Beginner Pre-Service Special Education Teachers’ Learning Experience During Practicum

Figure 1. SET Practicum Process for Special Schools

Specific guidelines would be written in the Interim Report and made known to the student teacher in preparation for the TP II. For example, where a PSSE teacher has been performing extremely well and where both the school and the University supervisor were in agreement that the PSSE teacher was observed to be consistently performing at a high level which would be highlighted in the interim report. The expectations required for a potential A grade would be discussed with the University supervisor and the School. This interim process would give the PSSE teacher a clear and guided opportunity to view the expectations towards a potential A grade in the TP II. The TP II comprised of the remaining six weeks in which the SCM completed two observations, the CT had two observations and the University supervisor had one observations adding to a total of five out of eight observations for this period (see Figure 1). In the event that the school and the University supervisor unanimously agreed after completing the total of eight observations, that the PSSE teacher was either a fail or an A grade then an independent observation would be done by a moderator from the University.

Given the importance of practicum to PSSE teachers’ learning experiences and the change in the SET practicum process for special education teachers in Singapore, this study focused on the following questions raised as a result of the change to the SET practicum for special schools during the ten-week SET practicum in their respective schools. These included:

  1. What were the PSSE teachers’ experiences during the SET Practicum?

  2. From the PSSE teachers’ perspectives, was the new process in-place and understood by all those involved in the SET Practicum?

  3. What were the factors that helped the PSSE teachers have a positive experience during SET Practicum? And what were not?

  4. What were the difficulties faced by the PSSE teachers during the SET practicum?

  5. What would the PSSE teachers like to see more of in the SET Practicum?

Method

Participants

The total cohort of PSSE teachers enrolled in the Diploma in Special Education (DISE) participated in the study (N= 33; Male =3, Female = 30; M Age = 30.8 years old, Age Range = 23 – 44 years old). The PSSE teachers completed their ten-week special education teaching (SET) practicum as partial fulfillment of the DISE. On average, the PSSE teacher’s teaching experience ranged between four months and seven years, five months (Mean Years in Teaching Special Education = two years, ten months).

Test Instrument and Training of the PSSE Teachers, School and University Supervisors

A 4-point Likert scale which included two sections: Section (A) PSSE Teachers’ Response to the Experience of SET Practicum to their Learning Experience (16 items) and Section (B) PSSE Teachers’ Response to the process of the SET Practicum (15 items) was used in this study. In addition, in Section A, where the PSSE teachers agreed or strongly agreed with the statement I enjoyed my teaching practicum, they were asked to elaborate what made their experience enjoyable. However, where there was disagreement with the same statement, they were to provide reasons for their responses. In the event that the PSSE teachers provided two responses to an item question, their response was coded as unsure. The survey also asked the PSSE teachers to write about the three most important difficulties they faced and three most important changes they would like to see take place in the SET practicum process.

All PSSE teachers, school and University supervisors were briefed about the new SET practicum process prior to the start of SET practicum. During the briefings, the first author encouraged discussion of potential problems based on past experiences in relation to the new SET practicum process. In addition, PSSE teachers, school and University supervisors could revert back to the first author to make further clarifications of the new process throughout the ten-week SET practicum.

Administration of the Survey Instrument

The PSSE teachers completed a survey at the National Institute of Education (NIE) the week following the completion of their SET practicum experience in special schools. The PSSE teachers took 30 minutes to complete the survey and they could opt out of the survey participation if they choose to.

Data Reduction and Analysis

Initial and Overarching Themes were formed from the raw data collected (Barber & Turner, 2007). Specifically, from the Overarching Theme in Section A – PSSE teachers’ response on the Experience of SET Practicum to their Learning Experiences during Practicum, the responses to the five questions (Questions 5, 7, 9, 10 and 15) formed the theme Understanding Child’s Needs. The responses from the questions 1 through to 4, 6 and 11 through to 14 and 16 formed the theme Classroom and School Related Matters. For the overarching theme in Section B – PSSE teachers’ response to the Process of SET Practicum in Section B, the four themes included were (1) School & Supervisors’ Understanding of the Practicum Process (Questions 1, 2, 3, 5, 7); (2) Conveying Correct Information about the Practicum Process (Questions 4, 6, 8); (3) Support from School and University (Questions 9, 11, 13) and (4) Rapport with Teacher (Questions 10, 12, 14, 15). The percentage frequency of responses were calculated for each item and based on the total sample of 33 participants.

Results & Discussion

The PSSE teachers’ learning experience during SET practicum

The overall findings indicate that the PSSE teachers had positive experiences (see Table 1). These positive experiences were reflected in the themes of Understanding Child’s Needs and Classroom and School Related Matters. For example, about 91% of the PSSE teachers felt that the SET practicum had helped them better understand the educational needs of their pupils (see Table 1). In addition, the PSSE teachers agreed that with the SET practicum they were able to identify problems that pupils faced in class and had helped them developed a better understanding of pupils’ social needs (88% respectively; see Table 1). A component of understanding their pupils in special education is essential in developing student teachers Individual Educational Plans (IEP) which would affect the delivery of the lessons. Cameron et al. (2007) highlighted that teachers in their study were stressed when they could not focus on the teaching when they had to attend to pupils’ behavioral problems during teaching practicum.

In relation to the theme of Classroom and School Related Matters, the SET practicum provided the PSSE teachers a link between theory and practice in classrooms, real situations and provided hands-on experience (91%, 88% & 91% respectively; see Table 1). The PSSE teachers were positive as they could try out different teaching strategies and reflect on the delivery of their lessons (91% & 88% respectively; see Table 1). Further, the majority of the PSSE teachers found the SET practicum helped them to understand Diagnostic Summaries and Individual Educational Plans (IEP) and to write and improve their lesson plans (see Table 1). A small percentage of the PSSE teachers disagreed that the SET practicum helped them understand their school culture (30%; see Table 1).

Although the majority of PSSE teachers indicated that they enjoyed the SET practicum, their reasons varied. They also felt that their supervisors both within the school and the University understood the process of the SET practicum. Supervisors conveyed the correct process to the PSSE teachers during the SET practicum.

Table 1

Percentages of teachers’ responses of SET Practicum and their learning experience (N=33)

Question

Strongly Disagree

& Disagree

%

(n)

Strongly Agree

& Agree

%

(n)

Unsure

%

(n)

No Response

%

(n)

Understanding Child’s Needs

  1. The practicum helped me to identify problems that my pupils faced in class (qs 5)

12.1

(4)

87.9

(29)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

  1. The practicum gave me an insight into teaching children with special needs on a daily basis (qs 7)

9.1

(3)

90.9

(30)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

  1. The practicum helped me better understand the educational needs of my pupils (qs 9)

9.1

(3)

90.9

(30)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

  1. The practicum gave me insights into the needs of the family’s of my pupils (qs 10)

39.4

(13)

60.6

(20)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

  1. The practicum helped me developed a better understanding of my pupils’ social needs (qs 15)

12.1

(4)

87.9

(29)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

Classroom and School Related Matters

  1. The practicum provided a link between theory and practice in a classroom (qs 1)

6.1

(2)

90.9

(30)

3.0

(1)

0.0

(0)

  1. The practicum experience help me to translate theory to practice in a real situation (qs 2)

9.1

(3)

87.9

(29)

3.0

(1)

0.0

(0)

  1. The practicum gave me the hands-on experience I needed in my field (qs 3)

9.1

(3)

90.9

(30)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

  1. The practicum helped me to try out different strategies in teaching (qs 4)

9.1

(3)

90.9

(30)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

  1. The practicum gave me time to reflect on my lesson delivery (qs 6)

12.1

(4)

87.9

(29)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

  1. The practicum gave me a picture of what a special education teacher’s life is like on a daily basis in school (qs 8)

21.2

(7)

78.8

(26)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

  1. The practicum helped me understand Diagnostic Summaries (qs 11)

15.2

(5)

84.8

(28)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

  1. The practicum helped me understand Individual Educational Plans (qs 12)

9.1

(3)

90.9

(30)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

  1. The practicum helped me understand how to write lesson plans (qs 13)

9.1

(3)

90.9

(30)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

  1. The practicum helped me improve on writing my lesson plans (qs 14)

9.1

(3)

90.9

(30)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

  1. The practicum helped me with understanding my school culture (qs 16)

30.3

(10)

69.7

(23)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

The PSSE Teachers’ Perspectives of the new process of SET Practicum in-place

The percentages of PSSE teachers’ responses in relation to school and supervisors’ understanding of the new SET practicum process were generally positive (see Table 2). For example, the PSSE teachers felt that the school’s supervisors and cooperating teachers and the University’s supervisor understood and conveyed the correct process of teaching practicum to them (Percentage Range of Responses: 82% - 94%; see Table 2). This result suggests the importance of the support that the PSSE teachers need from both the school and the University during the practicum which has been supported in other studies (Hastings & Squires, 2002; Lee et al., 2000; Rajuan et al., 2008). The results showed a marginally larger percentage of the PSSE teachers understood the SET practicum better when they experienced it in schools than when they were briefed during lectures (Percentage Difference: 91% & 82%; see Table 2).

The PSSE Teachers responded that they their supervisors both at the school and the University gave good support throughout their SET practicum experience (see Table 2). Where the rapport between the PSSE Teachers and their respective supervisors were concerned, an average of 90% had good rapport. However, by comparison, although still a large percentage, 70% indicated they enjoyed their SET practicum experience. Others studies support the positive relationship that the PSSE teachers have with their mentors and supervisors influence the learning experience of student teachers during practicum (Boz & Boz 2006; Caires & Almeida, 2007; Conderman et al., 2005; Lewis et al., 2005; Roehrig et al., 2008). Based on the findings, it is suggested that careful consideration must be given when matching supervisors both at the schools and the University and the PSSE teachers. The authors in this study would go a step further to suggest that potential school and University supervisors have opportunities to meet to discuss supervisory roles prior to confirmation of supervisors. This would give both supervisors and PSSE teachers a chance to select whom they could best work with during the SET practicum.

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