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Learning to Practice: The Design of Clinical Experience in Teacher Preparation


"Few would disagree that clinical experience is critical for teacher development. Teaching is, after all, a demanding clinical practice, requiring teachers to orchestrate complex classroom interactions designed to help children learn. While clinical practice rests on a body of professional knowledge, ultimately teachers need to be able to put this knowledge to use in practice. Clinical experiences during professional education provide opportunities for teachers to develop and hone their craft. ...Organizing professional education around the development of clinical skill requires multiple opportunities to practice and get feedback throughout a preparation program. Some of this practice can occur productively in designed settings or simulations. At some point, however, novices need structured opportunities to gain experience in authentic settings of actual teaching practice. Accordingly, all teacher education programs include field experiences in their curriculum; the nature of this experience, however, can vary widely.

One of the challenges to designing professional education around the development of clinical practice is the organizational and institutional fragmentation that surrounds those who are learning to teach. Designing high-quality clinical experiences for prospective teachers requires bridging a number of divides: between professional knowledge and skilled practice; between universities and PK-12 schools; and between the settings in which prospective teachers learn and the contexts of their early years of teaching. This policy brief addresses what is known about high- quality clinical preparation and lays out an argument for investing in professional education that is organized around more coherent systems for cultivating clinical practice."