In The Netherlands, workplace learning consists of 40% of initial teacher education. The main activities in workplace learning are the training of teaching skills and assignments for the teacher education institution and school. But five Professional Development Schools (PDS) we – teacher educators at the University of Applied Sciences in Rotterdam - work with also saw possibilities to provide more theoretical subjects, like adolescence psychology. At our teacher education institution this subject is quite theoretical, with a number of lectures, a handbook, and an exam. We lacked an important goal of the course: that the students should be able to use the knowledge about 12-18 year olds to improve their relationship with them. So we decided to redesign the course with a team of four university-based teacher educators and nine school-based teacher educators into a work-based learning assignment.
Criteria in this process of redesign were that adolescence psychology would become ‘practice-oriented’ and ‘meaningful’. But we also wanted a steady theoretical base, so the students would be able to integrate theory and practice. Some of the school-based teacher educators didn’t feel at first completely comfortable with the theory, so we provided support, like PowerPoint presentations, online Knowledge Clips, suggestions for school-specific assignments, and co-teaching by university-based and school-based teacher educators.
Three of the five PDS’s already had some experience with the subject in the past, and had developed several school-specific assignments. We discussed how to use these materials and decided that all PDS’s had to have enough flexibility to model the work-based learning assignment in a way that fit into their specific school context. Examples of these school-specific assignments were interviews with pupils about their identity development, observations of gender specific behaviour during a school break, or questionnaires about moral dilemmas.
The most important discussion the team had was about the exam for the work-based learning assignment. The exam had to be practice-oriented and meaningful. We wanted a combination of theory, results from school-specific assignments, and examples from students’ own development as youngsters. Like Kelchtermans (2009) suggests with his narrative-biographical approach: you have to understand yourself in order to understand others. We assigned the students an autobiography in which they had to address the theory of adolescent psychology and the results of their school-specific assignments. We designed a rubric in order to rate the autobiographies and, in the team, we practiced the rating process so that every teacher educator used the rubric the same way.
In conducting the work-based learning assignment in the schools, we met some challenges. In some schools, there was more contact time than in others, differing from 6 to 15 hours. The school-based teacher educators differed in how much time they got to prepare the meetings and to rate the autobiographies, differing from zero to 60 hours. Some schools planned the meetings – because of shortages of available classrooms – late in the afternoon, after almost all pupils had gone home.
We evaluated the process of designing and conducting the work-based learning assignment with all school-based teacher educators in the team, and with the students (Theunissen, 2017). All team members appreciated contributions from both university-based and school-based teacher educators in the designing process. Working in this way contributed to the process of learning to know each other, so mutual trust increased.
Students reported that they indeed found the work-based learning assignment on adolescence psychology to be practice-oriented and meaningful. The direct contact with pupils during school-specific assignments was most interesting for them. Working on the autobiography was an ‘eye-opener’ for some of them, like one student who reported: “Things from my development as a child suddenly became clear, apparently there was a reason why things happened. In this way theory became some kind of fun. I think it was good for me to write all this down. I never did this before, because I thought of it as ‘psychology nonsense’. So at first I resisted the assignments because it was not ‘cool’, but in the end the effort was worth it.”
On the basis of the evaluation we improved the work-based learning assignment on adolescence psychology, for example, the introduction of the autobiography. But we also learned from this process about co-operation by university-based and school-based teacher educators: they can offer each other a lot.
Kelchtermans, G. (2009). Who I am in how I teach is the message: self‐understanding, vulnerability and reflection. Teachers and Teaching, 15(2), 257-272.
Theunissen, M. (2017). Adolescentiepsychologie binnen de school. Rotterdam: Kenniscentrum Talentontwikkeling.
In The Netherlands, workplace learning consists of 40% of initial teacher education. The main activities in workplace learning are the training of teaching skills and assignments for the teacher education institution and school.