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Place-based learning in teaching and teacher education November 1, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Social Ecology, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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By Katherine Bates

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.  (Benjamin Franklin)

Place-based education is part of the broader ecopedagogical movement in education that connects learners with and immerses them in their natural locale (Kahn, 2010; McInterney & Smith, 2011). These connections are understood to be best developed authentically, over time and with gentle positive immersions in the natural world (Sobel, 2014). This ‘in-place’ approach is also argued to be a built on process, connecting students with their local community through repeated immersions in order to develop a sense of agency with and planetary citizenship for the lived-in world (Hung, 2014; Sobel, 2014). Place-based education therefore plays an important role for engaging students with notions of ‘place’, identity’ and ‘community’ and, for developing local-global connectivity and citizenship in these times of significant environmental challenge (McInerney, Smyth & Down, 2011; Misiaszek, 2016).

Place-Based learning is also a particularly useful and energising approach in light of today’s Australian Curriculum reform and eco-pedagogy paradigm shift (ACARA, 2012). With the inclusion of an eco-pedagogical approach in curriculum and syllabus documents, immersing children in the natural world, it moves from an optional fringe pedagogy to mainstream when implementing the Humanities and Social Studies Learning Areas in the Australian Curriculum and the NSW BOSTES History and Geography Syllabuses for the Australian Curriculum (ACARA, 2012; NSW BOSTES, 2012). However, if we are to implement this approach in a school context for deep learning about the world around us, educators need to leave indoor classrooms so that students can be immersed in the natural world ‘up close’ (Kahn, 2010; Knight 2016; Liefländer et al, 2015).

One of the core aspects in the Human Society and Its Environment subject in the Master of Teaching at Western Sydney University provides future teachers with a sense place by involving them in place-based activities within their local university environment. These strategies provide future teachers with a starting point for understanding hands-on, nature-based enquiry and provide model lessons for implementing positive immersion nature based explorations in their future primary Geography and History teaching contexts.

Many of these place-based tasks are supported by using technology in the learning experience and in the creation of learning objects back in the classroom thus making technology an invisible tool in the learning rather than a tokenistic add on (Hunter, 2015). One of the popular choices amongst the selection of activities is the nature audit. Vertical or horizontal metres are measured out and using a mobile device, photos of the components within the metre space are taken. Students then audit the collected data, categorising the manmade and natural objects, the interaction between the objects and the dominance of, or integration between these components (Fig. 1). The photos are then generated into a ‘Zoom’ slide show with a sustainability theme.

comp-1Figure 1: Nature Audit




Kinaesthetic experiences are also popular with our preservice teachers such as matching paint colour swatches with colours from the natural and man-made local environment (Fig. 2). Students then ‘colour-map’ their environment, collecting data on colour dominances and tonal preferences. These data mapping activities are connected with earlier work in using Google maps, geo-mapping and geocaching for learning about local and global communities with school aged students. Conversations and ‘fat questions’ are raised about the dominant colours in our children’s school and in their wider communities. Other kinaesthetic activities involve recording natural and man-made sounds in their environment, which instigates interesting discussions about the impact of sound and the ‘white noise’ in children’s seemingly ‘always on’ world.


Figure 2: Colour in my world task


The strategies described here are but a sample of the place-based inquiries that our preservice teachers take part in but are ones that demonstrate the opportunities for rich discussion that these activities generate in terms of implementing place-based education with primary aged students. Moreover, the significant positive in task engagement that transpires when groups of preservice teachers work collaboratively in and about the natural world reinforces the different ways of knowing and learning that the outdoors offer all ages. As facilitators of these activities our team always looks forward to working with our groups as we share a common passion for supporting our future teachers in developing students’ connections with nature and develop pro-environmental agents of change (Liefländer et al, 2015).

 So children can thrive and grow strong in challenging times ahead, let us engage them in nature, ethical conversations, and the building of caring and peaceful communities, in their schools and beyond.  Winograd, K. (2016, p 266)



Australian Institute for Teaching and Leadership (2016). Australian Professional Standards of         Teachers, Author, Sydney.

Hung, R. (2014). In Search of ecopedagogy: Emplacing Nature in the lLght of Proust and Thoreau. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 46(13), 1387-1401.

Hunter, J. (2015). Technology Integration and High Possibility Classrooms: Building from TPack,

Routledge, New York and London.

Kahn, R. (2010). Critical Pedagogy, Ecoliteracy and Planetary Crisis: The Ecopedagogy

Movement. New York: Peter Lang.

Liefländer, A., Fröhlich, G., Bogner, F., & Schultz, P. (2015). Promoting Connectedness with

Nature through Environmental Education, Environmental Education Research, 19(3), 370-384.

McInerney, P., Smyth, J., and Down, B. (2011). Coming to a Place Near You? The Politics and

Possibilities of a Critical Pedagogy of Place-Based Education, Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 39(1), pp 3-16.

Misiaszek, G. W. (2016). Ecopedagogy and Citizenship in the Age of Globalization:

Essential Connections between Environmental and Global Citizenship Education to Save the Planet. International Review of Education, 62(5), pp 587-607.

Sobel, D. (2014). Place based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities. Green

Living:  A Practical Journal for Mindful Living, 19(1), 27-30.

Winograd, K. (2016). Education in Times of Environmental Crisis: Teaching Students to be Agents of Change, Routledge, New York and London.

Dr Katherine Bates is a sessional academic in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia.  She currently lectures in Human Society and Its Environment at Western Sydney University and also in Literacy and Numeracy in Secondary Schooling at the University of Wollongong. She has had extensive experience as a classroom teacher across ES1-S4, EAL/D and literacy support, as well as senior leadership roles in curriculum and assessment with the Department of Education and Sydney Catholic Education.

Including all children – a student teacher’s reflection September 20, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Inclusive Education.
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By Robert Mccluskey

I am currently studying at Western Sydney University and am in my last year of the Master of Teaching (Birth-12) Program. I have recently completed a professional experience placement in a long day care centre.

During my time at the centre one of the learning foci in my studies was the design and implementation of an inclusion plan for a child with disability. This was a new experience for me, as I hadn’t worked with many children with disabilities before so I was initially quite nervous that it would be beyond my capabilities as a pre-service educator.

Initially, I was concerned that without knowing the specifics of a child’s diagnosis, and the impacts that it may have on their learning and development, it would be difficult to cater for any of the child’s additional needs. So I spoke with the parents and staff, to learn more about the strategies that were currently being implemented and to find out about the long term and short term goals. I also researched the diagnosis in greater depth, in an effort to understand the day-to-day impact that it would have on the child’s learning.

What did I do?

The main focus for the inclusion plan was for the child to initiate in parallel and social play situations. This was done by prompting the children to play in groups, creating situations for partner play through transitions, i.e. each child picks a friend, and a construction project in which the children built and evolved a miniature construction site in the centre’s outdoor play area. It was important when implementing any of the learning opportunities for all of the centre’s staff to be informed beforehand so they could support the inclusion plan’s success.

Benefits for the child?

I found that forming positive social relationships helped generate positive self-esteem in the child. (Dunlap, 2009). I also noted that through these social relationships, the child was also able to further develop important social and language skills. (Flint, Kitson, Lowe, & Shaw, 2014). Children benefit from positive social interactions with peers and educators they respect. The inclusion plan I designed was focused on the parent’s main goal of nurturing and expanding on the child’s social interactions. In developing this plan, I hoped to see a notable benefit to all the children. Throughout my studies I learnt that inclusive practices don’t only benefit children with disabilities, but can positively support the development of all children.

What made the inclusion plan successful?

The inclusion plan’s success was largely due to collaborating with families and the educators, the ongoing dialogue with parents and staff about the child’s progress which allowed for constructive feedback to be provided. Both these elements were critical to the development of the program and its success.

Benefits for me

In working with a child with disability, I was able to understand the importance of being able to implement a range of teaching strategies so as to be able to include all the children in my care. This is a lesson that I will definitely take into my professional future, it is clear to me that stronger inclusive practices are beneficial to all of the children involved.


Dunlap, L. L. (2009). The importance of play. In An introduction to early childhood special education: Birth to age five (pp. 352-387). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Pearson.

Flint, A. S., Kitson, L., Lowe, K., & Shaw, K. (2014). Literacy in Australia: Pedagogies for engagement. Milton, Australia: John Wiley and Sons Australia.


Robert Mccluskey is a final year student in the Master of Teaching (Birth-12) Program offered by the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia. His post was initially published on the education blog site, Online Community of Practice, and is reproduced here with his permission.

Teacher stress and wellbeing – How can we build a sustainable workforce? August 8, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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By Daniela Falecki

Teacher stress is high; in fact teachers exhibit higher levels of stress than any other profession (Stoeber & Rennert, 2008). Whether this be day to day stress related to required tasks, or stress due to institutional stress factors, teachers are struggling (Curry & O’Brien, 2012). As teachers battle exhaustion, so does their ability to cope and remain buoyant in the face of the increasing social and emotional demands placed on them, which directly impacts wellbeing (Parker, Martin, Colmar, & Liem, 2012). How do I know this? Because I too am a teacher.

Supporting teacher wellbeing is crucial because:

“Teachers worn down by their work exhibit reduced work goals, lower responsibility for work outcomes, lower idealism, heightened emotional detachment, work alienation, and self-interest. When teachers become burned out, or worn out, their students’ achievement outcomes are likely to suffer because they are more concerned with their personal survival.” (Richardson, Watt, & Devos, 2013, p. 231).

A study in the UK went one step further to show that teacher wellbeing had a direct impact on students’ SAT scores with a variance of 8%. This means teacher stress and wellbeing has a direct impact on student outcomes (Briner & Dewberry, 2007).

Wellbeing is a broad and complex area that, when discussed in a school arena, is typically centred on meeting student needs. Yet go into any staffroom and the topic of conversation will be centred around how tired, stressed and overwhelmed teachers feel. While burnout is high in experienced teachers, of greater concern is the attrition rate of beginning teachers who leave the profession because of a “lack of congruence between expectations for one’s career and the actual reality of the work” (Curry & O’Brien, 2012, p. 179). The one thing we do know is that in order for students to be well, teachers themselves must also be well (McCallum & Price, 2010). So, what are we doing to support teacher wellbeing? More specifically, what are we doing to better prepare pre-service teachers who are entering the profession?

Thankfully, we are now starting to see interventions that support teacher wellbeing beginning to feature alongside student wellbeing programs (Jones et al., 2013). A major contributor to this could be the rise of evidence based interventions coming from the field of Positive Psychology. Positive Psychology is a field of inquiry concerned with what makes communities and individuals thrive (Waters & White, 2015). Instead of exploring a deficit model of what is not working by asking questions such as ‘what is causing teacher stress?’, it looks at what is working by asking ‘what does teacher wellbeing look and sound like?’

This means sharing with existing and pre-service teachers about the numerous domains of wellbeing and their associated interventions. These may be in the form of Seligman’s 5 pillars known as PERMA (2011),  the 6 domains of psychological wellbeing by Ryff and Keyes, (1995), or the ten items for flourishing by Huppert and So (2001) .  By giving teachers evidence based tools to strengthen their wellbeing, we are not only building well teachers, we are preparing them for how to better teach wellbeing to young people with simple and practical strategies. These interventions can range from reflecting on being our best possible selves, keeping a gratitude journal, performing random acts of kindness, working with growth mindsets, setting and achieving goals, and identifying character strengths.

This does not mean we throw out the good work that is already being done in teacher education; it means we need to review what is working well and plan for ways we can more specifically address these positive interventions. Just as we explicitly teach wellbeing to young people, we must also explicitly plan ways to build a more sustainable workforce.


Briner, R., & Dewberry, C. (2007). Staff well-being is key to school success. London: Worklife Support Ltd/Hamilton House.

Curry, J. R. P., & O’Brien, E. R. P. (2012). Shifting to a Wellness Paradigm in Teacher Education: A Promising Practice for Fostering Teacher Stress Reduction, Burnout Resilience, and Promoting Retention. Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, 14(3), 178-191.

Howard, S., & Johnson, B. (2004). Resilient teachers: resisting stress and burnout. Social Psychology of Education: An International Journal, 7(4), 399-420. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11218-004-0975-0

McCallum, F., & Price, D. (2010). Well teachers, well students. The Journal of Student Wellbeing, 4(1), 19-34.

Parker, P. D., & Martin, A. J. (2009). Coping and buoyancy in the workplace: Understanding their effects on teachers’ work-related well-being and engagement. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25(1), 68-75. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2008.06.009

Richardson, P. W., Watt, H. M., & Devos, C. (2013). Types of professional and emotional coping among beginning teachers. Emotion and school: Understanding how the hidden curriculum influences relationships, leadership, teaching, and learning, 229-253.

Seligman, M. E. (2012). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being: Simon and Schuster.

Stoeber, J., & Rennert, D. (2008). Perfectionism in school teachers: Relations with stress appraisals, coping styles, and burnout. Anxiety, stress, and coping, 21(1), 37-53.


Daniela Falecki is a sessional lecturer in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia. She is Founder and Director of Teacher Wellbeing (www.teacher-wellbeing.com.au)

I don’t get it…..yet March 7, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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by Karen McDaid

I love mathematics and not just a little! I really love mathematics, but when I recall my mathematical school experiences, I do so with a fairly dispassionate attitude. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that I disliked school mathematics. On the contrary, I quite enjoyed learning and grasped most mathematical concepts fairly quickly, which meant I met with a small but consistent degree of success in mathematics. I did alright in standardised tests, was about middle in the class, but I was not ‘smart’ in an academic sense, or at least I didn’t think so. In saying that, I was always more than happy to persevere with a challenging problem and wouldn’t let anything get the better of me.

On the other hand, Paula White, who became my friend in Year 4, was my antithesis. I thought Paula was very ‘smart’. She was awarded first in class many times throughout primary school. I admired her greatly and aspired to be as ‘smart’ as her. However, my observations of her as a learner through the years, even to my young self, were puzzling. Although she was top of the class in most of the mathematics tests we undertook, when facing a challenging mathematical problem where the solution was not immediately obvious, often the first words she said were, “I don’t get this” or “This is stupid”. By Year 8 Paula had slipped into a cycle of avoidance and her achievements in primary school were not reflected in high school. It seems to me now that she was so caught up in proving her capabilities and successes that she forgot, or couldn’t embrace, the opportunity to learn. I frequently wondered what made us so different.

Many years later as a teacher I noticed the same traits in several of my Stages 2, 3 and 4 (Years 4 to 8) students in the first few weeks of the year. Some were keen to tackle challenging problems or at least persevere with problems; others used Paula’s mantra to indicate their displeasure. What I found interesting was that there was absolutely no correlation between my primary and high school students’ defeatist attitude and their actual ability in mathematics. I knew they could achieve if only they would try. In more recent years, while teaching Mathematics to primary pre-service teachers at university I often heard Paula’s “I don’t get this” from the adult students with whom I was working. Many also subscribed to society’s misconception that a person is either born with a mathematical ability or they are not. Unfortunately, this misconception has created a culture where it is socially acceptable for someone to openly proclaim that they are ‘no good’ at mathematics and where the belief is that intelligence is fixed and unchangeable (Boaler, 2013).

So began my quest to understand what influences attitudes towards, and self-efficacy in mathematics. My aim was to see if it was possible to develop resilience, motivation and foster positive self-efficacy in my students and in the primary pre-service teachers with whom I work. I became particularly interested in the research of Carol Dweck at Stanford University into fixed and growth mindsets. Dweck (2006) describes a fixed mindset as a significant impediment to learning as it affects the ability of the learner to ‘believe’ in themselves and thus impacts their cognitive development. She also defines mindsets as a set of powerful beliefs that are in the mind and as such are changeable. Dweck argues that those who have a tendency towards a fixed mindset are rarely willing to persevere with challenges for fear they will expose their perceived deficiencies. She believes that this attitude turns people into ‘non-learners’ and an examination of the brain-waves of people with a fixed mindset demonstrated a loss of motivation when faced with challenging problems (Dweck, 2006). On the other hand, people who have a growth mindset are more open to challenges, give up less easily and believe that intelligence is malleable.

I found Dweck’s work fascinating and when reflecting on Paula’s behaviour, I realised that she had exhibited many fixed mindset behaviours as did some of my students. A study into motivation conducted by Blackwell, Trzesniewski and Dweck (2007) followed hundreds of students transitioning to 7th grade. The study found that students who had been identified as having a growth mindset were more motivated and achieved at a higher level than those with a fixed mindset in mathematics and the gap between them continued to increase over the following two years. When a growth mindset intervention was implemented in further studies, Blackwell et al (2007) and Good et al (2003) found that the achievement gap reduced further and in particular that the gap between girls and boys was significantly reduced.

In recent times there has been a lot of talk about brain plasticity, and both Dweck and Boaler acknowledge that intelligence is malleable. My challenge has been to move the immovable from ‘I don’t get it’ to believe that they can ‘get it’. So, how did all this knowledge contribute to my teaching and learning objectives in the mathematics classroom? Well it didn’t, at least not in the beginning. While my teaching philosophy has evolved over a number of years, I have always strived to create a classroom culture where students were learners, not just in name, but really enthusiastic, motivated and driven learners. No doubt this is every teacher’s goal! As such, I set high expectations and wanted students to feel safe to be risk takers. My teaching philosophy mirrored a growth mindset classroom.

So I was working within a growth mindset, unfortunately, that was just it! ‘I’ was working using a growth mindset. While I had taken the time to set up a classroom culture with my school students, I didn’t communicate my philosophy to my university students. I didn’t expect the school children to know what was in my mind; I clearly communicated and worked with them to create a safe learning space. What made me think that my university students would know what was on my mind? They didn’t know about the classroom culture that I was striving to achieve, yet they were part of the classroom community too.

“Just the words “yet’ of “not yet,” we’re finding, give kids greater confidence, give them a path into the future that creates greater persistence”.

(Carol Dweck, 2014)

While teaching time is finite, instead of rushing headlong into content in the first tutorial, I have found that spending twenty minutes setting up our classroom culture has been valuable for student engagement and for students’ self-efficacy in mathematics. I communicate my teaching philosophy and acknowledge that ‘we’ create the culture of the learning space. We discuss how our attitudes can set us up for success and take five minutes in small groups to discuss a time when we learned something well through hard work. We explore the notion of fixed and growth mindset and malleable intelligence. We set high standards for our learning and revisit this notion throughout the semester. No question is ‘dumb’ and mistakes are actively encouraged. I have learned to change my thinking and my language and that praise should be connected to behaviour rather than achievement.

This is my story, which changes according to student dynamics and as I continue to learn and adapt my teaching. I don’t claim that it will work for everyone, but I have seen a marked improvement in the effort and determination with which all students engage with the mathematics activities in class. Students have eagerly embraced replacing the statement ‘I don’t get it’ with ‘I don’t get it yet’. But one of the greatest and most powerful transformations is when you see a student who might have given up in the past, collaborate to work really hard on a mathematical problem and then suddenly they see the value in their effort and shout ‘I get it now!’


Blackwell, L.S., Trzesniewski, K.H., & Dweck, C.S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development78. 246-263, Study 1.

Boaler, J. (2013). Ability and Mathematics: the mindset revolution that is reshaping education. FORUM, 55(1), Retrieved from http://www.youcubed.org/wp-content/uploads/14_Boaler_FORUM_55_1_web.pdf on 12th November 2015.

Dweck, C.S. (2006) Mindset: the new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.

Dweck, C. S. (2014). The power of believing that you can improve. [Video/TED talk] Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve/transcript?language=en

Good, C., Aronson, J., & Inzlicht, M. (2003). Improving adolescents’ standardized test performance: An intervention to reduce the effects of stereotype threat. Applied Developmental Psychology, 24, 645-662.

Growth mindset Videos





Growth mindset websites


Growth mindset lesson kit


Karen McDaid is a lecturer in mathematics education in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia.

Changing the Teacher Education Curriculum: A Shift From Knowledge to Practice December 10, 2015

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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from Aaron Sickel

From 2008-2014, I was a teacher educator in the U.S. At the University of Missouri, I had the great fortune to be involved in a large-scale research project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The longitudinal study investigated how pre-service teachers developed specialised knowledge for teaching mathematics and science during their teacher preparation program and throughout the first two years as fully employed teachers.

As a researcher, I collected data that included classroom observations, interviews, and lesson materials. Specifically, I had the interesting experience of observing the same teachers over a three-year timeframe. Throughout the project, the research team collaboratively analysed the data and noted an emerging trend. When we observed beginning teachers in the classroom, many of them struggled to use the reform-based strategies they had learned in the teacher preparation program (e.g. the 5E instructional model – Brown, Friedrichsen, & Abell, 2013; Sickel & Friedrichsen, 2015). Despite having these strategies modelled for them in their coursework, these teachers often had difficulty implementing them in ways that made them feel successful or worked for their students.

In a related episode, I began working as an assistant professor of teacher education at Ohio University in 2012. The movement toward accountability was and remains a strong force for educational stakeholders in that state. K-12 students were subjected to increased testing, teachers were adhering to a new state-wide teacher evaluation system, and initial teacher education programs were expected to meet more rigorous standards developed by a new accreditation organisation.

Another significant reform was the utilisation of a new evaluation tool for pre-service teachers to be employed at the conclusion of their teacher education programs. The teacher performance assessment (commonly referred to as the edTPA), is a performance-based assessment developed by Stanford University faculty to assess pre-service teachers’ readiness for entering the profession. The assessment is being used widely in states across the U.S., and in some cases pre-service teachers must earn a passing score in order to become a licensed teacher.

The edTPA requires pre-service teachers to engage in three basic practices for a small-scale instructional unit taught in a school placement: 1) construct detailed lesson plans; 2) video-record their teaching practice from one of the lessons; and 3) develop assessments and collect examples of graded student work. Reflection on each of these components is embedded throughout. Pre-service teachers are then assessed on these three components with a series of rubrics.

As with any new evaluation tool, the edTPA has its strengths and weaknesses. Regarding its implementation as a requisite for teacher licensure, I have many concerns, but that is for another post. I do believe the basic design and scope of the assessment is appropriate, aligned to a large amount of research on effective teaching, and potentially useful for pre-service teachers’ professional development. Pre-service teachers have to really think through their decisions, considering both their local context and research-based practices.

During my time in Ohio, the edTPA was in a pilot stage, and faculty were given the opportunity to score pre-service teachers’ work from their own programs. My colleagues and I worked in groups and collaborated to assess our pre-service teachers’ edTPAs. While marking could rarely be described as a fun endeavour, I must admit that the experience was incredibly enlightening. Regarding Part 1 of the edTPA, we began reviewing our pre-service teachers’ lesson plans. For the most part, lesson plans were detailed and well-considered. Many pre-service teachers demonstrated the ability to align curricular goals, assessments, and learning activities in meaningful ways, give consideration to the learning demands of activities, and articulate strategies for meeting those demands.

Needless to say, my colleagues and I were quite pleased, both with our pre-service teachers’ performance and with our teacher education program. Next, we moved on to Part 2 – instructional practice. We began watching videos of our pre-service teachers in the classroom. As we reviewed the rubrics’ criteria for instructional practice, which focused on creating a challenging learning environment with higher-order thinking tasks, eliciting and working with students’ ideas, and facilitating opportunities for students to apply their knowledge and skills, something was immediately apparent. Many of the research-based practices that were referenced in the lesson plan did not seem to be used effectively or at all in the teaching videos. While our pre-service teachers were quite adept at ‘talking the talk,’ many of them struggled with ‘walking the walk.’

I would like to note that my aim with recounting these experiences is not to denigrate the beginning teachers I have observed or taught in teacher preparation programs. To the contrary, I am quite impressed with the ingenuity of beginning teachers I work with, the ideas and enthusiasm they bring to their instruction, and in many cases the success they experience in schools. But my experiences with observing beginning teachers has also made something quite clear. Reading about pedagogy, discussing pedagogy, and even experiencing pedagogy as learners in a university context does not automatically translate to success with implementing pedagogy in a school classroom. That last phase of implementation requires practical knowledge and skill. For example, it is one thing to talk about the importance of differentiated instruction in an essay assignment, and quite another to enact several modifications during lessons based on specific curricular goals and students’ individualised education plans.

A promising approach to teacher education is one in which the central focus shifts from espoused knowledge to teaching practices. There are several researchers attempting to identify ‘core practices’ of teaching, which represent the most important skills for beginning teachers (Grossman, Hammerness, & McDonald, 2009). Core practices embody the enactment of knowledge in the classroom. They should be research-based, have potential to improve student achievement, occur in high frequency, and acknowledge the complexity of teaching (Grossman et al., 2009, p. 277).

One key practice that has been widely supported includes the skill of orchestrating classroom discourse. Lampert et al. (2013) describe how they help beginning elementary teachers engage in the practice of eliciting and responding to students’ ideas due to its significance for improving mathematical understandings. Based upon their NSF-funded research project, Windshcitl and colleagues at the University of Washington identified “planning for engagement with important science ideas,” “eliciting students’ ideas,” “supporting on-going changed in student thinking,” and “pressing for evidence-based explanations ” as key practices for science instruction (Ambitious Science Teaching, 2015). In addition to classroom discussions, Grossman et al. (2009) describe the skill of teaching group work routines to improve cooperative learning environments as a core practice.

Much more work needs to be done to identify the practices that influence learning, and to do that, we must also be transparent on the types of learning we value. It is probably not realistic to strive for one set of practices that works for all grade levels, subject areas, and school contexts (McDonald et al., 2013). For example, one can envision variations of practices based on the subject area, as teaching instrumental music brings about a different set of challenges when compared to teaching geography. Rather, it is important for teacher education programs to identify practices that are necessary for teacher readiness, and consider how approximations of those practices can be scaffolded throughout program components.

Teacher education programs should consider not only practices that focus on instructional strategies (asking higher-order questions), but also practices that are essential for building foundational elements that support students’ success (e.g. developing a classroom community). Beyond the examples listed above, potential practices might include:

  • Responding to challenging student behaviours
  • Developing positive social interactions among students
  • Implementing conceptually-rich tasks aligned to unit and lesson outcomes
  • Flexibly altering tasks while responding to students’ needs
  • Enacting culturally relevant pedagogy during a lesson
  • Drawing upon assessment data to inform and enact future instruction
  • Using rubrics to assess student work in fair and equitable ways

A shift toward teaching practices necessitates a shift in the learning activities and program structure of teacher education programs. Key pedagogical activities include the use of authentic teaching cases, in which pre-service teachers examine examples of student work and use the information to make future instructional plans, analysing video-cases of exemplary teaching, teacher educators modelling core practices followed by targeted reflection, and providing ample time for pre-service teachers to engage in micro-teaching and rehearsal opportunities as part of assessments (McDonald, Kazemi, & Kavanagh, 2013).

These practices are not new to teacher education, but they could be emphasized to a greater extent and become the foundation for a program’s curriculum. In addition, there is a clear need to work toward a stronger alignment between curricular goals of teacher education classes and school internships, and provide opportunities for pre-service teachers to spend more time in K-12 contexts to develop these practices (Darling-Hammond, 2014). For far too long, teacher education programs have been criticised as fragmented and not able to reconcile the gap between theory (taught at the university) and practice (learned in a school setting) (McDonald et al., 2014).

A shift toward practices does not mean we have to completely exclude learning or assessment activities that focus on teacher knowledge (e.g. writing an essay explaining how educational research supports the design of a lesson). Rather, it means that core practices can serve as an anchor by which we can meaningfully connect knowledge to the work of classroom instruction. Teaching is a complex activity, which requires a sophisticated amalgam of knowledge, skill, reflection, resilience, and emotional intelligence. Under the best circumstances, teaching is hard. The most prepared beginning teacher in the most suitable internship setting will still encounter many challenges.

With a finite number of years and program components, teacher education courses are charged with the responsibility of preparing beginning teachers for full-time employment. It is a daunting task for everyone involved, but I believe more authentic approaches to teacher education, such as shifting our emphasis to practices, has great potential for improving teacher readiness.


Ambitious Science Teaching. (2015). Tools for ambitious science teaching. Retrieved from                 http://ambitiousscienceteaching.org.

Brown, P., Friedrichsen, P., & Abell, S. (2013). The development of prospective secondary biology           teachers’ PCK. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 24(1), 133-155.

Darling-Hammond, L. (2014). Strengthening clinical preparation: The holy grail of teacher education.        Peabody Journal of Education, 89(4), 547-561.

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A.Sickel Professional Pic-smallDr Aaron Sickel is a lecturer in secondary science curriculum at Western Sydney University, and teaches classes focused on science teaching and educational research in the secondary master’s program. He studies science curriculum, the development of knowledge, beliefs, and practice for teaching science, and the interactions between education policy initiatives and teacher learning. He is interested in using results from this research to inform curriculum development, teacher preparation programs, and professional development initiatives.

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