Mentoring a preservice teacher to develop reflective practice
Tracey Sempowicz is a lecturer, Learning and Professional Studies, and Peter Hudson is an associate professor, Mathematics, Science and Technology Education, at the Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology. This article is adapted from the authors' paper presented at the 2011 ATEA Conference.
This article reports on a case study of an experienced teacher mentor and her preservice teacher (mentee) during a practicum experience. It investigates how the preservice teacher's reflective practices developed as a result of her mentor teacher's feedback.
The preservice teacher (pseudonym Amy) was in her second year of a Bachelor of Education Primary degree at a satellite campus of a large Australian university. Then 19 years old, Amy had commenced her tertiary studies immediately after completing secondary school. This study focused on her first field experience, with a year 2 class at a school situated in a low socio-economic area of Queensland. Amy's mentor, Gina, had 20 years teaching experience in seven different primary schools. She had previously mentored eight preservice teachers.
Evidence was obtained from a number of sources:
All data sources were cross-checked and triangulated to gain a rich description of the mentor and mentee interactions during the professional school experience.
Data showed that the mentor's ability to model self-reflection and establish processes for providing feedback were crucial to the mentoring partnership. In providing feedback to the mentee, the mentor's personal attributes, articulation of pedagogical knowledge and knowledge of the education system requirements all impacted on the mentee's development as a reflective practitioner.
A mentoring model developed by one of the authors (Hudson, 2007, 2010) was used as a framework for collecting qualitative data, and findings are presented under each of the categories of this framework.
Articulate expectations and provide advice to the mentee before planning and teaching
In the first video-recorded session (day two of the practicum) Gina outlined her expectations for timely preparation and review of lesson plans, and for the process of reflecting on teaching. A process was negotiated and the amount of class contact time was agreed upon. The mentee completed and presented lesson plans and written reflections in a timely manner, suggesting that the mentor's early and clear articulation of expectations regarding these system requirements had informed Amy's practices.
Gina suggested a process and sequence for scaffolding the mentee's teaching experience to give her a 'variety of experiences with individuals, small groups and the whole class'. Gina recommended that Amy repeat short activities in subsequent lessons to different groups of students to enable ongoing reflection and continuous improvement. She asked the mentee if she would like to 'build up' to teaching a whole day on day three of the final week of the practicum, and suggested that the final two days be allocated primarily to reflecting on and writing up a comprehensive account of the whole four-week experience. Gina suggested that Amy make a list of things that she enjoyed and things that she would do differently, adding that this would be an opportune time to reflect on the effectiveness of her pedagogy, as well as the process used for planning and implementing lessons and evaluating students' progress.
The mentor's scaffolding of the mentee's teaching experiences facilitated ongoing and continuous reflection on action, evident in the amendments that she made to her lessons and the changes to pedagogy observed (eg teaching strategies and classroom management practices adopted).
Review lesson plans
As agreed, Amy presented her lesson plans for review prior to teaching. Gina invited Amy to share her ideas for future lessons then guided the mentee in the development of pedagogical knowledge, curriculum content and classroom management strategies while reviewing lesson plans. For example, prior to a measurement lesson Gina discussed the aims of the lesson and used language from current syllabus documents referring to the 'essential learnings'. Gina asked Amy what questions she planned to ask the students, as well as sharing her understanding of higher-order questioning techniques. The mentor gave the mentee clear guidance on the maths concepts to teach including order, sequence and links to students' prior knowledge to enhance student engagement. Gina instructed Amy to use repetition and guided practice with regard to new or 'big words' and to relate new language concepts to prior knowledge in science and mathematics lessons.
A key issue addressed in the preservice teachers' course was behaviour management techniques for primary students, and on this issue too the mentor assisted Amy. Classroom management strategies were suggested while reviewing lesson plans, including clear articulation of the lesson aims, clear and specific instructions for activities, the use of positive reinforcement strategies such as praise, stickers and encouragement, and the use of a 'sound gauge' for monitoring noise levels.
Observe teaching practice
The researcher's observation journal noted that the mentor stayed 'in the background, unobtrusively observing the mentee'. In the interview, Amy described her mentor as supportive in the classroom, stating 'she's helpful in the way that she'll calm the kids down if they're not going to listen to me'. Although this might have been seen as interfering with Amy's position as a teacher, Amy found this action supportive and appreciated it. During small group, shorter activities, the mentee worked with her group in a space adjoining the classroom, allowing support from the mentor if needed, while also allowing Amy autonomy in managing her activities.
Following each activity or lesson observed, the mentor gave brief, immediate oral feedback and established a time for a more detailed debriefing dialogue to take place. This approach facilitated 'think time' for the mentee prior to in-depth reflection.
Provide oral feedback
During both the audio and video-recorded dialogue between Amy and Gina the mentor provided oral feedback when she reviewed the mentee's lesson plans prior to teaching. Gina used questioning to check her own understanding of the lesson plan, such as 'What do you want the kids to learn this afternoon?'. She discussed the questions the mentee planned to ask of the students and suggested teaching strategies; for example, 'you could scribe for them (slower writers), just the beginning of the sentence on the board, to get them started'.
Gina used the term 'reflection' and its derivatives regularly during the video and audio dialogue sessions, and on a practical level she allowed the mentee 'think time' with follow-up discussion the next day.
Provide written feedback
The mentee wrote 15 written reflections following her teaching episodes. These reflections demonstrated her ability to integrate her own thoughts about her teaching and the learning environment with the immediate feedback provided by her mentor. The mentor's comments written over the course of the four-week period acknowledged Amy's efforts to develop her reflective practice.
The day after a lesson was observed and brief oral feedback was given by the mentor, Gina and Amy met to reflect further on the lesson. The mentor established a structure for reflection and feedback through questioning. For example, 'What do you think worked really well over the two days? Did you find that there were degrees of ability in the science lesson? Do you think you have successfully given those children a chance through your feedback; that they will now be able to answer the questions themselves? When you start next week, what's the first thing you will do?'
Following the dialogue sessions, Amy wrote up her reflections incorporating both her own thoughts and Gina's feedback. This included asking open-ended questions that prompted Amy to think about relevant issues, actively listening to her responses and providing suggestions and encouragement for future action. After examining the mentee's written self-reflections it was evident that Amy adopted a similar format to her mentor's style of questioning. For example, 'What worked well? What didn’t work well? What would I change for future lessons?'
Despite being the mentee's first field experience, it was apparent by midpoint (day 11) that she understood the process of reflection-on-action established by the mentor.
The mentor continued to offer minor suggestions as appropriate; to illustrate: 'Are they also working on their clipboard? Do they need that? Is that something else that would help them with their paper?' As the practicum progressed, it became apparent that the mentee was developing her ability to critically self-reflect with minimal input from her mentor.
This study showed how a mentor who models reflective practices to a mentee and facilitates opportunities for the mentee's reflections is likely to influence the mentee's reflective practices and, subsequently, pedagogical development. Gathering further data from rich qualitative case studies may provide deeper insights into how mentors' practices affect mentees' reflective practices.
Hudson, P. (2007). Examining mentors' practices for enhancing preservice teachers' pedagogical development in mathematics and science. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 15(2), 201–217.
Hudson, P. (2010). Mentors report on their own mentoring practices. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 35(7), 30–42.
Ministerial Council on Education Employment Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA). (2003). A national framework for professional standards for teaching: Teacher quality and educational leadership taskforce. Canberra, Australia: Author.
Queensland College of Teachers. (2006). Professional standards for Queensland teachers. Retrieved on 2 August, 2010, from http://www.qct.edu.au/standards/index.html
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