Teacher Preparation

Book Spells Out ‘Core Curriculum’ for Teacher Training

By Linda Jacobson — March 01, 2005 4 min read
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Teacher education programs need to prepare their students to understand and support child development, include a study of language acquisition and how language is used, and give prospective teachers depth in a particular content area as well as a broad liberal arts foundation.

Those are among the recommendations made by a National Academy of Education committee that for the past two years has been working to define a “core curriculum” for teacher preparation.

More information on Preparing Teachers for a Changing World is available from the publisher, Jossey-Bass.

Based at New York University in New York City, the academy is an organization of close to 150 researchers who focus on education policy and practice.

“We started with the learner. What do children need in order to learn and grow?” Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford University and a co-chair of the committee, said last week when the book, Preparing Teachers for a Changing World, was released here at the 57th annual conference of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

The 27-member Committee on Teacher Education also concludes in the book that schools of education should prepare teachers to write curriculum and relate it to state academic standards, and give teachers classroom- management skills and opportunities to practice those skills with children.

The authors also write that new teachers should be prepared to teach students of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds and be able to connect those diverse learners to the subjects being taught.

“For this connection to occur, teachers must know their students—who they are, what they care about, what languages they speak, what customs and traditions are valued in their homes,” the book says. Opportunities to learn about diversity should not be isolated to a course or two, it adds, but spread throughout the curriculum.

Environment for Learning

Some 2,400 educators and researchers attended the Feb. 20-23 AACTE meeting. The Washington-based membership organization is made up of 740 colleges and schools of education.

During one session here, held to explain the Committee on Teacher Education’s work, panelists reviewed a three-minute video of a high school science teacher conducting a lesson on cellular membranes. Each student had been given an egg to help in learning the concept.

The presenters used the clip of the teacher’s lesson to highlight the qualities they think new teachers should have when they enter the field.

“She knows her subject matter, and she is comfortable with it,” said Kenneth M. Zeichner, an associate dean of education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “And she has high expectations.”

The teacher in the video, he said, also “created an environment” in which the students, as well as the teacher, were responsible for contributing to what the class was learning about the topic.

The video clip was also used to demonstrate principles that the committee says teachers need to know about assessment—the kind that occurs during instruction as well as regular testing and evaluations used for accountability purposes.

In the video, the teacher continued to ask follow-up questions of a student until she was sure he understood the lesson and wasn’t just repeating what his peers said. Lorrie A. Shepard, an education professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said that scene gives new meaning to “catching” a student—not catching him giving a wrong answer, but zeroing in on the moment that he learns the material.

“I need to know what you don’t know so we can make progress,” Ms. Shepard said, describing the approach a teacher should have toward that kind of assessment. “We have to have that information in order to move forward.”

Resources on the Way

In the same session, Joan Baratz-Snowden, the deputy director of the educational issues department at the American Federation of Teachers, said schools of education need to think critically about their programs at a time when roughly 40 percent of the 200,000 students who graduate from education schools annually don’t even take a teaching job.

On the other hand, she said, alternative teacher-preparation and -certification programs are having success so far at retaining teachers in schools.

“We have a tremendous problem getting students from traditional institutions to come and teach in our schools,” said Ms. Baratz-Snowden, who served on the committee. “What kinds of programs do we need to prepare teachers for urban classrooms?”

In addition to releasing the book, the committee is designing a Web site that will give teacher-educators access to syllabuses from institutions throughout the country and other resources. More publications, such as one on teaching reading, are also forthcoming.

Schools and colleges of education will also soon have another document to help guide them as they try to improve teacher-training programs. “Studying Teacher Education,” by an American Educational Research Association panel, will come out later this spring. The report is expected to provide a review of existing research on teacher education and recommend a research agenda for the future.

For example, more attention needs to be given to studying the effect of teacher education on teachers’ knowledge and practice, instead of just their beliefs and attitudes toward teaching, the University of Wisconsin’s Mr. Zeichner, a co-chair of the panel, said during a briefing session at the AACTE conference.

Research on retention also needs to be linked to the academic-content areas teachers are prepared to teach, he said. Retention rates of mathematics teachers, for instance, might be lower than those of other teachers because they have more job opportunities.

A version of this article appeared in the March 02, 2005 edition of Education Week as Book Spells Out ‘Core Curriculum’ for Teacher Training


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