Carnegie Education

Pre-service Induction problems to be addressed; show me the science…

CollectivED Fellow, Henry Sauntson tells us how to prepare pre-service teachers so they are able to understand the basics of learning science, and are able to apply that knowledge in their teaching.
Trainee teacher with children
Novices think very differently from experts. Their perceptions are different, they lack critical and evaluative experience on which to reflect; they need guidance, instruction, modelling and support until they reach fluency. In the words of the ITT (Initial Teacher Training) Core Content Framework, this is facilitated by ‘Receiving clear, consistent and effective mentoring’ and ‘Discussing and analysing with expert colleagues’ as well as observing said experts in their practice. In these contactless times the challenge facing Initial Teacher Education / Educators (ITE) is the need to debunk educational misconceptions in pre-service teachers prior to them embarking on their training and allowing these misconceptions to develop, or to slow their progress as they seek to redress original thinking whilst they could be crafting their approach. Thus the importance of successful and focused pre-service induction, but how to go about it ‘from a distance’? This is one challenge my SCITT (School-centred Initial Teacher Training) colleagues and I are seeking to address. In early 2020 Deans for Impact published their ‘Learning by Scientific Design’ paper in which they found (albeit through limited research) that pre-service teachers express views ‘that do not align with the science of learning’ and that if ‘novice teachers possess a firm grasp of basic principles of learning science’ they will make better decisions about teaching from an earlier stage. Their focus is primarily around the engagement = learning ‘myth’ in the methodology they use to ascertain their results but, method aside, this begs the very question they imply – how do we best prepare pre-service teachers so that they ‘both understand the basics of learning science, and are able to apply that knowledge in their teaching?’

First of all, if we are to nail our colours to a mast, we must know what that mast consists of. What are the principles of learning science on which we wish to build our own programme? How reliable is the research evidence in this area? How can we mitigate for prior assumption within pre-service teachers and also provide guidance and models that help dispel this? We have to take a cautious but pragmatic approach that acknowledges the need to provide knowledge to pre-service teachers but that also takes in to account their novice status and their existing schema, founded on their own experiences when they were in school. The art and purpose of ITE is to train new teachers to teach their subject or discipline to others – this is very different from simply telling someone what they know about a subject. They have to both learn to teach and teach to learn – quite a balancing act for their own cognitive abilities. They develop two schema – they have to unpick their existing knowledge of their area and re-knit it in a way that allows it to be clearly presented, modelled and assessed in others and then also alongside this develop appropriate pedagogical approaches for imparting that knowledge in the most appropriate manner for the varying contexts, demographics and cohorts that they may face – both of what Piaget called assimilation (new knowledge inserted) and accommodation (existing knowledge adapted). 

Novices (as pre-service teachers are) have limited scope and capacity to take on new knowledge and can also be overloaded; they must serve their own cognitive apprenticeship, to reference Collins et al (1991). They have limited attention span, as do we all; they will be distracted over the summer by all sorts of external factors that we as ITE providers cannot control – their minds will wander, their focus will drift, and we have not as yet established ourselves as the point of focus ‘in the room’; all of this must be considered when planning the material, not just the responsive need to ‘get the learning science into them!’

A newly QTS (Qualified Teacher Status) ITT trainee said if she could say anything to a pre-service teacher it would be, ‘that all their conceptions of teaching and learning are biased because they have been successful as part of it; not everyone finds it that easy’. I thought this was really powerful – learning is not a gift, some students will struggle, and pre-service teachers need to understand how to combat that struggle and enable learning to take place. Just because we got the grades to get on the courses to become the teachers of the next generation doesn’t mean that everyone can, nor that everyone wants to – the curse of knowledge in full flow!  As ITE providers we therefore must consider that idea of memory as opposed to memories; we want pre-service trainees to understand that learning is that change in the long-term memory, not how memorable the lesson itself was. An understanding of cognitive science helps us here, and will help our trainees, but we must tread carefully in our construction. As ITE providers we are teachers first and foremost, we mustn’t assume prior knowledge in our pre-service ‘students’, and we mustn’t allow misconceptions to develop. We must present material in small steps and allow knowledge to be built on knowledge – if their assumptions and experiences give them skewed perceptions, we must counter these.

When choosing our induction material then we need to consider:

1) Our own definition of Learning Science and how to assess the perceptions of it in our pre-service trainees, as well as how much of it we need to ‘teach’ in the early stages.

2) The efficacy of the research we found our programme on; context is key to the use of evidence and research material and we have the power and autonomy to make informed and critical choices about the rocks on which we build our houses.

3) The relevance and salience of the material we provide – we have no ‘situational’ interest to conjure up as we are not present as they ingest the material – it is entirely driven by individual (and therefore emotional) response. Novices do not have any experience on which to build accurate reflection, the information we provide will be interpreted differently depending on the context and the individual. Our ability as an ITE provider to empathise, is essential here, and we must consider the need to emotionally prepare our charges as well as schooling them in pedagogy.

4) The nature of our scaffolding and prompting as our trainees ingest material on their own – how can we ‘guide’ their practice? 

5) What will ‘success’ look like in this scenario? Teacher development begins with this first step, so we have to ensure the path is the right one.



More from the blog

By Professor Rachel Lofthouse
02 Dec 2022
By Professor Rachel Lofthouse
10 Oct 2022
All blogs