We want to get easy-to-use materials that mentor teachers and novice teachers can use. We want to take down barriers and make it as efficient as possible for mentor teachers.
Experience in the classroom is crucial to pre-service teachers’ development and successful entry into the profession. Yet these clinical experiences can be stressful for novice teachers—and their mentors—as they observe, engage in and make sense of teaching while also ensuring their students stay on track academically.
A new National Science Foundation-funded project led by researchers at the University of Washington College of Education and three other universities in partnership with their local school systems aims to make pre-service teachers’ clinical experiences more productive and, ultimately, help them launch their careers with a more confident footing.
Researcher Karin Lohwasser (PhD ‘13), said that in their clinical experiences, novice teachers naturally focus on their teaching practice, “but they very rarely experience how planning, teaching and assessment are linked.”
“The backstage work of being a teacher is often hidden,” said Lohwasser, a former biology and chemistry teacher and science coach for UW’s secondary teacher education program who is the project’s primary investigator. “It’s hard for mentor teachers to open up their practice and make that work visible to help pre-service teachers make sense of what they’re doing, the rationale behind instructional decisions.”
Over the next three years, the NASCENT (New Approaches to Support the Clinical Experience of Novice Teachers) project will focus on creating the tools, mentoring routines and informational materials needed to make great teaching more visible.
“We have some great mentor teachers, but there’s limited time to provide training for that role,” said co-PI Mark Windschitl, professor of science teaching and learning at the UW. “We want to get easy-to-use materials that mentor teachers and novice teachers can use. We want to take down barriers and make it as efficient as possible for mentor teachers.”
NASCENT builds upon data and insights from a previous study of pre-service science teachers in the UW’s teacher preparation program. Windschitl and Lohwasser followed the pre-service teachers over the course of their internships to document how they experienced opportunities to observe and gradually take up the complex work of teaching in their field placements. Through that study, it was clear what opportunities were missing for a vast majority of the participants.
Among the resources that NASCENT is developing and piloting with the $800,000 NSF grant are timelines for what activities pre-service teachers and mentors should engage in at different points in a clinical experience; scaffolds and guides about planning, teaching and assessment; and supports for pre-service teachers to explore the broader context of how schools function.
Over the next year, the new resources will be piloted with pre-service teachers in math and science at the UW and their mentor teachers. In year two, the project will expand to teacher preparation programs at the University of California, Irvine; University of California, Santa Barbara; and Boise State University. Pre-service teachers will complete surveys every three weeks and be interviewed four times during their program to guide the development and revision of the new resources.
The NASCENT project also has launched the website Mentoring Teachers with the timelines, newsletters and other materials that have been developed and tested so that other teacher preparation programs can use and adapt them.
Windschitl said the project borrowed the idea of regular mentor newsletters from the pediatrics field and doctors who send newsletters to new mothers designed to be easily consumable with info relevant to the age of their baby. The newsletters are sent every two weeks and give “just-in-time” advice and support for mentors.
Lohwasser, who recently joined the faculty of UC Santa Barbara, likened some of the new resources to a medical checklist that doctors use to make their work more efficient.
“We want to give our teacher candidates and mentors a head start so they don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how the clinical experience should be done,” Lohwasser said. “The candidate, teacher and students should all benefit from having another person in the classroom and not be stressed out. We want to help new teachers grow professionally so they’re better prepared for success in the classroom.”
Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications