Design, Implementation, and Evaluation of Field Experiences and Clinical Practice
Clinical and field experiences allow teacher candidates and other school professionals to apply their professional knowledge and develop and refine their skills and dispositions to ensure that all students are successful as learners. The unit has worked diligently to develop a sequence of field experiences and clinical practice that is developmental in nature and provides experiences throughout the program in a variety of settings and in the appropriate content or licensure area(s). Field experiences at the initial level typically occur early in the program and involve tutoring, small group facilitation, assisted teaching, attending school functions, and other related activities. Clinical practice typically serves as the culminating experience and provides opportunities for candidates to develop and demonstrate the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of the profession. Formative and summative assessments of this final experience by both the university supervisor and the cooperating teacher provide documentation of teacher candidates’ competencies. The unit maintains records of all field and clinical experience placements and evaluations for a seven-year period. Evaluation reports include summary data on all teacher candidates by unit and program area and are disseminated according to the dissemination matrix.
All candidates at the initial and advanced levels must successfully complete field and/or clinical experiences/internships as part of the transition points within programs. The clinical and field experience matrix for the initial level provides an overview of the required experiences for programs. As illustrated, candidates’ experiences are developmental and involve between 685 and 820 hours in the field.
In October 2003, St. Cloud State University was awarded a Teacher Quality Enhancement (TQE) Partnership grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The primary focus of the TQE initiative was to develop a new approach to the preparation of future educators by implementing co-teaching strategies in student teaching. Various definitions of co-teaching exist; however, we used the following developed by one of the principal investigators (Bacharach): “two or more individuals who come together in a collaborative relationship for the purpose of shared work…for the outcome of achieving what none could have done alone.” This definition not only describes but supports the value added of co-teaching in a student teaching setting, in which two adults (a cooperating teacher and a teacher candidate) work together in a classroom with groups of students; sharing the planning, organization, delivery, and assessment of instruction, as well as the physical space.
In a more traditional student teaching model, the teacher candidate typically observes (often from a stationary position) for a period of time, eventually taking over a variety of tasks or portions of lessons. At some point the cooperating teacher generally exits, leaving the teacher candidate fully in charge of the classroom. Co-teaching differs in that the teacher candidate typically becomes involved in the classroom immediately. Lessons are planned and taught by both teachers, resulting in the teacher candidate being seen by students as a “real teacher” from the beginning of the experience. Through the co-planning process, teacher candidates hear and discuss the thoughts and strategies that are used in lesson planning by their cooperating teacher. As the experience continues, a gradual shift in roles occurs, with teacher candidates increasingly taking the lead in planning and teaching lessons. Teacher candidates are still given time to be “fully in charge” of the classroom, including informing the cooperating teacher about how they will assist in the delivery of portions of the lessons.
Extensive data have been collected over the past four years validating the significance of this professional work. An impressive body of knowledge exists related to the impact of co-teaching on student learning especially addressing reading, math, student attendance, and discipline incidents. The data are clear that the co-teaching experience is an outstanding experience for our teacher candidates. The unit is working to institutionalize the concept of co-teaching, and at present, 42 percent of our teacher candidates participate in co-teaching during clinical practice.
The unit is proud of the fact that the research and efforts related to co-teaching were recognized when St. Cloud State University was chosen as a 2007 recipient of the Christa McAuliffe Award for Excellence in Teacher Education by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). This award was given to only three institutions in the country. In addition, in February 2008, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) awarded St. Cloud State University a best practice award in support of Teacher Education Quality and Accountability, one of the organization’s highest honors.
Advanced Candidates and Other School Professionals
Clinical and field experiences at the advanced level are illustrated in a matrix outlining the requirements for licensure or degree completion. As illustrated, required hours and levels of experiences are consistent with professional expectations and/or requirements for licensure or endorsement. For example, CACREP requires 600 hours in clinical practice; the Minnesota Board of School Administrators requires 320 hours of clinical practice. Advanced candidates pursuing a master’s degree who are licensed and practicing teachers are also expected to engage in clinical practice and use their classroom or school as a “field placement” to conduct or apply research. Clinical and field experiences allow candidates to directly apply best practices within a theoretical framework as outlined in the conceptual framework and professional standards in authentic situations. Learning within this context is extremely valuable and is integrated into the program of study for each professional field.
The School Counseling Program requires numerous practicum experiences as well as a comprehensive clinical experience totaling 750 hours. Advanced candidates in special education participate in a minimum of five field experiences in both general education and special education as well as a student teaching experience totaling 715 hours. Educational administration and leadership candidates are required to participate in 320 hours of a clinical experience often at different levels depending upon their area of focus. Candidates completing the School Library Media Specialist Program complete 400 hours of clinical practice divided between elementary and secondary levels. Finally, candidates in early childhood special education complete six field experiences as well as two student teaching placements in an infant/toddler setting and a preschool age setting.
The unit has designed, implemented, and continually evaluates a developmental sequence of field and clinical experiences to ensure that candidates develop the knowledge, skills, and dispositions as outlined by state, professional, and institutional standards. Key performance assessments have been developed to provide valuable feedback to the candidate, cooperating professional, university supervisor, and unit faculty and these results drive decision-making at the candidate, program, and unit levels.