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Learning to teach: mentoring and tutoring student teachers
Learning to teach: mentoring and tutoring student teachers

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5.2 Dialectical relationships and ZPD in ITE

Murray’s ideas articulate the need for a particular type of relationship between student teachers and tutors, where knowledge is viewed as dynamic, subject to interpretation and change by all those involved in the process.

This view of dynamic knowledge, as opposed to a fixed set of things to be learned, requires the tutor to engage in a dialectic relationship with the student teacher in which knowledge is developed collaboratively through experience, discussions and consideration of the literature.

Alternative perspectives that open up the student teacher are needed to develop a student teacher’s awareness of knowledge (and the world) as a dynamic phenomenon (including schools, curricula, pedagogy and education research). This could involve:

  • drawing on literature that challenges the practice being observed
  • ensuring the student is aware of developments within the subject
  • challenging student teachers assumptions about learning in the subject.

Student teachers also need be aware that the knowledge that they are developing is constructed from a combination of the ‘personal’ (their experiences) and the ‘collective’ (the literature and the professional wisdom of experienced teachers). They need to understand the particular context they are in, how the personalities and backgrounds of the staff has informed the curriculum and pedagogy of the department and how working with different personalities and teams would lead to different approaches.

Reflection point: Think of a situation from your own learning in which you have experienced a dialectic relationship. What were the key features of the relationship? What strategies were used to support the learning?

In thinking of approaches to developing a dialectical relationship, you may have considered the types of questions you may ask, the type of responses you may give and the manner in which you feed back to students. Underpinning any dialectical relationship is the need to recognise the value of the knowledge and understanding of the student teacher, and to appreciate the process of the co-creation of knowledge that results from such a relationship. Key to this is avoiding a power relationship of tutor knowing all the answers and the student teacher purely emulating the wishes of the tutor and mentor without critical consideration of their own knowledge, understanding and skills.

The idea of dialectical relationships resonate closely with the Vygotskyian idea of Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). As Warford (2011) states, student teachers ‘take the facts and appropriate their own meanings by means of cultural tools ... This process ...grows in systematicity and complexity as teacher knowledge is continually re-shaped to accommodate the dynamic nature of schools and classrooms; consequently, a Vygotskyan approach to teacher development sees the education of teachers as situated learning’ (Warford, 2011 p252). Warford sees a Vygotskian approach to ITE as involving a three way conversation between:

  • student teachers’ prior experiences as learners and often tacit beliefs about pedagogy
  • pedagogical content of the teacher education program
  • observations of teaching and learning in the field placements.
(adapted from Warford, 2011)

This three way conversation can lead to tensions, conflicts of beliefs or direct contradictions.