By: Erica Hatcher
ture, and technology.
Three preservice teachers agreed to participate. The other two preservice teachers declined based on time constraints. The study to be reported below investigated the beliefs and practices of preservice teachers in the context of their reflections on service learning activities.
The preservice teachers participated in dialogue during class to reflect on their service learning experiences. Semi-structured 45-minute interviews were conducted with three participants in the Spring Semester of 2018. The interviews were audio-taped and transcribed. Other data collection methods included participant observation, reflective writing by participants, and dialogue among the participants in the context of course discussions. The interview questions are designed to gain research perspective on the experience under study with the goal of understanding the preservice teacher’s process of reflective thinking. Answers to the questions are used to explore other avenues of inquiry within each interview. Follow-up questions were semi-structured and open-ended.
We explored what preservice teachers believe about their experiences in a service learning project, and the extent of convergence or divergence between beliefs and practices. Socio-cultural and historical factors that influence these beliefs were also explored. This analysis of beliefs, practices, and tensions provided insight into ways to improve the design and implementation of service learning experiences for preservice teachers.
This study involved the following steps to data analysis: open coding, identifying emerging patterns, recognizing themes, and challenging interpretations. We examined the themes and patterns emerging from the codification and considered the underlying notions behind them. Further, we considered how and why these themes emerge, the consequences of the themes on the teacher’s instruction as well as the impact on the meaning-making of preservice teachers, and the extent to which these themes reveal important light on the preservice teacher’s service learning practices as they might impact future classroom teaching. Analysis involved looking for contradictions and conflicts as well as connections among the key emergent themes.
The Importance of Self-Selected Books
The two major themes that emerged were the value of presenting children with choice in the selection of books to read and the importance of enthusiasm when reading aloud to children. For example, Rachel (pseudonym), a preservice teacher who plans to become an elementary school teacher, read to a pair of fourth-grade girls who chose books about princesses and fairy tales. Self-selection contributed to the enthusiasm that the girls expressed for reading. Rachel then talked with the girls about her own love for fairy tale stories. She engaged in a picture walk and preview activities with children in order to help children know what to expect in the books before they read the stories together. Rachel gained a new appreciation for the importance of enthusiasm when reading aloud, recounting that “if you can’t get interested in what you are reading, how do you think the children will get interested in reading?”
Analysis of initial codes such as surprise and fear pointed toward an additional category of frustration. Specifically, preservice teachers expressed a desire for increased time with children outside of the classroom beyond the limitations of this one study. Other themes that emerged related to increased confidence to successfully perform the tasks involved in reading aloud to children in the context of literacy instruction. Michelle (pseudonym) expressed that she enjoyed helping children pick out their own books. She helped children identify the varied parts of the book as a way of previewing the text. However, she expressed frustration at lack of preparation for the experience of reading to a ten-year-old child with autism. She was surprised by the difficulty of addressing the child’s behavior when the autistic child felt overwhelmed by noise in the room, recounting that: “nothing you do in class can prepare you for working with a child who has autism until you have that experience.” Michelle’s frustration points to debates that exist in the literature over the efficacy of reading aloud to children with exceptional needs as a form of intervention with the possibility that with improved experience and training on strategies reading aloud would be more successful over time for a child with autism.
We have learned important lessons during the conduct of this service-learning project that hold implications for service-learning and for the teaching of poetry. Service learning partnerships need to be mutually beneficial. This partnership takes time to nurture. In the case of this project, the mutual trust was developed over decades. The partnership would not be possible without agreed upon goals and agreed upon methods for achieving these goals. For example, although reading aloud is widely seen as benefiting children, the partnership described in this article is also based on trust in the skill of those who volunteer to read to children. Preservice teachers are not permitted to read aloud as part of the project until they first have received careful and purposeful training through