The Irony with Inquiry: Preparing pre-service teachers for the real world of classrooms

I (Yiola) am terribly excited about this week. This week my dear friend Julia, who is now a seasoned administrator in a local school board, will be visiting my pre-service classroom to share her insights on assessment, evaluation and reporting in the elementary schools.  I invited Julia to my class because I want students to hear from an administrator  the expectations and specifications for assessing and reporting on student learning. I look forward to presenting with Julia – going back and forth between what we talk about in class about best practice and what the day to day expectations are in schools for teachers. The process of assessment, of course, goes hand in hand, with instruction and pedagogy. And so, Julia and I got to talking…

It seems that so much of “real life” practice is still about the paper/pencil test or the worksheet. It also seems that while the ideas of inquiry pedagogy are “out there” and there are impressions of its practice, that when it comes to assessing students’ learning, there is the inclination to revert back to traditional methods.

I call this post “The Irony with Inquiry” because I spend much of my time framing my courses through an inquiry lens and using concrete examples of inquiry pedagogy from my own research (because it IS our there) and yet so much of what student-teachers see and experience in their placements is not connected to inquiry.   How then can we expect teachers to move their learning and practice forward?  We know from Hattie’s meta-analysis of thousands of studies of student achievement that the number one factor is the teacher.  It seems to me then that teacher knowledge and teacher development is just so important. And yet, this irony that manifests itself in theory vs. practice is out there.

Julia explains the reality when she described the following: we see new teachers stepping in and they are filled with wonderful ideas and good pedagogy and they want to do so many things all at once. The new teachers hit the ground, not running but, sprinting… there is limited time to think and so they ask their teaching partners or colleagues how to proceed. They are sometimes handed tests and worksheets to help them get through the first months of teaching. These worksheets become familiar and it is hard to develop new practices. 

Clare and Clive and our team of researchers have documented similar examples of the pressures and time crunches of early years teachers.

I tell student teachers to not try to do everything well at once but to focus on one domain at a time. Sometimes I wonder if even this is too hard to accomplish.

I am looking forward to this class, to the candid discussions that may arise, and to coming to some understanding of how we can better reconcile the ironies new teachers face.

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