. This year’s candidates have already completed a four-month practicum in November. Their experiences very widely but there were a few threads that I will mention.

My classes have had experiences in lesson and unit planning. This is not true of some teacher education classes. Many Faculty of Education instructors explain but do not give candidates practice engagement pedagogies so when the candidate wants to use a new pedagogy they have little or no experience in implementation. Some Associate Teachers want candidates to “teach” (Socratic or lecture) so they can fulfill the requirements of assessment forms. Only a few associates give explicit instructions and when they do, they focus on what the candidate is to do rather than what the students in the class are to do. I was asked what council I could give Associate Teachers, and how the OAPT could help. Here are some of the answers:

What can Associate Teachers do to help?
Use engagement pedagogies. Not as an experiment or trial. Understand that giving 100% to your class does not mean you’re speaking 100% of the time. Show candidates how to implement these pedagogies. Sometimes the best experience for a candidate is to see these pedagogies used in the field. Some candidates come from practicum with the idea that lecture/Socratic is the acceptable model. They do not want to be a ‘firebrand’ advancing something that appears to be only flogged in faculties as the next bandwagon. We know that engagement pedagogies are evidence based.

Have a clear set of expectations for the candidate to engage students. Be explicit in what you will be looking for in students’ actions to see they are engaged. Focus on what the students do.

Expect candidates to be intentional about student metacognition. Give them tools of observation and assessment of metacognition. Categorize metacognition in terms of what we do as physics teachers. How do students learn during lab activities, or problem solving? How does how a student learns relate to concept attainment?

Have candidates visit grade 9 and 10 Applied classes like English, mathematics, or French. Most candidates have been very successful academic students. They have earned entry to university and then faculties of education. Some have masters and even doctorates. They know their subject at a high level, but dealing with behaviours, attitudes and cognitive engagement of students that are not like them may provide a great learning experience. Provide the candidates with the tools of observing students. They should observe the students not the teacher and the teachers’ class management.

What can the OAPT do?
Adapt each of the new university class pedagogies to the high school classroom. Candidates need the resources so implementing is not a huge undertaking. Sisyphus should not be the candidate model. (You may recall the gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight) ‘La Gaza Ladra’ is a better model. (Translation is ‘The Thieving Magpie’ from G. Rossini).

Peer Instruction, Guided Inquiry, Just-In-Time Teaching, Ranking Tasks and others are used at the university level and over the years will be more prevalent for high school. The OAPT is working to guide physics teachers through implementing these. It is happening at the Conference, Summer Camps, the Newsletter, and so on. Perhaps we should have some one-page descriptors with implementation tools and examples in a permanent and very visible spot on the website.

What can candidates do?
Use one new pedagogy of engagement per practicum session (now 4 month-long sessions increased from 2). As candidates you may have multiple classes of the same level and type so that the pedagogy can be repeated and revised. Choose a model that interests you. Always focus on what students are to do.

I hope that the new generation of physics teachers will bring truly engaging physics to Ontario students.
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