"I Had No Idea": Clinical Simulations for Teacher Development
reviewed by A. Chris Torres - November 14, 2014
Title: "I Had No Idea": Clinical Simulations for Teacher Development
Author(s): Benjamin H. Dotger
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1623961955, Pages: 182, Year: 2013
Search for book at Amazon.com
Benjamin Dotgers book makes a compelling case for using clinical simulations to develop teachers. Those interested in the professionalization of teaching often compare the medical profession with the semi-profession of education, but Dotger moves beyond rhetoric: he provides a rich, concrete teacher development tool that draws directly from the training of doctors. In medicine, clinical simulations provide practice for medical professionals by having them interact with standardized patients, or trained actors who verbally and behaviorally communicate distinct, consistent symptoms. This experience offers individuals low-stakes practice interacting with patients, and provides the basis for rich group reflection and discussion of potentially differing approaches to the same set of medical circumstances (p. 5). Dotger argues that simulated interactions for teachers offer similar benefits and enhance teacher education by approximating realistic and widely acceptedbut often overlookedproblems of practice. For example, in current practice, authentic parent interactions are often absent from coursework and student teaching. Similar to the medical field, clinical simulations offer a common educational experience to new and pre-service teachers, giving them the time and space to reflect deeply and practice without consequence.
Dotgers connection to this work is deeply personal. He offers engaging, helpful descriptions of his experience using simulations throughout the text. The book starts by describing an intense interaction he had with a parent who winds up escalating the conversation and demanding the removal of an assigned book. As a second year high school English teacher, he wondered, Why didnt I get prepped for that in college!?! (p. 2). Graduates of many teacher education programs have long wondered the same, though Dotger points out that this deficiency is due in part to the difficulty of providing a wide variety of authentic experiences in student teaching and coursework. To fill this gap, Dotger conducted semi-structured interviews with 72 teachers who had ten or more years of classroom experience. The data provides the basis for the twelve cases presented in the book.
The majority of the book, from Chapter Three onward, focuses on the cases themselves and how teacher educators can implement them. Dotger stresses the need for each teacher to meet the same standardized individual (SI), which helps the group emphasize and reflect upon common problems of practice. Standardization requires prescriptive training for actors; it involves in-depth discussion of the background and context, precise verbal triggers, common questions about the character, and run-throughs of the simulation. Dotger anticipates critical implementation questions, and suggests partnerships with medical institutions, theatre programs, and retired educators to recruit SIs. Dotger stresses the need to recruit, train, and pay SIs to preserve the authenticity of the experience, but acquiring funding for simulations may be a major challenge for some teacher educators. It would be useful to provide potential funding sources or implementation suggestions in case funding cannot be acquired.
Dotger is adept and thoughtful at describing training considerations and actual experiences using simulations with pre-service teachers. His use of video and group debriefing offers an ideal balance of practice and data-based reflection, a balance that is often missing from teacher education as he notes: teacher educators rely too heavily on reflection, without providing pre-service teachers enough experiences on which to reflect (p. 57). While this longstanding critique of teacher education persists and has perhaps grown stronger in recent years, few are considering how to strike this balance or providing teacher educators with the tools they need to do so. This is where Dotger excels. His detailed guidance ranges from how to address participant misconceptions to the location, length, and debriefing procedures of simulations.
One misconception worth careful consideration is how simulations differ from role-plays, since the latter are used often in teacher education. He notes that role-plays demonstrate professional skill sets, approaches, or techniques that teachers will need to employ in their own classroom in the future (p. 37). Role-plays often involve predetermined knowledge of the outcome and skill the teacher is working towards, ideally allowing teachers to develop and refine specific skills. They do not offer the visceral experience of interacting with a novel individualsomeone who will not break character or allow pauses to reflect on what is happening in the moment. Anyone who has engaged in a role-play understands the difficulty of making it feel authentic and similar to a real life experience. Since public schools require teachers to exercise sound judgment and split-second timing (p. 39), Dotger argues that simulations are a better approximation of practice than role-plays, and offer a distinct, important aspect of classroom preparation.
The twelve simulation cases are intentionally sequenced as increasingly challenging problems of practice. Each case offers separate guidance or protocols for the teacher educator, the standardized individual, and the teacher. Dotger includes important individual and contextual details (including behavioral details such as body posture or verbal cues) as well as pre-and-post simulation reflection questions that focus discussion on the principles important to the case. He writes these with a rich attention to detail, which is essential for developing an understanding of the people and problems represented. With one exception, all of the simulations involve discussions about high school students.
Dotger convincingly argues that simulations are a useful, perhaps even necessary, addition to the repertoire of teacher educators, universities, and teacher education programs. He provides clear, relatable, and thorough guidance. His work is still developing; in the future it would benefit a great deal from focusing explicitly on different grade levels as well as issues of race, language, and sexual orientation. Finally, as Dotger himself notes, teacher education should deliberately pair theory with practice. In Chapter Four, Dotger charges teachers to enact their best professional judgment, but it would be valuable to couple simulations with theory in a single course. Though beyond the scope of this book, it is important to consider how to pair these simulations with the coursework and theory that match the underlying knowledge and skills teachers need to be successful at them.
Overall, Dotger has me convinced that simulations are important tools for the preparation of practitioners in education: a copy of Dotgers simulations for school leaders already rests on my bookshelf.