Mentoring primary education student teachers: understandings of mentoring and perceptions of the use of formative assessment within the mentoring pqrocess
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This study is concerned with understanding the complexities inherent in the mentoring process. It investigates understandings of mentoring primary education student teachers within a school placement context. Further, it explores understandings and perceptions of the use of formative assessment principles and practices to support professional learning within that process. In addition, it aims to identify salient implications for mentoring practices within Initial Teacher Education. Within an instrumental, collective case study, a purposeful sampling strategy was employed in terms of selecting student teachers at a particular stage on a specific programme (an undergraduate primary education degree), their class teacher mentors, and their placement school management level and local authority mentors. Semi-structured interviews were used alongside a constructivist grounded theory approach to data analysis and theory generation (Charmaz, 2006). Current Scottish education policy is used to frame and exemplify points made with a variety of national and international literature employed to analyse findings and suggest recommendations for future mentoring research, policy and practice. Findings indicate that participants understood mentoring as a multidimensional process involving a range of relationships designed to support the mentoring of student teachers within a school placement context. Four relationships, which differ in terms of extent and form/function, are evident: class teacher mentor/mentee; school management mentor/class teacher mentor/mentee; school/university and local authority/school. These relationships appear to range in proximity from close to barely existent. The key relationship is that between class teacher mentor and mentee. Findings further suggest variability in understandings of formative assessment. Most participants were comfortable in describing its forms through examples of classroom practice. However, talking about function (why it is used) was an area of uncertainty. Participants also understood formative and summative assessment as connected processes. Several professional learning sources were cited as the bases of their understandings. With regard to perceptions of the use of formative assessment, findings suggest that it was used within the main mentoring relationship between class teacher mentors and mentees. Responses indicate that it was employed subconsciously in contrast to the structured, explicit way it is used with school pupils. Furthermore, participants viewed it as potentially helpful in the professional learning of mentors and mentees through strategies such as dialogue, self-evaluation and peer assessment. It was noted that support was required to develop the use of formative assessment within the mentoring process. In this respect, participants were able to articulate how it might be implemented with reference to specific professional learning mechanisms, however, were unsure about what its content might be. Based on findings, recommendations for policy and practice in the area of mentor education and partnership within Scottish Initial Teacher Education are suggested to foster a more cohesive, informed approach to mentoring student teachers. Future directions for research emerge in terms of the use of a variety of mentors from within and outwith school placement contexts, investigation of the role of the university tutor within emerging enhanced partnership arrangements, and an exploration of how formative assessment might be more consciously integrated into the mentoring process.