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A Laboratory Technique for Practice Teaching


by Charles Russell - 1923

The technique for observation and participation used in the Division of Elementary Education of the University of the City of Toledo,1 was outlined in a recent article in THE RECORD.2 That article gave the reasons which made the particular technique described necessary and possible, outlined the development of the laboratory proper in the public schools of the city, explained the organization of the eight school grades into four divisions, showed how the master teachers were selected, outlined the plan of conferences at the University which constituted an extension to the laboratory proper, so to speak, and described the technique of the administration and grading of the laboratory experimentation. As was there stated the relation between the observation and the practice teaching is very close. Beginning with a maximum of observation and a minimum of participation the plan is to decrease the one and increase the other to a point where there is a maximum of participation and a minimum of observation. Thus for purposes of convenience only, the part of the course there described is called "Observation and Participation," taking its name from those elements which are there most prominent; and the latter half of the course, which is described in this article, is called "Practice Teaching," in accordance with tradition. There is no sharp break between the two sections of the work. They are in reality parts of the same whole, and the fact that they are divided is largely a matter of administrative convenience.

The technique for observation and participation used in the Division of Elementary Education of the University of the City of Toledo,1 was outlined in a recent article in THE RECORD.2 That article gave the reasons which made the particular technique described necessary and possible, outlined the development of the laboratory proper in the public schools of the city, explained the organization of the eight school grades into four divisions, showed how the master teachers were selected, outlined the plan of conferences at the University which constituted an extension to the laboratory proper, so to speak, and described the technique of the administration and grading of the laboratory experimentation. As was there stated the relation between the observation and the practice teaching is very close. Beginning with a maximum of observation and a minimum of participation the plan is to decrease the one and increase the other to a point where there is a maximum of participation and a minimum of observation. Thus for purposes of convenience only, the part of the course there described is called "Observation and Participation," taking its name from those elements which are there most prominent; and the latter half of the course, which is described in this article, is called "Practice Teaching," in accordance with tradition. There is no sharp break between the two sections of the work. They are in reality parts of the same whole, and the fact that they are divided is largely a matter of administrative convenience.


The plan here described for practice teaching shows how the technique can be applied to a unit of forty-eight students of teaching (or any number of students greater than thirty-two and less than forty-nine) with a unit of eight critic teachers, or, as they are now being called in Toledo, master teachers. In Toledo, these eight master teachers are regular teachers in the school system, and represent each of the eight school grades. Any single student is assigned to do all of his work in one series of these school grades, i. e., either in the first, third, fifth, and seventh grades, or in the second, fourth, sixth, and eighth grades (see Table II). The amount of time which he gives to practice teaching, in addition to that in observations and participation, is twelve full weeks of five days each, a total of sixty days. The actual number of hours varies with the type of practice teaching being done, as will be shown, but is probably not less than one hundred twenty clock hours.


The forty-eight students are separated into three divisions of sixteen students each. Each of these three divisions covers the same sequence of work for the twelve weeks, but the work is so arranged, as shown in Table I, that at any one time none of the three groups is at exactly the same point as either of the others.


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* The more capable students are put in Division III.


The practice teaching period is spread over an entire semester, including the usual examination week, which makes it possible to have a clear stretch of eighteen weeks for this work. Division No. I, consisting of sixteen students, who are distributed in groups of two among the eight school grades (see Table II), begins its practice teaching on the first week of the semester, and continues with its first unit of teaching (see Table III) for two weeks. At the end of the first two weeks this division of students returns to the University for a week of study which parallels the practice teaching. At the end of that week this group returns to the schools for its second unit of practice teaching of two weeks, returning to the University for another week of instruction, and so on in like rotation to the end of the semester. This division then has had twelve weeks of practice teaching and six weeks of parallel instruction in the University.


Division No. II, also consisting of sixteen students, begins its work the first week of the semester at the University, where it remains one week, then goes out into the practice rooms, remaining there for its first two weeks of teaching. It then returns to the University during the fourth week, goes out to the schools again for the fifth and sixth weeks, and continues this rotation to the end of the semester. By the end of the semester this group has had an amount of training equal to that of the first division, that is, twelve weeks of school-room practice teaching and six weeks of parallel work in the University. Division No. Ill begins the semester with one week of practice teaching, then comes to the University for one week of parallel instruction, returning to the schools in the third and fourth weeks for the second unit of practice teaching. It then returns to the University for a week, which it follows with a two weeks' unit in the school rooms, continuing this rotation until the end of the semester.


The reason for this arrangement of the practice teaching program is so to arrange the practice teaching as to distribute the work as evenly as possible over the semester. This makes the burden on the master teachers practically the same at all times, and also means that the children are subjected to a relatively stable amount of practice teaching at all times, inasmuch as at no time, except during the final unit of teaching when the students have complete charge of a class for several days, are the children subjected to as much as fifty per cent of teaching by student teachers. Moreover, at this time, the end of the semester, the amount of danger accruing from the activities of the student teachers and reacting upon the children, is appreciably less than at any other time, because the skill of the students is then greater than at any previous time.


During any one week, except the first, in any class room, there is a maximum of four students, two of whom are just beginning the unit for that grade, and the other two of whom are just finishing the work of that unit. The students of the third division are that week studying in the University. Referring to Table I it may be seen that during the ninth week, for instance, the sixteen students in Division No. I are studying at the University (U), the students in Division No. II are finishing their third two-week unit of practice teaching (T), while the students in Division No. Ill are beginning their third full two-week unit of practice teaching (P). In the fourteenth week, Division No. I is just finishing its fifth practice teaching unit, Division No. II is beginning its fifth unit, and Division No. Ill is at the University.


The advantages of this plan are that the students know exactly the sequence of the work they are to do; that the master teachers have the burden of their work evenly divided and distributed over the semester; that the children are subjected to a relatively stable amount of practice teaching at all times; that the staff at the University can teach its units of work in rotation and order, repeating each section three times; and that the development of the work is orderly and progressive. The disadvantages of the plan lie in a degree of non-flexibility, which, however, can be corrected in other ways, as will be shown.


The distribution of the sixteen student teachers of any one division among the school grades for the units of practice teaching is similar to that described for observation and participation.3 The sixteen students are divided into eight groups of two students each. In any one period one of these eight groups will be found in each one of the eight school grades. Their presence there is regulated in the following manner: At the beginning of the practice teaching semester the students are assigned to a series of school grades, one from each of the school divisions (either first, third, fifth and seventh grades, or second, fourth, sixth and eighth grades), preferably to those grades in which they had previously had their observation and participation periods, thus giving them the benefit of familiarity with the teachers, the grades, and the pupils. Table IIA gives the complete arrangement for Division No. I, for the first four units of practice teaching. Table IIB shows the same facts in a different way. By charting Table IIB with eight different colors for the eight student groups a graphic table is made which at a glance will definitely locate any of the groups as well as show their course through the program.


Division No. II and Division No. Ill have the same grade distribution for corresponding periods as has Division No. I, but as has been shown, they come at slightly different times.


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For any unit of practice teaching, the plan involves a rather concentrated amount of that particular type of practice. From the standpoint of the pupils, this is the greatest disadvantage of the scheme. The master teachers have found, however, that if suitable preparation is made at the beginning of the semester by anticipating certain types of drill or other needs which might come at some later time, this disadvantage can be largely eliminated.


In the outline of the work of the practice teaching units given below, it will be noted that the general plan for the different units is much the same with variations mainly in the type of practice which is afforded. The same plan is used regardless of the grade in which the teaching is being done, but, in spite of an apparent formality and a seeming inflexibility, there is a real difference in each of the units and in each of the different grades due to the differences in the types of teaching and in the units of subject matter involved.


The sequence of work of the different teaching units is the same for all groups of students except for those of Division No. Ill, since in that division the first teaching unit extends for only one week. The stronger and more capable students should therefore be placed in Division III and the work of the first unit should be completed in the first week. If this seems undesirable it might be possible to start this particular group a week in advance of the other students and allow them to finish their teaching a week earlier. Either arrangement will be found satisfactory.


The plan attempts to grade the difficulty of teaching according to the obviousness of the results which are obtained. It has been felt that it is of the greatest importance that a student teacher be able to evaluate to a certain degree the worth of his own teaching in terms of the results secured, and that those elements of teaching which are easiest to see are the easiest to evaluate. For that reason the teaching has been graded into three large groupings, and the student is inducted into the teaching process through a graded series of problems or activities based around these types. The first of these consists of the teaching of the skill subjects, the second, that of the knowledge subjects, and the third, the teaching of those subjects having to do largely with the formation of attitudes. It must be remembered, however, that all three of these types are usually present in some degree in every lesson. The attempt is made to pick out certain types of subject matter where one or another of the elements is largely in evidence and may most easily be isolated for our purposes.


The first two weeks' unit of practice teaching is based upon certain skills which result from teaching. Each master teacher is asked to select five of the most important teaching operations in her class which involve the teaching of skills. These are numbered from one to five, and the teaching by the students in her class room for the first two weeks is based upon these five operations, which are graded as far as possible according to their inherent difficulties as far as teaching them is concerned. The two students assigned to the class room of a master teacher appear on the first day and remain in the room only long enough to observe her demonstrate the first of these teaching operations (O 1). This may be a matter of only half or three-quarters of an hour. They, then, before leaving the school, prepare a rough draft of a plan for teaching a similar lesson on the following day. The observation has served to give the students an idea of the sequence of events in that class room so that they can the more easily plan the following lesson, and at the same time has afforded them the opportunity to see a master teacher give a lesson similar to the one they are to be asked to teach. This seems to be a very valuable part of the plan. The students spend the rest of the day in the library, in the University, or where they will (with certain reservations) preparing a revision of the lesson plan which they have submitted to the teacher. They thus have the advantage of the criticism of the master teacher and very frequently the help of the University instructors, as well as the benefit of consultation with other students and with books. Their chief work is to think out very carefully every anticipated move and to improve upon their plans in every way (L 1). As finally submitted the lesson plans are individual and are made independently by each student.


On the following morning both of the student teachers appear in the class room of the-master teacher to whom they have been assigned. Neither of the students, nor the master teacher herself for that matter, knows which of them is to do the teaching for that day, though all know that one of them is to do it. The master teacher, designating one of the students as "heads" and the other as "tails," which designation is maintained throughout the two weeks' period, tosses a coin, and according as it falls one of the students is assigned to do the teaching for that day (T 1). The reservation is of course made that at any time the student not assigned shall be ready to continue with the lesson if asked to do so. When two lessons are to be taught it is frequently advisable to have one student teach one and the other the second. The merit of the plan lies in the fact that it is impossible for the students to "read" the teacher, and it compels both the students to be ready to do the assigned task. The students then observe the teacher teach the second of the teaching operations of that unit (O 2), and both as before prepare a brief tentative lesson plan before leaving the school. They elaborate and perfect this plan (L 2), having the benefit of the criticisms of the master teacher to aid them in addition to merely having seen her teach the operation. The following day the teacher tosses the coin and selects a student to teach the second operation (T 2), she herself teaching the third operation for the benefit of the students (O 3), who prepare the lesson plan as before (L 3). This plan is followed for the rest of the week with the other operations of this unit.


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With the beginning of the second week all of the five operations have been pretty well established in the minds of the students, and they are then speeded up for the rest of their stay in that class room since they are held responsible from that time on for the teaching of two of the operations in one day instead of just one. In order to get as much self-criticism as possible as well as to reduce the repetition of operations of one type, one of the observations consists of an observation (or a criticism by a student of her own teaching) of one of the students. The other consists of an observation, as before, of the master teacher. This is continued with the various operations for the balance of the week, after which the students of this division return to the University for a week of conferences and study.


The second two weeks' unit (Table III, Unit 2) is based upon the second of the larger phases of the practice teaching, the teaching of knowledge or knowledge values. The technique followed in this unit is similar to that of the first two weeks' unit described above. The work of this unit involves the addition of five new operations of the second type (operations 6-10). Each master teacher is asked to select, as before, the five major operations which could be classed as the knowledge type and which are characteristic of the work of her grade. During the first week of this unit, the teaching program consists of a review of the skill operations stressed in the first unit, and the observation and teaching of the five new operations. The skill operations were learned in the grade to which the students had been previously assigned, but that does not present a difficulty here since the operations for the various grades have been found to be similar in the abilities which they develop, though they differ in content. The difference between the work of one unit and that of the next is very slight since in no case does it represent an interval of more than two grades. Moreover, the transition from one grade to the next is made still easier because the master teachers repeat with each group the demonstration teaching of the preceding five operations. During the second week of this unit the five new operations are repeated in the same way in which the skill operations were repeated during the second week of the first unit, using an exactly similar technique.


The third unit of two weeks (Table III, Unit 3) is like the second unit, except that there are five new operations (operations 11-15) which are primarily concerned with the formation of attitudes, the third type of practice teaching. Each master teacher is again asked to list five of the major operations in this field, and these are used as the basis of the work in the different grades for this unit. The first week consists of a review of the work of the second unit with the addition of the five new attitude operations. The second week consists in a repetition of the five attitude operations in a similar fashion to that followed in the last week of the two preceding units, and concludes the introduction of the student to the various types of teaching. The remaining work of the student teacher is to find and demonstrate these operations in varying combinations, and to eliminate some of the steps or "crutches" which were used to protect the students as well as the children.


Although the sequence of practice teaching gradation is not a primary consideration here, it may be of interest. It is, of course, impossible in short space to give the entire series of operations for all classes, since they number one hundred and twenty. Hence a sample of the operations actually used must here suffice.


FOURTH GRADE SKILLS—OPERATIONS 1 THROUGH 5


1. Written dictation lesson

2. Spelling drill lesson

3. Oral arithmetic drill

4. Oral reading drill

5. Flash card exercises for word recognition and eye span


FIFTH GRADE KNOWLEDGE VALUES—OPERATIONS 6 THROUGH 10


6. Reading development (Robin Hood was used)

7. Arithmetic development (time measures)

8. Geography development (industrial geography of South Africa)

9. Arithmetic development (subtraction—compound numbers)

10. Silent reading (prose of Hawthorne and poems of Riley)

11. Reading (dramatization)

12. Nature-study

13. Drawing and art (color values)

14. Picture study

15. Poem study for appreciation


It is admitted that the gradation of these elements is crude and unequal, and that the value of the elements themselves can in justice be questioned. Further experimentation and better methods of measuring results are necessary before this phase of the work can be greatly improved. Moreover, while the sequence is suggestive for the master teachers, it can be little more, at least with our present knowledge, for there is probably much in the personal characteristics of the master teachers themselves, at present not fully analyzed, which makes for the teaching success of the students. We can question just what, or how great, these values are, but we cannot doubt their presence.


The lesson plans which have been used are rather informal, answering questions such as the following: "What do I want to do?" "How many possible ways do I know of doing it?" "Which of these ways is likely to prove of most value and why?" "What results can I reasonably expect?" Other questions of self-analysis involving the pupils and the subject matter used are also included. More emphasis has been placed upon real thinking in the determination of teaching methods, real planning for the maintenance of interest and attention, and the following of accepted means for improving the methods of study of the children, than on the formal outlining of the lesson plans. The plans as written constitute a record of much outside reading and thinking, with cross-references to work previously done, and personal criticism of the actual results obtained. As may be noted in Table III there is a definite attempt to decrease the written lesson planning, which is practically eliminated by the end of the sixth week. Observations of teaching are practically eliminated in the last two units, the fifth and sixth.


At the end of the fourth unit of the practice teaching there is a general reorganization of the student body on the basis of the major interests of the students as well as the personal opinions of the instructors and the master teachers. Up to this time there has been no differentiation among the students with respect to the particular grades or divisions of the elementary school where they are likely to do their best work. All students have observed and taught in all divisions of the elementary school. The last two units of practice teaching give an opportunity for the students to get additional practice in those divisions of the school in which they are best fitted to work. Some may be transferred, for the final four weeks of teaching, to the primary grades and there have special work in primary teaching. Others may be placed so that they can get special attention in the upper or in the intermediate grades.


In these last two units of teaching there are two special opportunities afforded for the students. One of these is the planning and carrying through of a longer and larger element of teaching than at any previous time, which may extend over an entire period of two weeks if it is thought desirable. The second is the final period of responsible room teaching, when the students have the opportunity to be in complete charge of the classes for several days, and in this way to gain a perspective of the actual problems of teaching as they may occur in the class rooms which they are to have the following year. When this responsible teaching begins the students are already familiar with the classes, and the children have learned a real respect for the student teachers, so that some of the most discouraging problems of discipline, not connected with teaching, are thereby eliminated. It may be said here that the University staff helps in the early supervision of its graduates after they have entered the school system as regular teachers, and in that way aids the students to become adjusted to actual teaching.


The laboratory technique for practice teaching here outlined has shown itself to be valuable in many ways. The progress of the students has been steady and marked. All the master teachers who have worked with the students have noted this growth, and have noted especially the contrast with the results from other methods with which some of them had been familiar. The students have been protected against unfortunate experiences which might have tended to lessen their confidence. The plan is extremely easy to administer. Once started it practically runs itself. Each student and each teacher knows exactly what to expect from day to day, and is thereby enabled to think and plan far ahead of the purely immediate needs. The students have had the opportunity to do much original work, such as devising games for drills, introducing new materials, and making effective practice materials in arithmetic. The plan is elastic. It is adaptable to either many or few students, as it is merely necessary to change the group rotation (Table I) to accommodate the required number of students, while it is unnecessary to change the student rotation (Table II) because the student groups really work independently and part of a group can work as effectively as a whole. Under this plan, during a two-semester school year of eighteen weeks each semester, with a group of only eight master teachers who are distributed throughout the eight grades, the maximum number who can receive full practice teaching facilities, without increasing either the work of the master teachers beyond that here outlined, or the amount of student teaching received by the children, is ninety-six students. The plan could be worked effectively, moreover, with as few as four master teachers, or with any multiple of four. It would probably be necessary to change details of this plan for other situations, but in Toledo in the situation outlined it has seemed to yield truly satisfactory results.



1The following persons have cooperated in the development of this plan: Assistant Professor Alice Hughes of the University; and the master teachers of the Toledo Schools —Miss Minnie Kinker, first grade; Miss Olivine Collins, second grade; Mrs. S. D. Snow, third grade; Miss Grace DeLisle, fourth grade; Miss Freda Kocheiser, fifth grade; Miss Elsie Dipple and Miss Rose Yeslin, sixth grade; Miss Elsie Ritter, seventh grade; and Miss Janet Humphrey, eighth grade.

2Russell, Charles, "A Laboratory Technique for Observation and Participation." TEACHERS COLLEGE RECORD, Vol. XXIV: 344-54 (September, 1923).

3op. cit., Table I, p. 347.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 24 Number 5, 1923, p. 446-458
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 6065, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 1:16:18 PM

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