Training for Small Group Instruction in Pre-Service Teacher Education: Pedagogical Instructors’ Perceptions
According to the New Horizon educational reform, all teachers in Israel must implement small group instruction within the school curriculum. Small group instruction is perceived as an opportunity to provide a supportive learning environment that can enable schools to reach their educational aims in individualized ways. Having examined the implementation of small group instruction by novice teachers, our objective is to present the results of a research which aimed to clarify how pedagogical instructors perceive training for small group instruction, and how small group instruction is embedded in their curricula. Data were collected from 16 pedagogical advisors pertaining to EFL, Physical Education, special Education, and Sciences. The findings emerging from this research shows a duality in the pedagogical instructors’ perceptions of the importance assigned to teaching for small group instruction hours. On the one hand, small group instruction hours are perceived as important enough to constitute part of teacher training, but on the other hand, they are considered as a subject that it is preferable for students to learn to implement during their practice teaching. Therefore, this research places training for implementing small group instruction on the educational and public agenda as a dual issue, presenting a gap between perceptions of its importance and its absence from the training program in the teacher education process.
Keywords: Small group instructioneducational reformpedagogical instructorsteacher education
At the center of the
According to Ministry of Education guidelines, small group instruction is used first and foremost for reinforcement, deepening and enriching teaching subjects, but also to nurture pupils' social and emotional aspects. In addition - and this is perhaps the crowning glory of small group instruction - time is also devoted within their framework for personal conversations between a homeroom teacher and every pupil, called 'heart to heart conversations'. As mentioned, small group instruction is devoted to advancing pupils' achievements, learning, social performance and wellbeing.
From an organizational perspective, every school receives a basket of small group instruction hours made up of the total number of hours allocated to each staff member. It is up to the school to allocate these hours according to its needs, based on mapping pupils' needs dictated by learning, social and emotional measures. Every three to five months (depending on the professional judgment of individual schools), there is turnover between pupils who have had regular encounters and others, who are awaiting their turn. As such, teachers have the responsibility to prepare work plans for small group instruction hours and present them to school principals for approval. Previous research carried out about the implementation of small group instruction hours focused on their implementation by teachers in their first year of teaching (Od-Cohen & Hadari, 2015) and pointed out the need for organized and institutional training for small group instruction in order to enable a smooth entry into teaching.
In light of the aforesaid, the question arises whether teacher training colleges and first ans formost pedagogical instructors entrusted with didactic content and practice teaching should prepare student teachers to teach small group instruction as part of teacher education curricula.
The introduction of the
Teacher education colleges in Israel today provide general knowledge, pedagogical-formal knowledge and unique professional behaviors (Lamm, 1988, 2000), with pedagogical instructors, serving as a type of teaching 'guides', responsible for pedagogical knowledge. The role of pedagogical instructors in the context of practical teaching days is, in fact, to be mediators between college and the field. They are the ones who find schools suitable for practice teaching, contact training teachers and take care of the technical and organizational aspects of these days. In new practical teaching models, pedagogical instructors are members of school staffs who collaborate in planning practice teaching processes in accordance with their schools' curricula.
Pedagogical instructors fulfill an important role in structuring student teachers' knowledge. They accompany their groups of students in personal and group guidance. They are required to help students develop through a long journey entailing wonderment, questions and dilemmas along the way, to make the transition from a learning student status to that of novice teacher, capable of taking responsibility for a learning class and integrating into school culture and everything this entails (Zilberstein, 2005).
Studies have found that practice teaching constitutes a most significant part of teacher education. Students greatly appreciate pedagogical and didactic escorting as well as pedagogical and didactic teachers (Smith & Lev-Ari, 2004). Reichenberg & Wertheim (2002) pointed out two knowledge components that were found to be most important among pedagogical instructors: knowledge of pedagogical instruction and knowledge of teaching skills. Pedagogical instruction, according to Rodgers (2002), leads to reflective activity. This activity provides teachers with new insights about pupils' learning abilities and enables them to discern gaps that result between what they have taught and what children have actually absorbed.
Recently, a new practice teaching model has been introduced to teacher education in Israel and that is the Academia-Classroom program (2014). The program, whose basis is the goal of reinforcing the partnership between academia, schools and districts, is meant to provide a response to three central challenges: promoting significant learning in classrooms by integrating two adults to work simultaneously in classrooms; improving student teachers' training and professional development of experienced teachers; developing the career ladder starting from student, through interns and specialized training teachers and pedagogical instructors on behalf of academic institutions.
The central aim is establishing partnership between academic teacher education institutions and the school system in Israel in order to improve the quality of teacher training processes, teacher induction processes, teaching and professional development and to promote significant learning in educational institutions.
Academic teacher education institutions are partners with the Ministry of Education in leading a common educational vision and implementing it within the education system. Academic teacher education institutions serve as leaders of change and provide a response to the needs of the education system on the issue of training. Teacher training is relevant and linked to the field and emphasizes intensive practical work and deepening the link between practice and theory. Pedagogical instructors are empowered as influencers on schools and educational institutions and leaders in educational processes within a district, community and educational institutions. School Principals and experienced teachers continue to develop in academic teacher education institutions working towards advanced degrees in teaching and education areas. Academic teacher education institutions are making the transition from training based mainly on academic aspects to training based on field experience in teaching similar to clinical training that exists in medical schools (÷
Pedagogical instructors are responsible for planning and structuring practice teaching in educational institutions and are partners in them. They accompany groups of students who are placed together in a school. Their involvement in school is broad. They closely accompany school processes and are in contact with school principals and other stakeholders in order to create systematic experience for students at educational institutions both in teaching roles and as part of a team and members of an educational community. Pedagogical instructors are involved in developing staff of schools in which practice teaching is carried out, together with students, according to needs determined in cooperation with school management. They are partners in the training of teachers who train students and are specializing in the roles of teacher tutors/colleagues (Ministry of Education, 2014).
The introduction of reforms has become a fact of life today for teachers (Priestly, 2011) and mostly as top down steps taken without involving them in the process. The expectation is that they will change patterns of behavior and even values and basic assumptions as part of the process (Fullan, 2006, 2011). Teachers are required to adapt to ongoing social changes, developments in knowledge and growing accessibility to knowledge while understanding their future roles. Like teachers, pedagogical instructors are also required to prepare student teachers for changes and reforms in education. Teachers do not feel like partners in top down change processes or agents of changes, feelings that are the basis for successful educational reforms (Avidov- Unger et al., 2013).
When teachers and pedagogical instructors are perceived by policy makers solely as reform implementers, implementation is expected to be superficial and characterized by an absence of a sense of ownership, passivity, reduced autonomy and limited motivation for improvement (Luttenberg et al., 2013). Not much research was found focusing on pedagogical instructors perceptions pertaining to training for small group instruction within the New Horizon educational reform, hence the significance of this study.
Purpose of the study
To examine existing perceptions among pedagogical instructors at colleges of education with regard to training towards implementation of small group instruction.
The study asked the question: What perceptions exist among pedagogical instructors with regard to training for implementing small group instruction in schools?
In order to understand implementation of small group instruction hours by pedagogical instructors in teacher education colleges, we chose qualitative research according to the interpretive-constructivist approach (Tzabar Ben-Yehoshua, 2001). In order to carry out this research, we chose the qualitative approach. As researchers operating on the basis of the interpretive-constructivist paradigm, we sought to reach an understanding of the researched reality on the basis of interpretive contact with research partners, 16 pedagogical instructors employed by teacher education colleges and responsible for didactic lessons and practice teaching. Tzabar Ben-Yehoshua (2001) defined qualitative research as research with participants and not on participants, and as a research approach suitable for examining peoples' perceptions, views and actions, and enabling reaching a profound understanding of phenomena. According to Richardson (1996), this research approach is particularly relevant in situations in which complex issues are researched, whose examination in experimental studies that summarize their findings in a quantitative-statistical manner, does not exhaust the studied phenomenon, and therefore cannot present a comprehensive picture of its underlying interpretations. Indeed, quantitative measurement will not allow for in-depth study of a phenomenon. Moreover, according to Creswell (2012), qualitative research is a crucial process in understanding human society. By using this research approach, researchers can build a complete and clear picture of information gathered in the natural environment, through interviews, reports, observations, and more (Shkedi, 2011). As such, we found this approach to be the most appropriate for our study.
Since the aim of this study was to collect information about pedagogical instructors’ perceptions regarding training for small group instruction hours in teacher education colleges, participants in this research were 16 pedagogical instructors from one teacher education college in Northern Israel. Research participants came from a variety of areas such as English, physical education, sciences, Judaism, special education and early childhood. We believe that this population represents all areas of teaching at the college. All participants gave their informed consent to participating in the research. In addition, to maintain anonymity all identifying details have been removed in order to protect the privacy of participants.
Since the qualitative research approach focuses on understanding the essence and meaning of phenomena, such as the phenomenon of implementation of small group instruction hours in teacher education by pedagogical instructors through their perceptions as those who are involved in this process, when we come to examine the complex reality of life in which people from different worlds are involved, the appropriate research tool to collect information from these people is the semi-structured interview. Semi-structured interviews allow for providing insights, thoughts and opportunities to describe actions directly related to the studied issue. The interviews took place in the framework of conversations and included questions relating to central predetermined issues that where congruent with the research question. Nonetheless, interviews allowed for flexibility with regard to the order in which questions appeared and openness to additional subjects (Creswell, 2012). Data collection was carried out throughout the academic year 2015-2016. In addition, 16 syllabi related to courses in didactics and practice teaching were reviewed. Course review as document analysis (Creswell, 2012) was carried out in order to discover to what extent small group instruction appeared as a topic in these syllabi.
Data garnered from the semi-structures interviews was analyzed using 'content analysis', which is meant to infer inductively from 'units of text', i.e. transcribed interviews, the pedagogical instructors’ perceptions. Units of analysis were words, expressions or sentences that were aligned to the research aim, research question and studied issues. The analysis process commenced at the initial mapping stage, during which interviewees' statements were compared in order to find similarities and differences, inductively. Similar ones were put together into the same category according to their content match (Shkedi, 2011). The theoretical framework determined at the initial stage of research also comprises the basis for presenting the research findings. The process of categorization was done as interpretation and conceptualization, that is to say, creating a system of concepts that should provide meaning to the data.
Content analysis referred to the research question: What perceptions exist among pedagogical instructors with regard to training for implementing small group instruction in schools?
Content analysis of the data collected in semi-structured interviews and analyzing the syllabi yielded nine categories that are detailed below in Table
Importance of teacher training for small group instruction hours
Content analysis shows that all participants in this study, with one exception, believed that it is important to train teachers for teaching small group instruction hours. Content analysis showed two main reasons for the importance of small group instruction hours – 'essence of small group instruction hours as special teaching' and 'system's demand as part of the 'New Horizon' reform'.
Testimony to perception of small group instruction hours as a special type of teaching can be seen in participants' statements:
Another perception of the importance attributed to training to teach small group instruction hours refers to the education system's demands as part of the 'New Horizon' reform. Testimony to this perception can be seen in participants' statements:
These decisive statements with regard to the consensus that exists among pedagogical instructors contradict the complete absence of training for small group instruction hours in the examined syllabi. The examination showed that despite the fact that pedagogical instructors assign great importance to training for small group instruction hours, implementation in the field shows a totally opposite picture. An explanation for this gap can be found in the words of one of the participants who pointed out that he expects
That is to say, small group instruction hours are perceived as important as part of teacher education, but are considered a subject that it is preferable that students learn to carry out during their practice teaching.
Characteristics of training teachers for teaching small group instruction hours
Content analysis yielded a number of perceptions relating to the characteristics of training for small group instruction hours. In general, they relate to
These perceptions refer to small group instruction as an opportunity to provide a response to pupils with special needs: "reinforce a single child, broaden his/her horizons, reinforce content, respond to special emotional and cognitive needs". "Needy children from a motor or socio-emotional aspect", "Enrich outstanding or pupils finding it difficult", "the strongest characteristic is to reach children for whom it is difficult in regular classes. To be an adult mentor, to see a child that is not always seen". That is to say that of all a teacher's roles, teaching small group instruction is embodied in taking the role of adult mentors, the meaning of which is to pay complete attention to individual pupils and their special educational needs.
Small group instruction hours can constitute the driving force to grow and enjoy learning:
It appears from content analysis that another characteristic of small group instruction is teaching pupils with disabilities: "Teachers are required to use teaching methods similar to those used with pupils with disabilities. The pace of activities and number of tasks will be different from regular teaching. In addition, the forms of teaching and pupils seating will be different".
In conclusion, it can be said that pedagogical instructors' perceptions show that characteristics of small group instruction embody great potential to nurture struggling pupils as well as those who need enrichment, to make special adjustments and plans and as a factor to motivate learning.
Sources of knowledge for pedagogical instructors
Content analysis of information collected through the interviews with pedagogical instructors revealed two main sources of knowledge about small group instruction. Most knowledge derives from their experience as school teachers and a little from reading materials received from the Ministry of Educations providing guidance for implementing small group instruction hours.
It appears from the content analysis that pedagogical instructors' primary source of knowledge about small group instruction is their experience in implementing small group instruction as former school teachers or from observations their have made while accompanying students to their practice teaching. Evidence of this perception can be seen in their statements such as,
Another source of knowledge emerging from the content analysis was special training given to active teachers by the Ministry of Education. Evidence of this can be found in participants’ statements saying that
In conclusion, it can be said that pedagogical instructors' sources of knowledge are learning from their experience as school teachers and from personal initiatives to investigate the subject according to accessible sources of knowledge from the Ministry of Education. In the light of the reality in a college where not all pedagogical instructors have teaching experience with small group instruction hours or teaching at school in general, it is possible to say that pedagogical instructors' knowledge itself is quite limited on this subject.
As a result of pedagogical instructors' limited sources of knowledge on the subject of small group instruction hours, it was interesting to discover whether and who they themselves consult in order to consolidate knowledge that can be passed on to student teachers for whom they are responsible. Similar to sources of knowledge from personal experience, in this category too the evidence shows that pedagogical instructors seek advice on this subject primarily from work colleagues or other authority figures who have themselves experienced teaching small group instruction hours.
"My colleagues who have experienced small group instruction hours at school", "My training colleague. I read a little", "Colleagues in the subject matter, and the person in charge of the course...", "My colleague who is also an expert in preschoolers", "I don't know anyone at the college who is more knowledgeable than I am", "a training colleague", " teachers who practice in the field", "Colleagues. All the pedagogical instructors. A good study group", "the special education staff", "I consult the school principal and management team. Besides them, I consult friends and other principals and ask them how things are done at their schools", "In addition, I discuss this in conversations I have with training teachers when I am at schools",
Some research participants stated that they did not consult on this issue at all:
In conclusion, it can be said that from pedagogical instructors' perceptions of consultation about small group instruction hours is carried out with colleagues who have practical experience in this area.
The content of training for small group instruction hours
Content analysis of the information garnered through the interviews with pedagogical instructors revealed that existing perceptions of training to teach small group instruction hours at school must be focused, in addition to contents, on the organizational aspect of small group instruction lessons. According to participants:
That is to say, pedagogical instructors' perceptions are, it appears, that training to teach small group instruction hours is how to organize them and which pedagogical approaches to use more than what to teach.
Amount of training
From an analysis of pedagogical instructors' syllabi, it emerges that the amount of training provided by pedagogical instructors to students for small group instruction hours is virtually nonexistent. From the 12 syllabi that deal directly with teacher training reviewed, not a single mention of this issue was found. Content analysis of interviews showed that pedagogical instructors either did not teach about small group instruction hours at all or only in a very limited manner.
The insight emerging from document and content analysis is that there is a large gap between the participants’ understanding and perception of the importance of teaching small group instruction hours, and the subjects’ entry into their teaching programs. That is to say, the amount of training for small group instruction hours remains minimal in the training system, something that leaves this subject unexhausted.
As part of the content analysis of the pedagogical instructors' perceptions of implementing training for small group instruction hours, the subject of student awareness of this issue was examined.
Of 16 pedagogical instructors interviewed, seven said that students were aware of the issue because of their experience at schools and not from their learning at the college.
Some have to teach small group instruction hours on their practice teaching days: "Yes, because they are obliged as part of their experience to join small group instruction hours given by training teachers" and thus their awareness of the issue.
Others are not aware of the issue, according to pedagogical instructors, for various reasons:
In addition, according to the interviewees, some of the students show an interest in the issue only after it is raised by their pedagogical instructor:
It can be said that according to the interviewees, students' awareness of the issue of small group instruction does not come from college pedagogical instructors, but from within schools in which they do practice teaching, when they see their training teachers teaching in small groups, and sometimes they too are forced to teach these hours without having been trained at the college, with the exception of certain subjects such as sciences and special education, where teaching in small groups is part of their training itself.
Despite interviewees' declarations, content analysis of interviews shows that there is difficulty in implementing teaching in small groups. In their perceptions and statements, great importance is placed on training students in this teaching strategy, but in practice there is no implementation of this perception. As one of the instructor said:
The insight emerging from this category is that there is no implementation of small group teaching in teacher training in contrast to pedagogical instructors' perceptions. Once again we see the gap between what is desired, i.e., perceptions of the importance of training for small group instruction hours, and the reality, where there is no, or only limited, training for small group instruction hours.
The content analysis of this category reveals that there are many difficulties preventing pedagogical instructors from training student to teach in small groups and implement small group instruction hours as required by the Ministry of Education, and from their perception of the importance of this issue.
Setting priorities for teaching constitute another difficulty in implementing pedagogical instructors' perceptions of teaching for small group instruction hours:
Another difficulty comes from the field as well,
The insight emerging from this category is that many difficulties, from setting priorities for including this topic in the syllabi to students' perceptions of the subject's importance as well as its implementation in the field, prevent pedagogical instructors from realizing their perceptions and actively train for small group instruction hours.
The picture emerging from analysis of data collected from pedagogical instructors is duality in their perceptions of the importance of teaching for small group instruction hours. On the one hand, small group instruction hours are perceived as important enough to constitute part of teacher training, but on the other hand, they are considered as a subject that it is preferable for students to learn to implement during their practice teaching.
This duality is reinforced in light of pedagogical instructors' perceptions showing that characteristics of small group instruction hours embody great potential to nurture both struggling pupils and those who require enrichment, to special adaptation and planning and as a factor to motivate learning. In other words, pedagogical instructors recognize the importance of training to teach small group instruction hours, but on the other hand prefer that students learn to implement them as part of their practice teaching. School reality shows that the context in which small group instruction hours are implemented is rather broad and means of implementation are many and varied. This versatility creates a muddle amongst pedagogical instructors who are also burdened with many roles and tasks connected to their work with students (Lamm, 1988, 2000). In addition to pedagogical instructors being guides for student teachers, according to their perception of pedagogical instruction in teacher training, pedagogical instructors are part of a school team who plan together the practice teaching process together with schools' syllabi (Zilberstein, 2005).
Pedagogical instructors fulfill an important role in building students' knowledge of teaching. They accompany their group of student teachers in personal and group training. They are required to help students develop and go through a long journey entailing many wonderments, questions and dilemmas along the way, to make the transition from status of learning student to that of novice-teacher, capable of taking responsibility for a learning class and integrate into school culture with all that this entails (Zilberstein, 2005). Therefore, in light of this multitude of roles, it is not surprising that pedagogical instructors have a list of priorities and within this framework, prefer to leave responsibility for the training for small group instruction hours to training teachers and students' self-learning.
Another factor that can explain this duality is the background from which pedagogical instructors themselves emerged. In any case, pedagogical instructors' sources of knowledge about small group instruction hours lie in their experience as former school teachers and personal initiative to investigate the subject according to information sources from the Ministry of Education (Ministry of Education, 2014). However, the relatively new
Additionally, in the light of the reality in colleges that not all pedagogical instructors are experienced at teaching small group instruction hours or even teaching at school generally, it is possible to say that their own knowledge is limited in this subject, and therefore they do not feel qualified enough to train students to teach small group instruction hours in which they themselves do not have sufficient experience. The result is that the amount of training for small group instruction hours, according to pedagogical instructors and the document analysis, remains minimal within the overall process of training for small group instruction hours. Moreover, pedagogical instructors understand that students prefer to learn the subject of small group instruction hours from their training teachers during their practice teaching, which leads the pedagogical instructors to believe that its training is perhaps redundant.
The pedagogical instructors’ perceptions regarding consultation on small group instruction hours is that they consult colleagues with practical experience in the area. As part of their responsibility to fulfill their role as pedagogical instructors, they choose to focus more on organizational aspects and pedagogical approaches rather than on teaching content aspects. In addition, it appears that pedagogical instructors perceive their main task as training students to cope with whole heterogeneous classes. Consequently the issue of small group instruction is perceived as a subject with which does not need explicit training as anyone can cope with it, and therefore is secondary in its importance.
To summarize, this modest research places training for implementing small group instruction on the educational and public agenda as a dual issue presenting a gap between perceptions of its importance and its absence from the training program in the teacher education process. From previous research carried out on implementing small group instruction by novice teachers in the first year of teaching (Od-Cohen & Hadari, 2015) clearly shows the necessity of this training as a proper process of induction into teaching. In light of the current research findings, and in order to allow proper implementation of small group instruction, not just as part of implementing the
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22 December 2016
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Teacher, teacher training, teaching skills, teaching techniques, special education, children with special needs
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Od-Cohen, Y., & Hadari, J. (2016). Training for Small Group Instruction in Pre-Service Teacher Education: Pedagogical Instructors’ Perceptions. In V. Chis, & I. Albulescu (Eds.), Education, Reflection, Development - ERD 2016, vol 18. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 648-662). Future Academy. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2016.12.80