An initial idea of the Community of Practice for the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics (TLM CoP) to gather empirical data for the purpose of improving Work Integrated Learning for mathematics teachers was abandoned due to difficulties experienced with generating data from 24 different institutions. Some viewed the process with scepticism and concern. The research group then resorted to a desktop study.
At the first meeting of the Community of Practice for the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics (TLM CoP) on 19 April, Professor Vimolan Mudaly (left) from the University of KwaZulu Natal’s School of Education provided feedback from a two-day writing workshop that had gathered senior mathematics academics in Durban late during 2022 to explore the topic (Re)looking at WIL for mathematics preservice teachers in the 4IR.
What is WIL?
WIL refers to an intensive programme that links student teachers to specifically chosen schools that can provide them an actual or quasi school context to practise their academic learning.
What the workshop found
Professor Mudaly said the research group (comprising a team of senior academics from seven universities) realised that the Teaching Practice (TP) programme, or what can be regarded as the WIL for mathematics teachers, had to be based on a strong theoretical framework, in this case the Framework of frameworks model. This model focuses on three knowledge domains for the 21st-century student using a synthesis of 15, 21st-century learning frameworks.
These three domains were broken down into:
- Foundational Knowledge (to know): Included digital literacy, core content knowledge and cross-disciplinary knowledge.
- Humanistic Knowledge (to value): Life/job skills, Ethical and emotional awareness and cultural competence
- Meta Knowledge (to act): Creativity and innovation; problem-solving and critical thinking; communication and collaboration.
A point was made, that teaching practice for pre-service teachers should not concentrate only on preservice teacher development but should also focus on the administrative aspects on the part of the university. This will include, planning, school selection and student distribution, preservice teacher preparation and how the University observes and assesses the preservice teachers. Generic assessment sheets may need to be (re)-examined.
It was agreed that there is a lot that academia needs to look at in terms of digital literacies. “As we get into the 21st century – we thought we were in 4IR but are actually in 5IR and way behind, in terms of the preparation of our students within the context of WIL.”
Because the research team had come from different institutions (UKZN, University of the Witwatersrand, Nelson Mandela University, University of Limpopo, University of Western Cape and the Durban University of Technology), the participating academics championed varying methods of TP. “Everyone felt they were providing the best offering and they seemed to want to protect the way they envisioned WIL”.
In that context, Professor Mudaly expressed an observation: “If everyone’s offering was that good, our matric results would tell a different story. We may not be producing very good teachers. For us to transcend that mediocrity we need to examine the kind of WIL that we offer.”
Professor Mudaly said that teacher professional practices encompass both teaching practices in the classroom and broader professional practices that shape the school learning environment. He added: It became evident in the writing workshop, that “we’re not sure how all of these things come together.”
The inter-relationship between the different participants came up in all the researchers’ presentations around WIL. “There is a high level of dependency and collaboration needed between the school mentor, the university mentor, and pre-service teachers,” Professor Mudaly said. “How they all interact requires deep thought as to how we, as university staff, reflect on how we want to see the school mentor and the pre-service teachers interact or how the school mentor and university mentor interact.
“How do we train these school mentors to improve the quality we anticipate? Do the school mentors and university mentors expect different things from the pre-service teacher? With maths, there is so much innovation occurring, continuously, and we are not sure if these are being implemented by our pre-service teachers. “
The research team identified with the cyclical model of what WIL would entail:
- Theoretical and practical knowledge and how that is imparted
- Knowledge of teaching contexts
- Teaching and learning objectives
- Research skills and
- Classroom teaching experience.
Professor Mudaly emphasised the notion of the maths teacher being a researcher, “not like one would do for a masters or PhD, but where teachers themselves are being reflective in the classroom. That seems to be missing in our offering.”
The team suggested areas needing investigation.
- Innovation: Revisualing TP beyond academics traditionally visiting and evaluating students in a classroom; applying 4IR requirements to analyse and apply and innovating right from initial teacher training.
- Technology: Identifying appropriate tools for assessment during WIL and exploring whether technology provides adequate mentoring for new teachers in development.
- Adaptability: Finding mechanisms to enable institutions to adapt their programmes to different environments, disasters, circumstances, and implications for WIL.
Professor Mudaly said the team believed that:
- Reflection during and after the WIL programme was crucial. There should be WIL programmes in the first semester so that they can reflect on their experiences with academics in the second semester.
- The relationship between the university tutor, the pre-service teacher and the school mentor needs to be emphasised during the programme. University tutors and school mentors should meet to discuss the preservice teacher’s school performance weekly.
- An intensive university-based programme must be considered for all first-year students to include discipline-based learning, lesson planning, and classroom management with realistic contexts.
- Videos of real classroom teaching should be used during these programmes to demonstrate live teaching in relevant context.
The professor said it was important that preservice teachers be taught to critique, reflect, and explore evaluation reports, and engage with feedback.
“The workshop team concluded that it was important to establish how WIL contributes to professional attributes; professional knowledge and understanding and professional skills.
In essence, the two days were very productive. It’s the kind of thing that should happen in all research workshops – bringing people together from different backgrounds and allowing them to relate their own experiences and talk about their areas of specialty.
Research team feedback shared during the CoP meeting
Professor Kabelo Chuene (UL): Current TP models are expensive, labour intensive and should be reconsidered. Consider longer TP in students’ final year. “We need to do things differently.”
Dr Mofolo-Mbokane (Wits): It is concerning that student teachers spend a lot of time with the mentors, many of whom do not offer much support. “We need ways to get mentors to be more supportive.”
Dr Benita Nel (UWC): There is a lot of space for research in the South African context. I’ve looked at Swedish teaching practices and even though the context differs, some of our challenges are similar. We need to do more research on our TP, identify commonalities and find the way forward.
Dr Vuyani Matsha (NMU): What are we preparing these teachers for? They should be able to teach in different contexts. Our workshop raised a question on whether we should form a CoP with mentor teachers and work closely with them.
In response to some of these suggestions, Professor Mudaly said he liked the idea of looking at institutions overseas and acknowledging similarities of WIL challenges. He also conceded that different contexts and schools offered different teaching experiences for pre-service teachers. The recommendations made would need to be tested, though, and different institutions had the prerogative to adopt what suited their contexts.
As the feedback was being wrapped up, Chairperson, Dr Padayachee, asked what Professor Mudaly meant by the need for teachers to do research. In response, Professor Mudaly said teachers as researchers should be an important facet of teacher training. “I’m not sure if it falls into any one of the mathematical modules that are offered, but a teacher should become a researcher of his own work. As you teach, you research. You become a reflexive teacher – think about what you do; your assessments, your questions, what is happening in the classroom, and how you will change things. That is an important facet of teacher practice training that needs to happen.”
Charmain Naidoo is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.