The Structure of Student Teaching Can Change the Focus to Students’ Mathematical Thinking

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For many undergraduates studying in the field of math education, student teaching serves as a trial run for their real world experience. When structured correctly, student teaching can prepare students to be excellent mathematics teachers when they finally step into their own classroom. However, when the focus of the experience is on classroom management rather than on teaching the educational material, the student teacher fails to garner the skill most vital to their chosen profession: helping students to learn and understand mathematics.

In 2006, Dr. Blake Peterson and Dr. Keith Leatham (current chair and associate chair of the BYU Mathematics Education Department) evaluated their traditional approach to student teaching, and then restructured the student teaching experience to better meet the needs of the student teachers and of the program. This restructuring was inspired in part by Dr. Peterson’s experience in Japan, where he noticed significant differences between student teaching programs there and those in America. His study with Dr. Leatham concluded that traditional student teaching in the US put the student teacher in a “sink or swim” scenario by giving the student teacher all the responsibilities of the classroom teacher, thereby forcibly shifting the student teacher’s focus away from “planning, enacting, and reflecting on quality instructional activities,” which could serve as more beneficial preparatory experiences (Peterson & Leatham, 2018).

In the revised system, student teachers are placed in pairs with a cooperating teacher, and two or three pairs are grouped as a cluster and overseen by a university supervisor (Peterson & Leatham, 2018). The restructured program allows student teachers adequate time to focus on preparing, observing, and reflecting on mathematics teachingOne of the most profound consequences of this restructured teacher training is the change in the relationship between student teachers and cooperating teachers. “Prior to this structure change, a primary focus of conversations between student teachers and cooperating teachers was classroom management,” Peterson reports. “There was very little talk about mathematics or teaching mathematics. In this new structure, there has been a significant increase in conversations about teaching mathematics and a big drop in conversations about surviving.”

Leatham believes the greatest beneficiaries of the results of their study of their redesigned approach are teacher educators: “These findings aren’t for students so much as they are for mathematics teacher educators–those folks who teach teachers and who are thus responsible for organizing the student teaching experience. They could apply our findings to their own efforts to revise their own structure of student teaching in order to better meet their goals for that experience.”