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Making Learning the Object: Using Cultural Historical Activity Theory to Analyze and Organize Student Teaching in Urban High-Needs Schools


by Lauren Anderson & Jamy Stillman — 2013

Background/Context: Student teaching represents a critical component of most teacher education programs. However, there is significant variation both in the contextual factors that preservice teachers (PSTs) encounter in their field placements and in the ways that teacher educators mediate PSTs’ learning in relation to those placements. In this article, Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) provides the theoretical framework for considering this complex endeavor.

Purpose/Objective: This article unpacks a salient excerpt from an interview that was conducted as part of a larger qualitative study focused on situating student teaching in urban high-needs schools. The authors use one participant’s description of her student teaching experience as a starting point for mapping the contextual factors that appeared to mediate her practice—and her learning about practice—in her placement. The authors then consider how teacher educators might have better supported the student teacher, thereby enhancing her own and her students’ learning.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The authors conclude that conceptualizing student teaching through an activity system lens affords teacher educators the opportunity to think about student teaching in more contextualized ways, to set clearer, context-specific learning goals, and to strategically re-mediate PSTs’ learning in relation to those goals. Implications include recommendations for deepening collaboration with cooperating teachers and otherwise working to build coherence across university-based and field-based settings in an era of high-stakes accountability.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 115 Number 3, 2013, p. 1-36
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16466, Date Accessed: 3/22/2017 6:20:02 PM

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About the Author
  • Lauren Anderson
    University of Southern California
    E-mail Author
    LAUREN ANDERSON is an assistant professor at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education. Her research interests include the preparation of teachers for urban high-needs schools, teacher learning and leadership, and the application of social network and qualitative methods to the study of educators’ work and careers. Her current research projects focus on the socialization and sense-making of new principals in urban schools and explore the relationship between preservice teacher preparation, particularly field-based experiences, and in-service teacher practice. Her recent publications include “Embedded, Emboldened, and (Net)Working for Change: Support-Seeking and Teacher Agency in Urban, High-Needs Schools” (Harvard Educational Review, 2010) and “Opportunities to Teach and Learn in High-Needs Schools: Student Teachers’ Experiences in Urban Placements” (Urban Education, 2010).
  • Jamy Stillman
    University of Southern California
    E-mail Author
    JAMY STILLMAN is an assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education. Her research interests include the preparation of teachers to serve historically marginalized populations and the impact of high-stakes accountability on teachers, teaching, and learning to teach in urban high-needs schools. Her current research focuses on the clinical experiences of preservice teachers who are preparing to work in high-needs urban schools and on the relationship between preservice urban teacher preparation and in-service urban teacher practice. Her recent publications include “Teacher Learning in an Era of High-Stakes Accountability: Productive Tension and Critical Professional Practice” (Teachers College Record, 2011) and “Opportunities to Teach and Learn in High-Needs Schools: Student Teachers’ Experiences in Urban Placements” (Urban Education, 2010).
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