By Arwen Hann
One of the best ways student teachers can improve their skills is by putting their learning into practice in a real early childhood education (ECE) centre.
This is often done through the more traditional teaching blocks but many courses are now offering Field Based Teacher Education (FBTE) - the chance to complete sustained practicum where the student works either paid or voluntarily in the same centre, known as the home centre, for the duration of the course.
However a study has found that simply offering students more hours working in an ECE centre does not necessarily make them better teachers.
Lin Howie and Bill Hagan from the Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) surveyed a number of people involved in MIT’s Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood Teaching) including student teachers, graduates, lecturers and staff at the ECE centres where students were enrolled in sustained practicum, through an on-line survey and focus groups.
Of the respondents who had completed or were completing FBTE, half said they valued the chance to gain regular hands on experience and the opportunity to put theory into practice and the time to develop on-going relationships with teachers, children and parents.
Students who took part in sustained practicum were more involved in all aspects of the centre than those on shorter teaching blocks, including areas given high importance by those surveyed such as choosing what to set up for children’s play and guiding and scaffolding their learning.
The extended time at one centre also allowed them to develop with students being given increasing levels of responsibility at the centre during their three years of study.
However, while sustained practicum had many benefits each of the focus groups raised issues as to the quality of the centres involved in FBTE.
While a placement in a poor quality centre was an issue for any student teacher it was deemed to be potentially more harmful to a student on sustained practicum because they would be exposed to the lower standards for a long period of time and may align themselves with the poor practice they experienced at their home centre.
Some of the student teachers who had experienced this had tried to improve the centre while others had chosen to find a new centre.
As a result of this Hagan and Howie conclude that simply increasing the number of hours a student teacher spends in a centre does not necessarily improve their skills.
The value added by FBTE depends, they say, on "the extent to which student teachers are included as members of the teaching team in the 'home' centre which impacts on the range of centre activities they can engage with and the responsibilities they can take on".
Centres who take part in FBTE need to promote inclusion of the student teachers and Hagan and Howie suggest more professional development for staff at centres that have student teachers on sustained practicum would help them to support the students more effectively.
Students also need to be fully informed and helped to recognise quality centres and make informed choices about where to carry out their sustained practicum.
A member contributed this comment: "While studying for my Grad Dip in ECE online course, my provider struggled to get me into a public kindy as lots of students wanted placement there. I was given a low quality centre who involved me in cleaning and tidying up with little time to interact with children. Sometimes, the ratio was not right, as I was covering staff lunch breaks. On one occasion, a reliever was so stressed that she sent me out with a group of toddlers and closed the door so that the toddlers couldn't play indoor (I complained and said that as a student I wasn't counted as a staff to care for the children). I was under pressure because if I didn't do as I was told I would fail my practicum. I complained to my provider who then decided not to enlist the centre as a placement centre again. However I had a great time with public kindy who showed me high quality care and extended my skills."