Weighing Gains and Losses in Embedded Clinical Experience

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April Showers from the Methods Classroom

Each April, I feel an overwhelming need to examine the school year and my role within it.  Were the curricular decisions I made last April and May fruitful? Were there more gains than losses? How might I make adjustments based on the performance and feedback of the students I have in my classroom now while reserving some flexibility to meet the needs of student I have not yet met?

Each week, I teach secondary English education methods I and II courses in a classroom reserved for us in a local high school.  My schedule this semester has class starting at 9:00 with writing, reading, and discussion around professional texts and practices.  Some weeks, candidates are workshopping or demonstrating lessons. Other weeks, we explore technology implementation or lesson adaptations. Every week, candidates spend time in their mentor teachers’ classrooms during our scheduled class.

History of Field Experiences

Prior to January 2018, the secondary English education candidates were placed in various schools for field experience “micro-teaching” based on school and mentor teacher availability.  It was then up to the candidate in collaboration with the teacher to coordinate observation hours and micro-teaching lessons.  The micro-teaching coordinator would then observe candidates toward the latter part of the semester using the same observation instruments designed for student teachers.  These relationships with mentor teachers and small opportunities to teach were designed to prepare candidates for student teaching.  One problem with this format was the lack of regulated field experience hours throughout the semester.  It was not uncommon for candidates to schedule a vacation week from work in order to “get their hours in” for observations, creating challenges for tying theory to practice in the methods class each week.  Candidates also had wide-ranging experiences with school culture, which created another set of challenges.

Rationale for Embedded Experiences

I set out on a mission for secondary English education program candidates to have the same high school field experience placements for us to have common conversations around culture, routines, and expectations. Through conversations with high school administration, we were able to access much more. With a classroom within the high school we could become part of the culture.  In January 2018, we became the class that met at the high school most weeks.  It was a location and not much more.  By the end of the semester, however, the high school administrator and I agreed that we were on the edge of incredible possibilities.  Together, we planned essential experiences for the incoming cohort.

Embedded Clinical Experience

Embedded within the 9:00-1:00 class time are field experience hours during which candidates observe and assist in mentor teachers’ classrooms.  Before leaving the methods classroom at 10:40, I prompt candidates with “look fors” or focus questions to frame their observations.  Yesterday, we discussed professional organizations and networking, so candidates were to ask mentor teachers about the professional organizations they would recommend.  This 2-hour time period also has candidates coming in and out of the methods classroom during the 25-minute lunch rotations.  These minutes provide time for one-on-one or small group conversations about assignments, updates on progress, or observation frame responses on the backchannel.

The schedule each semester changes slightly based on candidate feedback and administrator/instructor reflections and discussion.  Overall, the high school location has afforded us with these experiences:

  • High school teacher presentation of learning management system during her planning period
  • Data warehouse overview with test question analysis led by high school administrator
  • Mentor teacher feedback on unit plans after early dismissal at high school
  • Students from mentor teacher’s classroom serving as “shark tank” panel feedback on candidates’ unit ideas
  • Access to school psychologist for guest speaking arrangement
  • Consistent interactions with front desk and hallway security
  • High school administrator access – question/answer sessions during methods classes (at least twice per semester)
  • Weekly conversations tied directly to readings and school events

Methods Curriculum Challenges 

As an aside, this is the third spring semester that Pose, Wobble, Flow has been a cornerstone text for my Methods II course.  The first semester, candidates pushed back – hard. They resisted the discussion about privilege, seeing work and opportunity as something they created for themselves and that students can also achieve.  The second year, which was the first spring of clinical immersion, candidates thoughtfully considered the text as a useful resource.  My third cohort of candidates — the first cohort who has been in the high school setting an entire year — pushed back on this text but for different reasons.  They are living and breathing the challenges outlined by Garcia and O’Donnell-Allen.  They want more — the nuts and bolts of how to implement best practices for cultural responsiveness because they already know the theories.

Candidate Sacrifices

Some candidates have made tremendous sacrifices to take this daytime, once-weekly class during the fall and spring semesters — quitting full-time jobs with benefits, substitute teaching for only four days instead of five, having to take off work one day per week, not being able to work evenings because of other classes.  Their sacrifices are leaps of faith in the university program, in the high school experience, and in me.  And this is where I land at the beginning of May  — with fear, trepidation, anxiety — wondering if I am asking my candidates to sacrifice too much on their pathway to becoming teachers. Are the future gains for candidates worth their struggles now? Is there anything the university or district do to mitigate some of these losses?

As we plan for the next cohort, these questions are at the forefront.  What have other universities, districts, or state boards done to provide meaningful teacher preparation while assisting candidates in hurdling the most costly obstacles?


Understanding Student Perspectives – SEIs Unpacked

Filling a College Need

When I signed on to teach the Educational Technology course for one semester, I was ready to innovate the curriculum.  I had just spent the summer with team members working on accreditation reports and knew that updating the ISTE standards and assignments in that course would make a difference in the way we and the students approached technology.  Having always enjoyed exploring and implementing new technology tools throughout my teaching career, I felt comfortable modifying assignments, creating rubrics, and updating syllabus language.

Then it was class time.

Educational Technology Course

Students in the Educational Technology course came from a myriad of programs — early childhood, elementary and middle grades, high school — and a few not in the college of education at all.  With that in mind, I decided to emphasize that in this class we wear two hats: (1) future teachers who must gather technology tools and resources for future students and (2) future professionals in the field who need to collaborate with other teaching professionals.

In most class meetings we got our hands dirty with a variety of resources.  We used them ourselves, evaluated their effectiveness, and, as small groups or individually, presented them to the class.  On the last day, they presented their final assignment, a digital story of their technology journey.  Students in both sections of the course shared their growth and Aha moments from the class activities, content exploration, and discussion with others who were on the same journey.

Student Evaluations of Instruction (SEI)

At the end of each semester, as our university courses must, student evaluations of instruction (SEI) surveys were distributed.  My experience with abysmal response rates, not unlike this study reports, prompted me to offer a few bonus points if the response rate reached 80%.  I was pleased with the resulting 88% response rate of 66 students – almost as many as I had taught in total during my previous four semesters.  Though opinion pieces, professor appeals, and university decisions posit varied views on the usefulness of SEIs, I appreciated the opportunity to see these students’ perspectives.

Thinking Positive

Filling in for the Educational Technology course at a critical time of updating lessons and assignments to new standards left me frazzled.  So when I viewed Educational Technology section one’s responses, I felt that the time invested in developing new assignments and rubrics was well worth it.  The comments included the following:

“I loved doing the tool curations and finding out new tools which I could find for my classroom in the near upcoming future. I wish I could take her again. I also loved doing the small lesson plans which I had to implement tools like that. I really enjoyed learning about different ways to use apps and see how a lesson plan fits with the technology.”

“The instructor was great. I learned about new resources to implement into my future classroom’s curriculum.”

“She really cares and is there to help with any questions the class had for working with the pieces of technology. I really enjoyed her course!!!!”

“She is very well informed in the field of educational technology and seemed like she was comfortable with the tools presented in class.”

“Honestly, Dr. V was amazing. She did such a great job teaching the course. She opened my eyes to a lot of new things. I just wish this course was a hybrid because there was a lot of workshop time that could have been done outside of the class where she seemed like she didn’t know what to do. We were working and didn’t need much help. The questions we had could have been answered via email. I think she would agree.”

I do, indeed, agree with the last statement about hybrid or online instruction.  The class included workshop time to ensure student-to-student and teacher-student assistance.  We could have had these productive work sessions online.

Checking My Ego

Unfortunately, the only way I can describe the responses of section two of this same course is “brutal.”  Students complained about the content, stated that the course was only useful for other teacher preparation programs, and criticized the communication:

“I sat through this class all semester but learned nothing. I feel like this class was a waste of my time and money.”

“This course had nothing to do with what we were supposed to be learning and it was very frustrating. Instead of learning about tools to help us as teachers, we were learning tools that students could use in the classroom. I didn’t feel like I was learning anything valuable in the class so I stopped attending. It’s frustrating paying for a course you won’t get anything out of. I think clearer goals and objectives would have been better.”

“This class needs to be a hybrid class and should not be required for Early Childhood majors. There was hardly any useful information for Early Childhood majors to actually use in our classrooms and I am severely disappointed.”

Responding to such different student perspectives in my tenure portfolio SEI reflection is daunting and nerve-racking.  I sought out advice from my division chair who suggested “stymied” for some language to use.

Digging Deeper for Meaning

In digging deeper to find reasons for these contradictory perspectives, I can point to several factors that may have been the difference.


As Samantha Thomsen writes, classroom design influences educational outcomes.

In section one, the laptops were arranged on six-person tables.  Students routinely sat in certain seats, often next to an acquaintance or friend, creating natural proximity for group work.  I walked around the room during workshop time and was able to pull up a seat next to students when they asked questions or needed guidance.

In section two, the desktop computers were arranged in five rows of six seats on both the left and right side of the room with a wide aisle in the center. Students sat sometimes two or three in a row, but there were enough seats that some rows consistently only had one student.  I tried to circulate through the rows during workshop time, but even if I sucked everything in really tightly, I could not get to some areas.  During group workshop time, students awkwardly moved to other areas with their personal laptops in tow if they had them.

Class time

Many students worked full– or part-time jobs, limiting their choice of class times.

Section one was taught on Mondays at 1:30, drawing in primarily full-time students with part-time jobs.  My day started around 10:00 with office hours and planning.

Section two was taught on Tuesdays at 4:30 and was filled with students who started their days very early with full-time jobs.  My day started at 8:30 teaching a methods course from 9:00-1:00 off-campus.  Then, between 2:00-4:00 I either planned or more often attended meetings.


The SEIs overrepresented some groups and underrepresented others in both sections.

Section one student majors had the following breakdown:

  • Early Childhood – 11
  • Elementary Education – 4
  • Secondary Education – 1
  • Interdisciplinary Studies – 1

Section two student majors were the following:

  • Business Administration – 1
  • Early Childhood – 6
  • Elementary Education – 9
  • Content area major (math, English) – 2
  • Informational Technology – 1

Interestingly (and too late), I just discovered this site that outlines the Guiding Principles for Use of Technology with Early Learners.  The overwhelmingly positive statements in section one do not sync with the complaints from early childhood majors in section two.  Section one’s early childhood majors had larger peer support for applying technology standards to younger children.  The same could be said for elementary education majors in section two.


The technical aspects such as classroom machine capabilities, Blackboard assignments, and Blackboard announcements seem to be foundational.

The laptop webcams in the section one classroom allowed students to capture themselves in a picture for their personal introductions on Padlet, unlike most of the personal introductions in section two that used clipart.

Usually navigating Blackboard is fine, but one of the assignments I tried to post and link for section two did not show up where I thought it should.  I posted it again and caused a ruckus.  This problem was unique to section two; whereas, most times the first section taught during the week would be where kinks and ironing happen.

For one class meeting, section two was supposed to attend a teacher panel for the first hour or so of class and write a blog post about it.  Very few students showed up and then some of them were waiting in the classroom unaware. The course announcement system seemed ineffective on this and other occasions.

Next Steps

We hired an outstanding new faculty member to pick up these course sections and other technology responsibilities in the college.  Frankly, I’m relieved.  But as a highly-reflective teacher and lifelong learner, I cannot ignore some important findings from this analysis:

  • Classroom setup matters.  Planning lessons needs to include a vision of the space in which the instruction will happen.  This setup includes group dynamics, as well.  Intentional grouping of content areas and majors makes a difference.
  • Clarity is essential. Nothing can be spelled out too much, said too often, or modeled enough.
  • Concentrate on the present.  This means close off everything that keeps me from being mentally ready for the upcoming class, including   meetings too near class time.

I’m interested in how you reflect on class evaluations or use student perspectives to inform instruction.