CONCEPTUALISING STUDENT DEVELOPMENT THROUGH PARTICIPATORY REFLECTION AND ACTION (PRA) IN A COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE
University of Pretoria (SOUTH AFRICA)
About this paper:
Conference name: 9th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 3-5 July, 2017
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Abstract:This paper reports on the experiences of final-year teacher training students, utilising Participatory Reflection and Action (PRA) as qualitative research methodology in implementing an intervention during formal teaching practice. The point of departure is that the engagement of students during teaching practice might not be well understood in terms of professional development and identity formation. The paper explains how 2 023 participants engaged collaboratively in small groups (6-8 participants per group) in three-hour PRA workshops over three consecutive years – 2014 (n=555); 2015 (n=713) and 2016 (n=755) – reflecting on different factors that constituted their professional development as student teachers during the three different periods of teaching practice. The first part of the paper illustrates the opinions of student teachers regarding factors that constitute excellence in teaching and learning (expected roles and functions, as they relate to identity), while the second part deals with the actions and activities they undertook to address the shortcomings they identified one month after commencement of their teaching practice cycle (lived and reflected identities). The study adopted Engeström’s Activity Theory as broad theoretical framework, and in addition integrated Clarke and Hollingsworth’s Model of Teacher Professional growth. The former captures the roles and functions of teachers in practice, while the latter defines the influences of external and internal factors on professional development over time. Also fundamental to this study were Beijaard, Meijer and Verloop’s conceptualisation of teacher’s professional identity, Leijen’s findings on the importance of reflection of identity development and Wenger’s understanding of the dynamics within a Community of Practice. The third part of the paper explores the lessons gained from the PRA intervention, while the final section positions the contribution of PRA to teaching practice in general. Data was analysed from an interpretative perspective.
The results indicate that annual teaching practice experiences as well as mentor teachers (classroom teachers) played predominant roles in the development of the identities of student teachers, while the tasks and functions of the mentor lecturers were less prominent. Secondly, many student teachers argued that they were not thoroughly prepared for the challenges that awaited them in the classroom, and that the PRA interventions gave them the opportunity to address aspects such as intrinsic motivation, support mechanisms, ongoing professional development, student-learner interactions, and networking. Finally, the contributory classroom experiences, as opposed to theoretical classes, brought a new dimension to the development of student teachers’ identities.
In conclusion we argue that the expected and lived identities (reflected identities) of student teachers will define the tension between student teachers and participating role players (principals, teachers, lecturers and peers) during teaching practice, while the variation of external stimuli - university environment to school environment – will redefine identity development in terms of time and experience.
Keywords: Teaching Practice, Community of Practice, Teacher Identity, Participatory Reflection and Action.