In “Examining Features of Teacher Education in Norway,” recently published in the Scandinavian Journal of Education, Karen Hammerness, a Fulbright Grant recipient (2009-2010), describes the vision, coherence, and opportunities to learn she observed in teacher education programs in Norway. In this post Hammerness and Kirsti Klette, Professor at the University of Oslo, Co-Directors of an ongoing study of comparative teacher education in Norway, Finland, the US, Chile, and Cuba, discuss recent teacher education reforms in Norway.
At the beginning of this millennium, Norwegian educators and policy makers were surprised to find that Norwegian students had performed lower than the mean in comparison to other OECD countries (and in comparison to other Scandinavian countries) on international tests—a phenomenon that became known as “PISA shock.” In response, educators and policy makers in Norway took a number of steps to improve the quality of teaching, to boost recruitment into teaching, and to increase respect for the profession of teaching. For instance, in 2009, the Ministry of Education proposed new standards for teacher education curriculum and created new curricular guidelines. In addition, in recent years, the country has been investing substantial resources in teacher education, including supporting research grants intended to better understand and develop quality teaching and teacher education.
One of the key debates around teacher preparation today in Norway is one that we see in many of the other countries in our study as well—it revolves around the role that practice plays in teacher preparation. For example, the study described in “Examining Features of Teacher Education in Norway” revealed that the Norwegian teacher educators interviewed saw schools as the primary site where student-teachers should learn about practice: an assumption that learning about practice should be relegated specifically to school settings. They did not describe university courses as a site for novices to learn about teaching practice—reflecting a historical separation between theory and practice that has characterized the field of teacher education in many countries for years. This separation can make it difficult for student-teachers to see the relationship between what they learn in their university courses and their experiences in real schools.
However, some teacher educators in Norway are now embarking upon efforts to try to address these issues and bring the teaching of practice more directly into the teacher education curriculum. For instance, the teacher education program at the University of Oslo has redesigned its curriculum to focus upon core practices of teaching (such as observation of children; classroom management; and assessment of learning). Faculty report that the pilot program has been successful, in terms of student-teachers’ evaluations of their experiences and learning, so that initial plans to revise only the mathematics coursework have been extended to other subject areas.
These efforts in Norway build on work by educators like Deborah Ball and Pam Grossman in the U.S. who have been examining the teaching of “core” and “high leverage” practices to novice teachers. In our ongoing comparative study of teacher education programs in five countries we are also seeing a number of different efforts to bridge the gap between theory and practice. Programs in Finland, for instance, have increased the use of videos that student teachers take of their own practice, so that student teachers have multiple opportunities to examine their own classroom teaching with expert teacher educators coaching them in their work. In addition, the Oslo University program and a program in the US at Stanford University, provide student teachers with extensive opportunities to analyze pupil learning, drawing on samples of K-13 classroom work. Meanwhile, student teachers at the University of Santa Barbara in the US and at the University in Havana in Cuba report that teacher educators explicitly model the kinds of practices discussed in class, such as how to give good feedback, orchestrate classroom discussions, and organize groupwork. All these examples reflect different ways that teacher education courses can make linkages between theory and practice. One of the challenges of this work, however—which we again see across many contexts—is that focusing upon teachings practice in university courses requires very different roles for teacher educators. This shift to practice demands teacher educators use many more materials and resources from real classrooms and requires them to shift their own teaching to provide more attentive and careful coaching around specific, targeted teaching practices.