I recently completed a small-scale research project and have submitted my paper for review by Monash University. The study relates to how preservice teachers learn to become effective communicators during the four-year undergraduate program. I believe the findings highlight significant issues with Monash’s course and would provide valuable insight for other universities and those involved in teacher education. I have provided a short summary report below to inform you of the study’s purpose, methods and key findings. Underneath, the full document has been inserted so you can read the responses of participants and the recommendations I’ve made based on the significant findings.
Purpose of study:
I wanted to find out how preservice teachers learn to be effective communicators. I chose to research this topic because of the proven impact communication has on building relationships with students to increase motivation and academic achievement. As a school student (over a decade ago) I felt misunderstood by most of my teachers and regularly disengaged as a result. Now that I am a classroom teacher (currently working as a casual relief) I speak to many young people who feel the same, believing many of today’s teacher do not use inclusive, student-centered approaches and fail to acknowledge the interests and backgrounds of their students. This lead me to question what skills preservice teachers are expected to learn during a four-year undergraduate education course and how they are taught.
The case study investigated how Monash University Undergraduate Primary Education preservice teachers learn effective communication skills to develop positive student-teacher relationships. The data was derived from three sources: an interview with Monash’s course coordinator, a focus group consisting of three fourth-year preservice teachers and 38 written unit guides. The different perspectives were compared to provide an accurate representation of what occurred to identify how and to what extent effective communication skills and strategies were being taught. A sorting method known as open-coding was used to identify and compare concepts relating to events, activities and interactions. This unrestricted way of sorting and comparing data helpeds generate categories based on shared views and inconsistencies (Strauss, 1987). An analysis of each unit guide was conducted based on a key word search and information shared by participants.
The study revealed there is no undergraduate course unit at Monash University dedicated to developing preservice teachers’ communication skills. Furthermore, the units incorporating communication-based learning objectives lacked ways to measure how content was taught and assessed against the Teacher Standards. With no opportunities for deliberate practice, it was assumed preservice teachers could learn from university tutors as they model effective communication while teaching other unit content. However, the preservice teachers who participated in the study did not believe the majority of tutors exhibited effective strategies and/or positive behaviours. They described several events when tutors were unable to engage the class and used instruction-based teaching methods which contradicted the principles they were trying to teach. Mentor teachers were relied on to develop preservice teachers’ skills during placement without guidance or measurable objectives. Additionally, without knowing the capabilities of the mentors, it was difficult to ensure they used effective strategies and illustrated the significance of communication in the classroom; as past research demonstrates not all experienced teachers are effective communicators (Neville, Hutchison and McCann, 2015). The preservice teacher participants believed assessment tasks with potential to develop communication skills through practical application in schools were poorly designed, therefore irrelevant and disruptive to the school placement experience. Each participant involved in the study agreed more opportunities to explicitly learn and practice effective communication strategies are required.
I plan to pass the research findings on to those in leadership at Monash University, but was would appreciate if others could help spread the word. I know it’s only a small-scale study but think the results would stimulate some interesting discussions and increase awareness around teaching interpersonal skills to preservice teachers.