Strengthening the research, learning, teaching nexus through mentoring relationships
To strengthen the links between research, learning and teaching practices within an early-childhood undergraduate teacher-education programme, a research mentoring programme was introduced.
In contrast to the traditional transmission approach, where students are typically seen as audience and teacher educators as knowledge experts, this project used a socio cultural approach, where reciprocal learning relationships between students and teacher educators were encouraged.
Elizabeth Elsworth, New Zealand College of Early Childhood Education
Date completed: November 2010
Increasingly, in all sectors of education, there is an expectation that teaching practices are informed by research. However, research (Fleer, 2001) has shown that many teachers eschew research in favour of practical methods when seeking ways to improve their practices. Research (Harrison, Dunn & Coombe, 2006) also indicates that many students, participating in teacher education programmes, lack the academic skills to analyse, synthesise and evaluate research.
To strengthen the links between research, learning and teaching practices, within an early childhood undergraduate teacher education programme, a research mentoring programme was introduced. In contrast to the traditional transmission approach, where students are typically seen as audience and teacher educators as knowledge experts, this project used a socio cultural approach, where reciprocal learning relationships between students and teacher educators were encouraged.
- To develop research knowledge and research capacity of students and teacher educators, through research mentoring relationships.
- To evaluate the impact of the mentoring programme on the research literacy skills of students.
- To identify ways in which reciprocal and responsive learning occurred between teacher educators and students.
Twenty-one year three undergraduate students and seventeen teacher educators in an undergraduate early childhood teacher education programme were invited to participate in a mentoring programme. A mixed method approach using questionnaires, focus groups and journal entries provided both qualitative and quantitative data.
Phase 1: A quantitative baseline measure of students’ research skills was taken before the mentoring programme was introduced. Students self-rated their research skills, using a 3 point Likert scale. Further data was gathered to measure the students’ ability to critique a research article, using a content analysis scale based on Bloom’s Taxonomy of Thinking. To ensure reliability an inter-rater reliability test was conducted using two independent assessors.
Phase 2: The research mentoring programme was introduced. Twenty one year three undergraduate students and seventeen teacher educators were matched according to topics of mutual research interest. Meeting for six times, over three terms, they discussed, analysed and critiqued research articles related to their chosen topic.
Journal entries provided a source of qualitative data. All students and teacher educators were asked to record their reflections following each of the six mentoring meetings. Incidences of reciprocal learning were noted during the analysis of these entries. The same baseline measures used in phase 1 were repeated at the end of the mentoring programme so that the impact of the programme could be assessed.
At the end of the mentoring project students’ ability to analyse and critique a research article was reassessed. In all areas: comprehension, application, analysis and evaluation, there was a significant increase in the mean score. The majority of students were able to make valid judgements about the strengths and weaknesses of research articles. Some students were able to use research findings to critique current practices in New Zealand early childhood centres and identify gaps in policy and practice.
Journal entries showed that throughout the mentoring programme both students and tutors began to reconsider their roles and shift their positions as teachers and learners. By the second meeting teacher educators became aware of dominating the meeting through operating as knowledge expert, over-eager to share their expertise about the topic. By the third meeting many teacher educators attempted to move from a didactic approach to one which encouraged the contribution of the students. One teacher educator, with no previous knowledge on the topic she was discussing with her students, recognised that not being a knowledge expert had advantages. She considered that the skills she had developed in her recent academic study were of more value in guiding the students’ analysis and critique of research articles than specific knowledge about the topic. Students quickly shifted from being passive learners to taking a more proactive role, through the necessity to source research articles and prepare an analysis of the article for each mentoring meeting. Both students and teacher educators were able to gain a first hand experience of the reciprocal learning relationships, which are advocated in the New Zealand early childhood curriculum (Te Whāriki) as the basis of quality interaction and teaching practice with children. A closer analysis of specific instances of reciprocal learning, through further research, could offer more insight into this important principle of learning.
A further development of this research mentoring programme would be to track the student graduates who participated in this programme to investigate if the mentoring has made any impact on their current teaching practices in early childhood centres.
What could a research mentoring programme offer to other undergraduate teaching programmes?
A mentoring programme can be a time efficient and cost efficient way to further the research knowledge and literacy of both teacher educators and students. Working alone with a mentor, or in small groups, requires students to be more proactive in their learning. Through discussion with experienced teacher educators, students increase their awareness of the relevance and practical application of research findings to their own teaching practices. Students can contribute to the learning and teaching of teacher educators through their role in providing recent research articles around topics which they may be currently teaching, studying, or researching themselves. Research mentoring programmes could also be used to strengthen the research, teaching and learning nexus within pre-service teacher education programmes for primary and secondary education and other sectors of tertiary training (e.g. medical training) where research informs practice.
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