Developing student teachers' understanding of teaching and pupils' learning : the role of support and challenge in the mentoring of student teachers

Handscomb, Philip B. (2005). Developing student teachers' understanding of teaching and pupils' learning : the role of support and challenge in the mentoring of student teachers. EdD thesis The Open University.



This study focuses on initial teacher education and results from the shift from college-based to school-based training in recent years. Specifically, the course involved is a post-graduate School Based Teacher Training Scheme (SCITT) in which the main participants are school-based training managers and mentors who hold the major responsibility for training trainee teachers. The study incorporates largely ethnographic research drawn from the participants taking part in several one year P. G. C. E. teacher training courses run by a non profit making Consortium, which is comprised of a partnership of secondary, primary and special schools together with colleges of Further Education.

The data is obtained from introductory questionnaires, analysis of
documentation including the trainees' course and subject handbooks and training documents for mentors, and finally audio-recorded interviews with six mentor-trainee teacher pairs.

The study lays a particular emphasis on the role of support and challenge in mentoring and the effect of mentoring on student teachers' professional growth, specifically their understanding of learning to teach and of pupils' learning. The study is constructed around four themes:-
A. Mentoring and Teacher Professional Development.
B. Teachers' and Student Teachers' Beliefs about Teaching.
C. Student Teachers' Subject Knowledge.
D. Mentoring and Children's Learning.

The importance of the study is the need for more research into the complex relationship between support and challenge in the training of student teachers, when the primary training role is that of the school-based teacher-mentor.

The findings are as follows:-
The study highlights the effectiveness of school-centred initial teacher training schemes in producing competent, thoughtful and highly motivated professionals who place children's learning at the centre of their teaching. It also emphasises the importance of the mentor's role in the student's training and professional growth. In the hands of skilful, experienced mentors the process offers the chance that students can become more rounded professionals providing that mentors are adequately trained.

Trainees were more concerned with immediate classroom skills in early stages of their training. In general, the study found unequal amounts of support and challenge from mentors with the focus largely on support for the student, particularly early in the training. Students tend to lack awareness of being challenged. However, the study concludes that to achieve students' optimum professional growth, high levels of support and challenge are necessary. Support not only to engender improvement in classroom skills but also to enable students to have the confidence to express their personal beliefs about teaching and learning.

The study's findings have important implications for mentor training, namely that if mentors were required to be conversant with theories of knowledge advocated by the SCITT and with the social, moral and ethical issues of teaching, they may be more inclined to challenge students' thinking on these issues. Furthermore, students' beliefs are more likely to be challenged by more skilled and knowledgeable mentors who could then help to clarify these beliefs and perceptions of teaching. Consequently, students may be encouraged to reflect critically on children's learning beyond the aim of enhancing their understanding of subject matter and obtaining academic success,to engage the pupils with these public forms of knowledge.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions