Teaching Practice (TP) is a vital component of teacher education and training because it provides student teachers with an opportunity to gain experience in the workplace and to apply theory to practice. Good teachers are among the most important factors contributing to student achievement in the classroom.
Furthermore, the world has changed — yet the way TP is conducted has not altered in the last one to two decades, says Professor Vimolan Mudaly (right) from the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Education.
Professor Mudaly was speaking at a recent seminar titled Our Teaching Practices Best Practice: Why We Think It Works, that was hosted by Universities South Africa’s Community of Practice for the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics (CoP TLM) as a culmination of work done on the teacher development project. Professor Mudaly led this project — one of two that the USAf TLM CoP has committed to.
He quoted a New York-based Education and Social Impact Consultant, Dr Nadia Lopez, who said that while the global education system has yet to ensure that all nations are able to meet the demands of the 21st century, throughout various classrooms there are great teachers who go above and beyond the call of duty to create learning experiences that reflect our ever changing times.
He added, however, that educators still stuck in a 20th century mode need to transform and move ahead.
He explained that the CoViD-19 pandemic had laid bare the realities of past inequalities and inequities while children from poor backgrounds lost out more than their more well-off counterparts.The digital infrastructure provisions for online learning were, in some instances, non-existent for many learners. “Within months we had adapted. However, many did not have the resources needed to get ahead. We need systems in place to allow all our schools to move forward.
“The question we have to ask ourselves is: How can we transcend the mediocrity that we are seeing and hearing about in our schools and programmes at our institutions? Many will defend their offerings but our matric results tell us a different tale. In many instances we are not producing the best teachers that we could, so we need to put the systems in place in order to do so.”
Most teacher education programmes focus on:
- Planning to teach in specific disciplines
- The use of instructional technology
- Micro-teaching (which includes model teaching demonstrations, assessment strategies and classroom management)
- Studies in pedagogy
- Work Integrated Learning (WIL) which allows students to practice at selected schools and being assessed by mentors.
Professor Mudaly said WIL takes on a myriad of different forms depending on the school the student is sent to. These range from former Model C schools to some that are dysfunctional: “I cannot say with certainty that a student going out into a school is gaining great pedagogical skills – there is no guarantee.”
Teacher professional practices encompass both teaching practices in the classroom and broader professional practices that shape the school learning environment, he explained.
“We often have graduating students who say ‘whatever you taught us in university was of no value’ because they learnt everything that they needed while teaching in a school. So, we have to question what we are doing,” he said.
“For a successful WIL programme, we know that a high level of dependency and collaboration is required from the school mentor, the university mentor and the pre-service teacher; that’s if we can get them to collaborate at all! Sometimes the mentor teacher disappears when the student is there while the university mentor cannot visit a student three times in a short period of time. We have to find a way to ensure that the relationship between all three parties is better and that the university mentor communicates with the teacher mentor as well as the student.”
But all of this, he says, is dependent on a highly innovative and well-planned WIL programme which is what educators should focus on and which relies on:
- Theoretical and practical knowledge
- Classroom teaching experience
- Knowledge of teaching contexts
- Research skills (“if you look at some student’s lessons plans, there simply isn’t any or enough research”)
- Teaching and learning objectives
He said that educational research shows that one of the most powerful levers in raising learner attainment is the quality of teaching that they receive and this has to begin at the earliest levels of teacher training.
“However, there is no global picture of the WIL experiences of mathematics pre-service teachers offered by South African universities as we don’t have a good knowledge of what all institutions are doing.
“There are many ways of improving the quality of the teacher education programmes. One of them is the urgent need for innovations in school-based TP. Innovative programmes exist, but these experiences should be shared and there needs to be more collaboration between different institutions. Recent disasters, both human (riots in KZN) and natural (KZN floods, CoViD-19), have demonstrated that we need to reconsider how we structure TP. Mentors and students couldn’t get into the schools. Initially, we had no plans in place. We were thrown into a quandary while struggling to find a way forward.”
Universities need to innovate around TP in the 4I
Teaching in the 4IR era requires greater thought and application. Innovation must include the ability to (re)visualise TP beyond the current, traditional sense of academics visiting and evaluating students in a classroom. There needs to be a system where a university tutor can decide to view a student’s lesson online from the university while the student is teaching in a classroom and not only on pre-scheduled visits.
“Our objectives,” Professor Mudaly emphasised, “relate to Mathematics but can be extrapolated to any discipline. We need to explore Mathematics TP experiences offered by universities both nationally and internationally.
“What we want to know is how each institution conducts TP. Some practices can be construed to be very specific for Mathematics and Science and others may not be. If institutions are willing to share their innovations and experiences about TP in general, or specifically about Mathematics, then we would like to establish a reasonable prototype that can be used by institutions that choose to do so.
“This sounds rather broad but we feel that if we could find a reasonably good WIL programme then that would be an improvement to the teacher education programme,” the professor said.
“We are in the 4IR and some institutions are already operating at that level. So, we want to explore what instruments are used (laptops, cell phones, videos, etc). How effective are these? And we hope that institutions which have not already migrated to using particular innovations may do so. We want to draw from as many sources as possible (including international) and then share our findings with all institutions in South Africa.
“In our preliminary desktop search we found that some institutions were using technology quite well in evaluating their students. Not all institutions have evolved to this level of innovation. If TP is to serve the purpose of creating confident and effective teachers then we have to develop programmes that will offer our students more than just a few classroom visits. Improving TP, we believe, is one way of uplifting the standards of what we offer.
“In the final analysis we’ve got to craft, and I’m using the word craft really deliberately, a work integrated programme, which is sufficient, good and adaptable, that will work for as many institutions as possible. In the final analysis, we all need to examine how teaching practice can be used to produce the best practice of teaching.”
At the end of the seminar, Professor Pragashni Padayachee, Senior Lecturer: Mathematics in the Academic Support Programme for Engineering (ASPECT) at the University of Cape Town, was voted in for a second term as Chairperson of the Community of Practice for the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics (TLM CoP). The Deputy Chairperson is Professor Kabelo Chuene, also a Senior Lecturer: Mathematics at the University of Limpopo.
Janine Greenleaf Walker is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.