Mary Kennedy on Engaging Student Teachers More Deeply

As I (Clive) have said before, I’m a great fan of Mary Kennedy of Michigan State University. In earlier postings I commented on her complex vision of teaching and her incremental yet radical approach to school reform. Having read a new article of hers in the latest issue of the Journal of Teacher Education (Jan/Feb 2016), I wish to recommend it.

Ever courageous, Kennedy in this piece takes on the currently popular movement for the teaching of “core practices” in teacher education. While an improvement on earlier practice-focused teacher education approaches – in that the practices in question are medium-grained rather than too specific or too general – she believes this approach is (a) too didactic and (b) neglects the purposes of teaching. She proposes instead helping student teachers see that a variety of complex strategies are needed to achieve the purposes of schooling, and constant adjustments on their part are required along the way.

Kennedy is careful to note this is “not an either/or decision. I am not proposing that we abandon specific practices in favor of problem solving strategies. Instead I argue here for (a) less attention to bodies of knowledge, (b) less attention to specific teaching behaviors, and (c) far more attention to the persistent challenges” of achieving the purposes teaching. Her position is that in pre-service (and in-service) education we should “not recite knowledge or dictate practices to teachers, but instead engage teachers in more analysis and exploration of alternatives.” This seems to me to embody the constructivist approach to teaching that – as Kennedy has said elsewhere – most teacher educators advocate.

For those who may see this as an overly idealistic approach that will undermine pupil performance on standardized tests, Kennedy cites the findings of a review that “programs using these alternative pedagogies were generally more effective at raising student achievement than were the didactic programs that focused on either bodies of knowledge or specific teaching practices.”



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