Field Instructor Competency
Exploring the Match Between the Student and Field instructor
Field Instructor Self-Assessment
Learning and Teaching Styles
Before Beginning the Practicum
Beginning the Practicum
Learning Contract Information
Learning Contracts and Reflective Journals
The following suggestions are offered to field instructors to support the student to give genuine feedback about the teaching style / method of the field instructor. This feedback occurs within a climate that promotes ongoing mutual feedback.
- Explicitly state to student that feedback is valued.
- Be aware of incongruence between what the student states and non-verbal cues.
- Help the student to normalize and express difference.
- Respond to student feedback by exploring the issue.
- Help the student give constructive and concrete feedback on a regular basis.
- Help the student identify alternative field instructor behaviors.
- Provide a personality interpretation of the student's behavior. Defend your actions.
- Become punitive, withdrawn, or cold.
- Engage in selective hearing; ignore clarifying message
- Ignore an agreed plan
- Give subtle cues that convey "don't criticize me".
The following suggestions are offered to students to assist them in providing useful feedback to the field instructor about his/her instructional style/method. This feedback occurs within the context of a climate that encourages mutual feedback.
- Explicitly state your understanding to field instructor that student feedback is expected and will be valued.
- Ask the Instructor for input about the most productive ways in which feedback can be given .
- Express openly whatever apprehensions you have about giving feedback to this 'authority/power figure' and encourage any necessary discussion about this.
- Provide the feedback at scheduled times, as agreed, but also provide important feedback in a timely fashion (i.e. before too much time elapses).
- State in behavioral terms the things that the Instructor does/says that are useful to your learning.
- Identify those things that you wish the field instructor would do more frequently.
- Make suggestions about new things that would also be helpful to your learning, or identify things that are not helpful to your learning.
- Ask your field instructor for input about your feedback skills
- Be willing to listen to and explore the field instructor's responses.
- Strive to reach understanding around points of differences.
- Verbally attack the field instructor.
- Become hostile, withdrawn, or defensive when dyadic exchanges seem unproductive or the instructor’s feedback is not what you had anticipated.
- Selective hearing or not clarifying your understanding of the message.
- Give feedback in a general, vague manner or make no effort to provide any feedback
The exploration of learning preferences should begin as early as possible. The matching interview is an ideal place to begin to at least verbally explore this area. It is critical, however, that field instructors take an active, explicit role in explaining that differences in learning styles can develop into a complementary learning relationship when preferential or developmental matching occurs. To assist in developing this complementary learning relationship, please see the document below which contains a Self-Assessment of Preferred Learning Style, Basic Learning Strategies, and the Learning Environment:
This evaluation form is designed to assist Field Instructors to assess their own performance and identify areas for self-improvement. It is for a field instructor's own use and is not a requirement for field instruction, although it is recommended. We suggest that field instructors complete (or at least review) this evaluation early in practicum commencement and then repeat and compare at the end of practicum. Field instructors may want to also ask students for feedback on some of these items.
The Practicum Office encourages feedback on areas where we need to strengthen our teaching on behalf of field instructors.
Field Instructor Self-Assessment
The Field Instructor should consider the following in order to prepare for the Practicum:
- Review the ITP loop literature, the Field Instructor Questionnaire and the Learning Self-Assessment
- Prepare the organization / department colleagues for the arrival of an MSW student, the structure of an MSW practicum and their role (if any)
- Ensure space / logistics are in order. Because of the confidential nature of the work that MSW students often engage in with their clients and patients, access to private meeting space is required. It is preferred that student's have their own offices, where possible.
- Prepare reading / resource material, assignments and activities for the initial orientation period to facilitate student engagement
- The student and field instructor should be familiar with the Practicum Manual, specifically the social work practice competency behaviors.
- The student should bring any recent practicum evaluations to share with the field instructor and use these to begin to identify their learning needs.
- The field instructor should introduce the student to key staff in the setting and orient the student to the agency environment.
- The field instructor should orient the student to the agency or arrange for the student to attend orientation sessions. Orientation includes:
- relevant legislation mandating and regulating practice in that agency
- confidentiality and privacy directives
- agency philosophy and mission;
- risk management/personal safety policies
- agency procedures, including anti-oppressive practices regarding clients, personnel, and students;
- the organizational structure (i.e., board, executive director, supervisors, and staff) and decision making process;
- the community context within which the setting functions (i.e., characteristics, resources, special issues); he nature of the population served;
- designation of a specific colleague who will be available as back up should the field instructor not be on site and a client emergency arises.
- The students and field instructor should review pre-practicum negotiation discussions and clarify expectations regarding:
- hours of attendance at the setting;
- agency recording procedures and requirements;
- agency procedures relevant to the student's service delivery role;
- attendance at field instruction sessions, staff meetings, educational seminars, etc.
- under no circumstance may a student see clients if designated professional staff are
not available as back up.
- the respective roles and responsibilities in field instruction. Some discussion of learning and teaching styles and preferences can assist in clarifying expectations and designing the practicum.
- set a regular instructional time (approximately 1 to 1&1/2 hours a week);
- discuss how the agenda for these conferences will be set;
- clarify expectations about what materials will be used in these sessions (e.g., tapes, reports), how they are to be prepared, and when they are to be submitted;
- clarify what forms of recording will be used (e.g., on which clients, tasks, or projects will the student submit tapes, write reports, be observed).
- assign clients, tasks, or projects, ideally within the first two-three weeks. Field instructors must have the opportunity to have direct access to students’ work (e.g. direct viewing, tapes, recording, reports).
The Practicum Office strongly advocates an educational model that incorporates field practice knowledge based on learning style theory. Knowledge of a student's learning style preference will give both implicit and explicit ideas of how to individualize teaching approaches. Field instructors familiar with their own learning style can also begin to reflect on how these learning preferences become transferred into teaching practices.
What is a learning style?
Schultz defines learning style as the "...way an individual learns best, considering a number of relevant factors, such as preferred environment, emotional and social setting, need for structure, cultural influences, preferred sensory modalities, reasoning patterns, and memory factors" (Fox & Guild, 1987, p. 68). Our learning style is consistent over time and across learning contexts.
As learners we need to be capable of four basic functions; however, not everyone is equally accomplished in each function.
- The ability to think clearly and logically;
- The ability to feel and respond emotionally to people and experiences;
- The ability to respond to the immediate and act as necessary;
- The ability to imagine, envision, create (Fox & Guild, 1987).
Our learning style preferences are influenced by several contributing factors including heredity, life experiences, and the demands of the environment.
Why is learning style important in social work education?
Both qualitative and quantitative studies demonstrate a similar outcome: learning is enhanced if learning and teaching styles match. Dunn (1986) found most students could identify their preferred learning style. Farr (1971) found college students could accurately predict the teaching style, which would help them achieve better grades. Subsequently he and others (Domino, 1979) demonstrated that students score higher on objective criteria such as grades, and test scores when taught in their preferred learning orientation.
Since students report the practicum as their most significant learning experience and the field instructor as their most influential teacher (Tolson & Kopp, 1988) it is critical to maximize the learning potential. Knowledge of how to use learning style theory should enhance practicum learning.
Assessment of learning style preference
There are two ways to determine learning style using an intuitive, self-reflection method or a more formal testing approach. There are numerous tests to elicit learning style preference; however, one of the most popular and easily self-administered tests of Kolb's Learning Style Inventory (1981). It also has great relevance for social work because it acknowledges a need for conceptual, behavioural, and emotional components in learning. Similarly, as practitioners, we use these components in a parallel process to assess policy and practice issues from a client's perspective.
Kolb conceptualized four learning orientations:
- Concrete experiential: strength is emotional attunement to self and environment.
- Reflective observation: strength is objective watching/thinking to develop an integrated perspective.
- Abstract conceptualization: strength is logical thinking to analyze, hypothesize.
- Active experimentation: strength is immediate responding; testing out ideas.
These four orientations are located along a bi-polar continuum consisting of reflective-active and concrete-abstract dimensions. In determining learning style the highest score on each of these continua is taken to form a profile of the learner's preferences.
Which learning style is most appropriate in social work?
Since effective social work practice requires a blend of theory-practice integration all four orientations are critical in learning. As practitioners operating from a micro, mezzo, or macro framework we must be aware of our own and others' subjective/emotional reactions to events (CE); we must take time to reflect and synthesize multiple pieces of data, perspectives, and values (RO); this data synthesis will allow us to form conclusions and make informed decisions for planning (AC); and finally we need to take action to test these ideas (AE).
However, although all four orientations are critical to social work practice it may be that a particular orientation more appropriately matches the learning task (e.g., learning communication skills, writing a brief) or the learning environment (e.g., crisis unit, policy unit).
As social workers and social work students, we should strive to become equally accomplished in all four orientations. Equally important is our commitment to consciously select and employ the learning orientation, which matches the environmental context or learning task.
Does social work have a predominant learning style?
It should be noted that the scattered studies which have actually examined social workers' learning orientations have borne conflicting results. Kolb & Fry (1975) found social workers were predominantly active and experiential as did Miller and Kennedy (1979). Still another study by Kruzich, Friesen & Van Soest (1986) found graduate social work students and field instructors were more likely to favour experiential-reflective modes, while undergraduate social work students preferred an active-experiential style.
To match or not to match?
Although learning is enhanced when teaching and learning styles match there are times where matching is not appropriate (e.g., learning environment/task demands another mode) or not desirable (e.g., student is encouraged to broaden his/her styles).
Developmental matches occur when the student is asked to adapt to the preference of the learning environment (i.e. actual agency context or field instructor). In these situations it should be openly acknowledged with students that a mismatch is occurring and to encourage them to express freely their discomfort. Emotional support and encouragement are helpful at these times. Joyce (1986, p. 26) impels instructor to "...help the learner reach into those (learning style) domains which are shrouded in fear".
Finally, the learning environment (i.e. agency context or the field instructor) and the student may need to mutually re-evaluate the best teaching style to teach specific content. This may mean an adaptation on both sides. An example may illustrate better: A student who prefers an active mode enjoys one-way mirrors and the opportunity for immediate intervention suggestions. Similarly a field instructor may favor a correspondent learning style; however, an important learning component is omitted if there is no provision for the field instructor-student dyad to spend some time together in critical reflection (RO) and theory integration (AC). Without the discussion and conceptualization learning would be limited and fragmented; yet this procedure may require both parties to engage in less preferred learning styles.
Teaching style refers to how we transmit learning data to others (Gregorc, 1979). Regardless of information content most of us have a preferred way to teach and consequently the same data can betaught employing several methods; however, our preferred method of teaching usually reflects our learning style orientation (Dunn & Dunn, 1979; Hunt & Gow, 1986). Knowledge of our learning style can alert us to how we teach.
As a field instructor try to reflect on four important questions before engagement in student teaching:
- What is my preferred learning style?
- What content do I need to teach and how?
- What is the student's preferred learning style?
- Given the interaction of the student's preferred learning style, my own learning orientation, and the present teaching task, am I using the most appropriate teaching style for this educational process?
To illustrate the critical link between learning style preference and teaching style behaviour some short examples are given when over-reliance on one learning style may result in restricted student learning:
- As an active learner am I inclined to encourage students to link theory to practice? In field instruction do I usually take a very active, leading role or do I become more inactive and expect the student to responsibly contribute their ideas, hunches, or doubts?
- As a conceptual learner do I encourage risk-taking and creativity in students' thinking and actual work? Do I actively elicit students' feelings about the learning environment of the agency, the interactive process of field instruction, and their feelings around the professional and client assignments?
- As an experiential learner do I also help students to know when their feelings may be lacking objectivity or blocking work progress? Do I sometimes struggle too much with the dilemma of knowing a student is anxious or feeling overwhelmed with practicum/academic workloads and tend to judge all practicum assignments from the student's perspective rather than an educational focus? How actively do I encourage a theory-practice integration?
- As a reflective learner do I rely more on informal discussion, readings, written process recordings, or thinking to observe student progress? Do I take a more active role in teaching and encourage students to observe my own work? Can I help students to sometimes quickly act on sound intuition?
Of course, field instruction teaching style will also be influenced by a student's stage of learning. A Year 1 student may need much emotional support in the very beginning of practicum and the encouragement to be creative or risk take may sound overwhelming. At this stage also Instructor may have to take a more active role in agenda planning for field instruction.
The Learning Environment section provides concrete examples of what types of teaching methods are generally preferred by learners with each of the four distinct learning style orientations.
Contracting in the practicum
Learning Contracts or Agreements
A learning contract is a document developed by the student and field instructor to focus and structure the practicum. It specifies what and how a student will learn within a given period of time. The contract describes the structure of the practicum in respect to: a) learning objectives; b) learning assignments and activities to be used to achieve objectives; and c) relevant indicators or methods for evaluation. Though based on the field objectives of the Faculty, the contract individualizes a student's learning program in a particular agency. The contract will define the roles and norms for participation in field instruction. Formulating a learning contract is an ongoing process. The written contract serves to formalize the expectations, assignments, resources, and evaluation procedures.
The formal contract, as well as the specified learning objectives, will assume a particular meaning depending on the student and the setting. It is important for the field instructor and the student to work together to individualize the contract, recognizing particular learning needs, styles and resources. Therefore, the learning contract is developed mutually between the student and field instructor. Students’ input ensures that the contract is a meaningful document, which reflects their areas of professional interest. The input of the field instructor ensures that these personalized goals are defined realistically in the context of the practicum and that the field instructor's assessment of the student’s learning needs is taken into account.
The social work practice competencies define the learning expectations for students in the practicum. These expectations are defined in behavioral terms. The competency behaviors can be used to clarify the student's learning objectives. The learning contract and objectives should be used as an ongoing tool in the practicum experience. Objectives, expectations, learning resources, and progress should be monitored regularly using the contract as a guideline. Individual students and instructors should be creative in their development and use of the contract.
To assist the student and field instructor in developing specific tasks and objectives for contracting the following methods are suggested:
A. Observation of the field instructor by the student
Observation of the field instructor's work (e.g. client interview, committee meeting) should be followed by a discussion of the student's observations. In this way field instructors can begin to develop some idea about the student's ability to conceptualize and assess the interaction.
B. Observation of the student by the field instructor
Observation of the student's work by the field instructor may take place through co-participation in a client interview or meeting, observing through a one-way mirror, listening to an audio tape, watching a video tape, attending a presentation etc.. Through discussion about the situation and the student's practice behaviors, field instructors will have an opportunity to assess the student's ability to conceptualize and their level of interpersonal skill. From observation and discussion sequences, field instructors and students will be able to develop specific learning objectives, which can then be formalized in a written contract. It is likely that new learning objectives will be established as the student continues to be observed and practice. These objectives should be added to the contract.
C. Observation of the student by others
Observation and feedback of the student's work by another person(s) may be mutually agreed upon by the student, field instructor, and designated other. This designated person should be provided with some concrete suggestions of what types of activities should be observed (e.g., frequency of meeting participation, use of specific communication skills).
*Bogo, Marion & Elaine Vayda. The Practice of Field Instruction in Social Work: Theory and Process, Second Edition. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.
The learning contract should be read and acknowledged by all parties and submitted. Student, field instructor and Educational Coordinator should retain a copy for their own records.
In developing their contract, all students must use either a ‘goals, activities and criteria approach’ or a ‘learning objectives approach’; information follows.
Planning to Learn: Reproduced with permission of publishers from Horejsi, R and Garthwait, C. (1999). The social work practicum: A guide and workbook for students Allyn and Bacon: Toronto.
Goals for learning
- To become familiar with terms such as learning goal, learning objective, and learning activity; use these ideas to construct a plan for practicum learning;
- To become familiar with a format for writing a plan for practicum learning (a learning contract or a learning agreement);
- To identify learning goals and objectives relevant to your social work practicum setting;
- To identify learning activities relevant to your practicum setting;
Good learning experiences do occur by accident, but not very often. For them to happen on a regular basis they must be made to happen. Thus, a good social work practicum experience is usually one that has been carefully planned;
As you begin your practicum, it is important to list your desired outcomes for learning and then identify and arrange activities and experiences that will help you reach those goals. A well-conceived learning plan will result in a challenging, exciting, and worthwhile learning experience. If you do not develop a plan, you may waste an invaluable learning opportunity.
In this chapter we provide basic information, guidance, and a workbook activity that can assist you to develop a plan for learning. This plan will be extremely useful, but it is also important to recognize that not everything will go as planned.
A plan for learning during the practicum is like a road map. It identifies destinations and possible routes for getting where you want to go. The development of this plan is important, but it is not a simple or easy task. However, it is always better to have a plan - even if it is a rather general one-than to have no plan at all.
A plan for learning will incorporate educational outcomes or goals from three sources: the school's curriculum, the practicum instructor, and the student. These goals will usually fall into three categories: values, knowledge, and skills.
A value is a strong preference that affects one's choices, decisions, and actions and that is rooted in one's deepest beliefs and commitments. Values determine what a person considers important, worthwhile, right or wrong. Social work values (e.g. service, social justice, integrity) can be learned or "caught" form others, but it is doubtful that others can teach them in a systematic and deliberate way. Typically, our values are "picked up" from observing someone who is respected and admired.
Social work knowledge consists of terminology, facts, principles, concepts, and theories. Compared to values and skills, knowledge is easier to teach and learn. The classroom is well suited to the teaching and learning of social work knowledge.
Social work skills are the behaviors of practice. They are the techniques and procedures used by social workers to bring about desired change in the social functioning of clients. For the most part, skills are learned by watching and imitating the behavior of skilled practitioners. One can learn about skills from a textbook, but one cannot acquire skills simply by reading about them.
It is possible to separate social work values, knowledge, and skills for purposes of discussion and analysis, but in the actual practice of social work, they are interwoven. For example, one's skill (action, behaviour) is a reflection of one's knowledge and values; likewise, the possession of social work knowledge and values is of little use unless they are expressed in action.
Below we describe two approaches to the formulation and writing of a plan for practicum learning. Different schools may prefer one over the other or use some other alternatives. The first approach we call the Goals, Activities, and Criteria Approach. This is the one we prefer because it is easiest for most students and agency personnel to implement. The second approach we call the Learning Objectives Approach. It has some advantages, but is more difficult because it requires greater precision in the use of words.
The ‘goals, activities and criteria’ approach
In this approach, the written plan lists separately:
- relevant goals;
- the specific activities or experiences that will help the student progress toward each
- those learning goals;
- criteria for determining whether the specified goals have been reached.
A goal is a rather broad and general statement of intended outcome. For example, a learning goal might be: "To become familiar with the history of a social agency." Another would be: "To develop the skills of interviewing." The following verbs often appear in goal statements:
- to know
- to perceive
- to develop
- to discover
- to value
- to learn
- to become familiar with
- to analyze
- to comprehend
- to acquire
- to understand
- to appreciate
- to explore
- to synthesize
- to become
Once the goals have been specified, various learning activities are listed in the second column. A learning activity is some specific task, activity or assignment that, when performed by the student, will help him or her advance toward a learning goal.
Finally, a third column is added for statements that describe the method and criteria for evaluating progress toward the goal Two common methods of documenting and evaluating progress are listing proposed dates for completing the task or assignment and stating that the work is to be reviewed and critiqued by the practicum instructor.
The ‘learning objectives’ approach
A second approach to preparing a plan for practicum learning involves the writing of numerous statements termed learning objective. Although the terms goal and objective are often used interchangeably, they do not mean the same thing.
A learning objective is a statement of desired outcome written in a way that allows measurement. An objective is more precisely worked, specific, and concrete than is a goal. It stipulates what the learner will do. The following statement is a learning objective.
“To learn the policies of my agency by reading the agency manual two times prior to October 15 and to write at least twelve questions about agency policy to be asked of my supervisor before November 1.”
A learning objective brings together in a single outcome statement a goal, a description of learning activities, and evaluation criteria. The writing of an objective can be a challenging task. Such writing requires the use of behavioural language. A behaviour is an activity that can be observed. Drawing on the above example, we recognize that it is not possible to observe "learning", but it is possible to observe the activity of "reading", the "writing" of twelve questions and the "asking" of those questions. The use of completion dates and the counting of completed tasks and activities can often transform an immeasurable goal into a measurable objective.
The words and phrases used in writing objectives are ones that describe specific actions and activities. For example:
- to list
- to collect
- to decide
- to discuss
- to count
- to supervise to select
- to define
- to arrange
- to conduct
- to locate
- to write
- to revise
- to verify
- to compare
- to give examples
- to compile
- to circulate
- to direct
- to obtain
- to schedule
- to answer
- to classify
- to summarize
When selecting and writing learning objectives, it is important to remain focused on outcomes that are truly important and relevant to the learning of social work practice. Although being able to measure progress is desirable, one must avoid becoming so preoccupied with trying to achieve measurability that the focus shifts to outcomes that are most easily measured rather than most important.
Please use the Learning Contract template provided here. The sample Learning Contracts have been removed.