Incongruence in Pre-Service Teacher Education

“Teacher educators seem to agree that, to be able to support their student teachers’ learning, they themselves should be good models of the kind of teaching they are trying to promote. However, it is clear from the literature that this congruent teaching is not self‐evident in teacher education”. (Swennen, Lunenberg, & Korthagen, 2008, p.531

Two kinds of congruence are important in teacher education. The first is congruence between theory and practice – i.e. between what student teachers are taught and what teacher educators do on their courses. The second is congruence between modelled and target practices – i.e. between what teacher educators do and what student teachers will be expected to do in their own classrooms. Both these forms of congruence are linked (see Figure 1): as far as possible, the effective educational practices that student teachers learn about will be enacted in the work of their teacher educators who, at the same time, are providing a model of appropriate future professional practice for student teachers.

Figure 1: Congruence in teacher education

It is often the case, however, that a concern for congruence does not characterize the design of either whole pre-service teacher education programmes or individual courses within them. This can be illustrated with particular reference to assessment. On one programme I know of, student teachers study principles for effective assessment (see p2 here for an example of a useful checklist for assessment in HE) but the manner in which assessment takes place often seems to be at odds with such principles. So, while, for example, they learn about the importance to assessment of clear objectives, reliability, validity and feedback:

  • student teachers receive limited prior information about assessment formats (such as the nature of a forthcoming examination)
  • it is unclear to student teachers what they need to study prior to an examination (scope of the assessment)
  • student teachers are assessed against skills they have not been given opportunities to develop
  • content not focused on during a course appears in an examination
  • the scope of the content to be assessed is unfeasibly broad
  • assessment emphasizes the recall of facts
  • assessment rubrics are vague
  • student teachers receive no or limited written feedback to explain assessment outcomes
  • multiple pieces of work contribute to a final score but the breakdown of marks in the result is not explained
  • assessment criteria are not pre–defined or referenced when results are communicated
  • assessment is entirely summative
  • different teacher educators (even those co-teaching a course) assess in very different ways.

Collectively, such practices create strong tensions among the theory of assessment that student teachers are taught, what teacher educators do, and the assessment practices future teachers are expected to adopt. These tensions can have a negative impact on student teachers; for example, they may come to believe that what they study on their programme and what happens in actual educational practice are not connected. It is thus important to minimise such tensions (not only in relation to assessment but also for teaching and learning more generally) and this can be achieved through a process of reflection and alignment in which teacher educators ask themselves (and – given the value of collaborative reflection (pdf download) – ideally one another) questions such as these:

  • what educational principles regarding teaching, learning and assessment are the student teachers studying (on this programme or course)?
  • to what extent are my teaching and assessment practices as a teacher educator aligned with such principles?
  • what factors might explain any lack of alignment?
  • what changes in my approach would strengthen the congruence between what the student teachers are taught, what I do, and what we would like them to do as future teachers?

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6 Responses to Incongruence in Pre-Service Teacher Education

  1. Thank you, professor. You always tackle the key practical issues we as teachers and teacher educators suffer of. It is really an important issue that should be focused on in all the pre-service teacher education institutions. It is the old-new challenge. As a learning teacher in the past (actually 1995-1999) and a teacher educator now, we have been always quarrelling over , the congruence between what teacher educator teach and do since then and still. In my career, the nearest harmony between what is taught and what is really practiced was that I experienced during my master study in Leeds, thankful to that experience, which helped me to restore my faith in the possibility of linking both.

    • Simon Borg says:

      Thanks Fadhel. Yes, it is a challenge to ‘practise what we preach’ but it is an important one for us to address. Since we all work within a system it is not always possible for us to teach according to our ideals, but becoming aware of how much alignment there is between the principles we ask student teachers to adopt and what we ourselves do is a good starting point for change in our work as teacher educators.

      • Fadhel says:

        Yes, thank you Professor for bringing this on. It is the core element in the problem, especially in a context like ours in Yemen, where the management and the senior people are committed to the traditional practices with big resistance to any changes to the system. Any trend for change is viewed as a threat, whatever small or linited scope it is. However, as you stated, we try to work with low profile according to the limited space given to us. Yet it is still an issue. I think this space in your institution is far wider than it is in ours.

  2. Olcay Sert says:

    Thanks Simon for this interesting read – I have witnessed and have probably been part of this incongruence in the past (trying to be better now, ther eis a long way to go 🙂 ). Luke and Rodgers’ piece that you recommended seems to be a good read, I’ll definitely have a look.

    I think there are two things that may need to be considered, though. The first one is that we are involved in “teaching in higher education”, but the student-teachers are going to teach to younger learners and to children in many cases. Although some universals of good pedagogy (whatever they are) obviously need to be there, the student-teachers will be teaching to different age groups, so a perfect modelling is an unattainable goal. But I agree, we need to work much harder.

    Secondly, the 12-item list that you present are examples of problematic teaching anyway, no matter they are for training teachers or not. One way to avoid such practices is to focus better on “higher education pedagogy” courses within institutions. There are, I am sure, more deeply rooted problems and possibly more obvious solutions though.

    It’s great to read your posts, please keep them coming 🙂
    Best wishes from Sweden,

    • Simon Borg says:

      Thanks Olcay. Yes, teaching at university and in schools is not the same and allowances need to be made for those differences, but many principles will apply generally. The goal is to avoid obvious (but often tacit) and unwarranted conflicts between what I say as a teacher educator, what I do, and what I expect future teachers to do.

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