Tag Archives: Effective Teachers

It Can’t be Done Alone: Course Reflection for Professional Issues and Abuse

This fall quarter in Professional Issues and Abuse, EDU 6134, we have explored the practice of teaching and followed it outside of just the classroom walls and into the community at large. There, we have had the opportunity to give thought to the educational community and all its integral parts.

Program Standard 8, Professional Practice, calls for teachers to participate in the educational community around them. It asks teachers to collaborate with coworkers, administrators, families, professional groups, labor organizations, and much, much more in an effort to improve instruction and foment a strong educational community in the public school system.

Teachers can and should seek out (and give) professional guidance from (to) other teachers and administrators. They can and should partner with families and community members to improve student education. And they can and should join professional organizations and advocacy groups to defend and advance our nation’s public school system.

This quarter we explored many different types of professional issues. We started locally and slowly extended our purview. First we looked into the classroom itself, and investigated trouble areas for new teachers, technology-policy, student confidentiality, and appropriate student-teacher relationships. We then shifted our gaze into the school building and local community as we considered strategies for promoting effective relationships with other teachers and with families. We then looked out even further and considered professional organizations and advocacy groups that could offer important resources.

As a new teacher myself, Moir’s (2011) phases for first-year teachers really resonated and got me thinking about how essential it is for the new teacher to create a strong professional community to help them through each and every stage. To do our jobs well, it is important we as new teachers know about mandated professional guidelines, and this course asked that we read up on professional issues and abuse in state guidebooks.

We also focused on how partnerships and collaboration can also help us navigate the teaching world more effectively. Epstein (1995), for instance, showed us the multitude of reasons that we must develop “school, family, and community partners,” emphasizing that “they can improve school programs and school climate, provide family services and support, increase parents’ skills and leadership, connect families with others in the school community, and help teachers with their work” (p. 82). DuFour (2011) demonstrated that teacher collaboration that focuses on department and school-wide strategies is similarly essential to improving instruction and promoting a positive school environment.

Later, this course brought us to research professional organizations that help teachers along in networking and teacher development. In an effort to begin by concentrating on the local and then extend my purview — much like the format of this course — I started by researching organizations close to home and then considered national, and even international, organizations. I took particular interest in the Washington State Council for Social Studies (WCSS), the Washington State AFT chapter and its national AFT affiliate, and Teachers without Borders. Lastly, we researched the mission and accomplishments of the WEA and NEA, which only affirmed my resolve to become an active member of my future professional teachers’ union. These unions defend the merits of public education while protecting its most important advocates, we as teachers.

Ultimately, Professional Issues and Abuse showed me that teaching is a whole lot more than the curriculum we design. It is a profession, complex and multi-dimensional, that depends on collaborative partnerships in and outside of the school building. I learned teachers would be remiss to discount how essential professional protocol and communities are to the teaching profession. Should teachers really come to rely and collaborate on others in the schoolhouse, the community around them, and the local and national organizations founded to protect and serve them, they will find that they have incredible resources and support at their fingertips. These same resources will make them far more effective educators, and the implications of this for student learning are profound.

Well-supported, protected, and resource-rich teachers simply teach better. Fostering positive relationships with families and communities is particularly important to student learning, as students would see that all of those around them who care about them most are allied in their efforts to promote their ongoing education.

In terms of moving forward, I know that I personally want to begin establishing contact with parents, even as a student teacher. I want to design a final project that calls for community participation in some way. Perhaps I will invite community members to watch or judge student presentations. And although I have already met a few times with WEA representatives to talk about membership responsibilities, I want to think more about how next year I can take on some leadership roles for them in the teaching community. I also intend to continue to research and find inspiration from professional organizations, like the WCSS.

My next steps are simple: remember that the teaching profession extends beyond the content of the classroom and into the very fabric of our communities and society at large.

 

References

Defour, R. (2011). Work together, but only if you want to. Kappan Magazine, February 2011 ed., pp. 57-61.

Epstein, J.L. (2010). School/family/community partnerships: Caring for the children we share. Kappan Magazine, November 2010 ed., pp. 65-96.

Moir, E. (2011). Phases of first-year teaching.

Teacher Evaluations: The Case for Some Subjectivity

Despite our best efforts, no evaluation is ever completely objective. This is the case for both student and teacher evaluations. Assessing student work, particularly student writing, is invariably subjective. We as teachers consider individual student growth, motivation, and even “grit.” There is no way to perfectly grade student work, and no perfect rubric could possibly exist to eradicate that problem. But then again, is it a problem? Honestly, genuine evaluations necessarily incorporate subjectivity.

The same goes for teacher evaluations. There is no full-proof way to objectively evaluate teacher performance. If teachers are grading in subjective ways, we can hardly use their grades as an objective determinant in deciding how well they are doing their work, right? Grades, I will also mention, can be easily manipulated and basing a teacher’s performance on classroom grades could actually lead down a dangerous road. Assessing teacher performance on students’ performance on standardized tests could be arguable too objective. As in, these scores do not incorporate student socio-economic obstacles or learning challenges. Again, subjectivity is a natural and integral part of evaluations.

Grades and standardized tests should be incorporated into teacher evaluations, but they themselves should be considered subjective components of that evaluation. Other subjective factors should also go into this — administrative observations, department reviews, student surveys. Adding up several subjective sources will never get us to our desired objective evaluation, but it gives us a great deal more evidence to work with. We should always be asking questions about our evidence, and openly admitting their subjective nature will bette equip us to ask the questions necessary to evaluate their validity. Let’s not, then, depend on any one objective measurement, because it just doesn’t exist. Let’s rely on a compilation of subjective evidence, and question it to piece together a more cohesive, though still complex, story about a teacher and their performance in the classroom.

The Drill Sergeants and Quiz Day Fridays: Classroom Management and the Learning Environment

The Learning Environment program standard stipulates that a teacher must be able to “foster and manage a safe and inclusive learning environment that takes into account physical, emotional and intellectual wellbeing” (SPU Program Standard 5). My Classroom Management course has helped me determine that such a safe space is created through clear classroom expectations, presented to students on the very first day of class. Such expectations create a structure that allows for intellectual liberty and genuine exchange. Within this structure students assume responsibility for their own learning. In my AP U.S History course, for instance, my mentor teacher detailed all of the expectations and procedures of her classroom in a detailed syllabus that she asked students to read on the very first day of school.

In particular, the classroom syllabus addresses Quiz Day Fridays. On Fridays, students are expected to arrive to class having read the textbook chapter for the week. They are also expected to have handed in their “Key Terms”– which ask students to identify and explain the significance of events, people, and concepts that appear in the chapter – at 8am that morning to be stamped in as in “on time.” These key terms  are returned to the students at the start of class.

While the Friday schedule is well detailed in the syllabus, students learned that very first Friday exactly how things were done. As Wong and Wong explain, in a well managed classroom, “Students know what is expected of them and are generally successful” (85) and that first Friday our students learned the ins-and-outs of Quiz Day Fridays.

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So here’s what it looks like. Students walk into the class and are given five review questions right off the bat regarding concepts from the week’s chapter (one such review sheet is pictured above). With their table partner, students begin right away about answering the questions, and are expected to write a paragraph response to the question they find the hardest to answer. Component 5.3 explains that the systems “for performing noninstructional duties are well established with students assuming considerable responsibility for efficient operation,” and students do just this as they set about investigation on their own. Fay and Funk explain that students “have a strong need for control,” and giving students the freedom to answer these tough questions by themselves and choose which question they would like to answer in more detail gives them a sense of ownership and choice within all of the structure of our classroom (28). Students really do cherish that sense of control and choice.

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After half an hour we review the question(s) students grappled with most as a class. Students then get into their “quiz formation” (we sound a little bit like drill sergeants when we call out for students to get in “quiz formation,” hence the photograph of my mentor and her mighty gavel pictured above). Students are old experts by now at their “quiz formation.” They separate their tables, sit on either side of them, place a backpack in the middle between them, and then await patiently for their scantrons and quizzes. As Component 5.2 stipulates, the transitions on these quiz days (and every day) “are seamless with students assum[ing] responsibility in ensuring their efficient operation” (SPU Program Standard 5).

Quiz Day Fridays have allowed me insight into just how important it is to practice these types of routines and procedures. The students like knowing exactly what to expect. The structure of these Fridays actually allow students a great deal of liberty as they go about exploring these review questions on their own and take ownership of each and every transition. I believe my ability to explain and model these expectations for students has developed significantly and I know that I will create clear and established routines such as those used on Quiz Day Fridays in my future classroom.

The effect of this type of structured safe space on student learning is considerable. I watch every week in amazement as these students approach their individual learning in genuine and self-motivated ways. In moving forward, I’m curious to see how I can bring the efficiency and effectiveness of Quiz Day Fridays to other days of the week when I myself am in front of the classroom. I want students to start each day by writing the day’s date and the topic at hand in their Table of Contents for their notebook, and immediately turn to a piece of blank paper — titling it with the date and day’s topic again — ready to take notes and participate in the day’s activities.

I am lucky to have a mentor teacher that has already made expectations for the class so clear. I get to ride on her coattails for now, but the real challenge will come in establishing this type of efficiency and structure on day one in my very own classroom next year.

 

Works Cited:

Fay, Jim & Funk, David. (1995). Teaching with love and logic: Taking control of the classroom. Golden, CO: The Love and Logic Press, Inc.

Wong, Harry K. & Wong, Rosemary T. (2009). The first days of school: How to be an effective teacher. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications, Inc.

The Meeting of the (Founding Fathers’) Minds: A Performance Assessment and Rubric

In my AP U.S. History course, students are now learning about the American Revolution, and the early days of the republic. I think a good assessment for a unit such as this would be a performance assessment, a Meeting of the Minds, if you will, in which the students act as Founding Fathers and discuss the primary issues and compromises they must face as they begin about creating a new republic.

The Meeting of the Minds prompt will look as follows:

Mr. _________ ___________ (I will assign each student a different Founding Father and write their name here),

You have been formally invited to to participate in our great nation’s Constitutional Convention here in Philadelphia in this year of our Lord, 1787. We have many things to discuss regarding the drafting of a viable and long-lasting Constitution. I ask you be prepared to discuss your opinions on several matters including the Articles of Confederation, state versus federal rights, the duties of our federal government, the balance of federal power, legislative representation, and the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

 I look forward to your participation in this momentous meeting.

APUSH students: The person to whom this letter is addressed is your assigned character. You will research his life and political philosophy, and know very well where he stands on each of the issues mentioned above.

You will also be required to research the Constitutional Convention itself and determine what role your character had in the meeting (did he lead it? Did he mobilize others? Did he express his state’s concerns or address federal concerns? Who was he in agreement with?), and use this knowledge to conduct yourself in a historically accurate manner in our 2015 Meeting of the (Founding Fathers’) Minds.

There will be up to 10 points of extra credit for historically accurate costumes. I will be happy to connect you with the theater’s costume department if this is of interest.

The rubric is as follows:

In Character 10

Student knows about their character’s life and theories and responds to the issues addressed at the Convention accurately.

Student never falls out of character.

8

Student knows some about their character’s life and theories and responds to the issues addressed at the Convention mostly accurately.

Student falls out of character only a few times.

6

Student knows some about their character’s life and theories and how they would respond to the issues addressed at the Convention.

Student falls out of character every so often.

4

Student is not dressed as their character.

Student knows only a little about their character’s life and theories and how they would respond to the issues addressed at the Convention.

Student falls in and out of character throughout.

2

Student is not dressed as their character.

Student knows little to nothing about their character’s life and theories and how they would respond to the issues addressed at the Convention.

Student is never in character.

 

Participation

 

 

 

 

 

 

10

Student is constantly engaged in the debate and conversation.

Student offers several new and thoughtful ideas and questions to the floor.

8

Student mostly engaged in the debate and conversation.

Student offers some new and thoughtful ideas and questions to the floor.

6

Student is somewhat engaged in debate and conversation.

Student offers a few new and thoughtful ideas and questions to the floor.

4

Student is hardly engaged in debate and conversation.

Student offers very few new and thoughtful and ideas to the floor.

 

 

2

Student is not at all engaged in debate and conversation.

Students offers no new or thoughtful and ideas to the floor.

Historically Accurate 10

Student acts in character’s role at the Convention accurately.

Ideas and language used are historically accurate and well-researched.

8

Student acts in character’s role at the Convention mostly accurately.

Ideas and language used are mostly historically accurate and well-researched.

6

Student acts in character’s role at the Convention somewhat accurately.

Ideas and language used are somewhat historically accurate and well-researched.

4

Student acts in character’s role at the Convention with little accuracy.

Ideas and language used are not very historically accurate or well-researched.

2

Student acts in character’s role at the Convention inaccurately.

Ideas and language used are not at all historically accurate or well-researched.

Good Citizen 10

Student is always respectful of his or her peers.

Student inspires and allows others in the class to respond and engage respectfully as well.

8

Student is mostly respectful of his or her peers.

Student mostly inspires and allows others in the class to respond and engage respectfully as well.

6

Student is mostly respectful of his or her peers.

Student sometimes pushes and allows others in the class to respond and engage respectfully as well.

4

Student is somewhat respectful of his or her peers.

Student hardly pushes and allows others in the class to respond and engage respectfully as well.

2

Student is not respectful of his or her peers.

Student does not push or allow others in the class to respond and engage respectfully as well.

Total                                  /40

Practice Makes Perfect: Course Reflection on Lesson Planning Theory and Practice in General Inquiry, Teaching, and Assessment

Program standard number 4, Content Knowledge, sets the expectation that we teachers in training know how to design and carry out effective curricula and instruction in our preferred content areas. Such lesson plans must also address some or many content-area state or national standards, so they are coherent and sequential. In order to design appropriate units and lessons, teachers must learn how to plan in organized and methodological ways. Our pedagogical creativity, of course, must also surface out of these well-organized lesson plans, appearing out of our constructivist and innovative ideas for lesson instruction.

All quarter long in our General Inquiry, Teaching, and Assessment (EDU60162) class, we have been working with program standard 4 as a means to learn about the coherent instruction design described above (see also Element 4.4). We began our classroom discussion by learning about the all-important rule of lesson sequencing. Rosenshine (2012) and McTighe and Wiggins (2004) showed us that we must design our units and lessons backwards, thinking first about the Central Focus (CF) of a given unit and the Learning Target (LT) of each lesson. We learned, however, that when developing these central foci we need to think critically about aligning our lessons with state standards and objectives, which ensure that units are cohesive and lessons learned and skills obtained are roughly the same throughout the country (though, as we discussed in class, these lessons and skills will inevitably differ because of individual teacher’s personal touches and flair).

Next, Marzano (2007), and McTighe and Wiggins (2005) again, taught our class that after coming up with the central investigative idea for our lesson, we must design the formal and informal assessments we as instructors will use to ensure our students understand each element of the lesson’s LT. We importantly learned that it is essential to include at least two informal assessments each lesson (McTighe and Wiggins). Only then can we as instructors begin to plan our instructional activities that support the lesson’s LT, unit’s CF, and lesson’s assessments. Contrary to popular belief, then, instructional activity planning really comes last in the lesson planning process. All along the way, we were asked to research lesson plans online in our preferred content area and assess their central foci, assessments, and learning activities, which allowed us the fun opportunity to evaluate and critique without too much responsibility of our own.

This changed, however, once we were asked to write an Evaluation of Content Standards Paper. For this paper, we were responsible for becoming familiar with, analyzing, and writing about the state standards for our particular endorsement area. I personally came to the conclusion that the beauty of content standards is actually in their broadness and the liberty we have as teachers to use them as guiding principles rather than strict and rigid guidelines. Our responsibilities increased still when after a survey of effective instructional practices – which include engaging students in pre-existing knowledge and preconceptions, instructing them in both factual and conceptual frameworks, and leading students through metacognitive practices to check their own learning (reiteration, reiteration, reiteration isn’t a bad idea either!) (National Research Council, 2011) – we were asked to design our own lesson plan using all we had learned thus far. All that analysis we had done of other’s lesson plans online was put to good use, and we thought critically about what worked and didn’t in those plans in order to develop our own.

We focused intensively on these original lesson plans for the rest of the semester, incorporating academic language, student voice, and support for exceptional learners as we went. We used the lessons of the course to organize a clearly structured lesson plan, in which progression of activities was even and time appropriate (see Program Standard 4.4 Example). In class, we enjoyed the opportunity to peer edit each other’s lesson plans, and learned about how collaboration influences lesson design for the good. What we ultimately turned in as our final End-of-Quarter Lesson Plan was a well-polished, thoughtful lesson plan and analysis that addressed a state standard, CF, and LT and integrated formal and informal assessment, supportive learning activities, and opportunities for student voice and differentiated learners.

In sum, we learned a great deal this summer quarter about the theory of effective instructional planning, and by the end of the course got to use some of that knowledge to develop our very own lesson plan. Doing so allowed us to “use content area knowledge, learning standards, appropriate pedagogy and resources to design and deliver curricula and instruction” (Program Standard 4). The implications of this for student learning are profound. If teachers plan their lessons intentionally, carefully, and creatively, students are in for a world of deliberate discovery that will allow for structured, clear, and fun learning activities with explicit functions. If we employ student voice effectively, asking students to think metacognitively about their own learning, and run with their feedback as we should, students will most certainly feel an increased sense of ownership and agency in their own learning. Their voice will be directly incorporated into their curricula, and isn’t that exactly what students have long been asking for?

 As said, our cohort knows a great deal now about lesson planning theory and has practiced it through the development of one in-depth lesson plan. Now we must continue. We must plan for lesson segments, units, and year-long curricula! That is what is in store for us, after all. Now we have the tools to begin such further planning. The hope, of course, is that with enough practice this type of curriculum planning will become second nature and no longer will we have to take half of a quarter to design just one lesson plan. Instead, we’ll be able to plan a whole unit, heck maybe even a year-long curriculum in that same amount of time! I’m looking forward to planning more.

References:

Marzano, R. J. (2007). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

McTighe, J. & Wiggins, G. (2004). Understanding by design. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

National Research Council (2011). How people learn: Bridging research and practice. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Rosenshine, B. (2012). Principles of instruction: Research-based strategies that all teachers should know. In The Education Digest. Ann Arbor, MI: Prakken Publications.

The Foundation of Community Building: Course Reflection for Introduction to Teaching (EDU6918)

This summer quarter in our Introduction to Teaching course (EDU6918), we learned a great deal about program standard number 8, Professional Practice. In my view the Professional Practice standard asks that teachers work collaboratively and in an educational community to think of and implement strategies to improve their own instruction. In particular standard 8.1, “Participating in a Professional Community,” asks that teachers develop relationships with colleagues that are mutually supportive and invigorating. Teachers are active in their school communities, offering constructive feedback and helpful suggestions to colleagues, and asking for the same in return. This productive exchange is what makes our nation’s classrooms all the more enriching.

In our classroom this semester we worked closely together, discussing pedagogical concepts and learning from each other. We spoke, for instance, about the distinct teaching methods detailed in Miller’s (2011) article and beyond, including constructivism, theory of mind, socio-cultural learning, information processing and so on. Coming into class I was most intrigued by educational theories with a “progressive edge” that allowed for direct student agency, communal cooperation, and questioning the traditional ethos of education and knowledge (Hoyt Blog Post, June 2015). What I learned, however, in cooperation with my colleagues, is that there is a place for linear thinking (Miller, 2011, p. 34) and information processing just as there is for the holist approach (Miller, 2011, p. 34) and investigative/student-centered learning (Turner, 2011, p. 125) to which I found myself initially far more drawn. I learned that mixing and matching pedagogical methods, and using all in moderation is key to a dynamic classroom.

As an MA in History, our class’s discussion of educational history (Denton, N/A), education reform (Hunt, 2005) and shifting paradigms (Mehta, 2013) were of particular interest to me. I noticed some of my colleagues needed support in understanding how and why the past and present stories of the educational movement in our country were so important to learn about. I explained to my blog-post “buddies” that to become active members in our own educational communities, and actively practice program standard 8, it is essential we know about our professional history and the contemporary issues that challenge the integrity of our profession today. As comrades in the educational world, we find ourselves entrenched in a battle for the maintenance and revitalization of the American public school system, and it best we know what it is we are working to defend – mainly, continued public access to quality education for all.

It was my turn to look to my classmates for support, however, when our discussion turned to the educational system in Washington State. I grew up in Illinois so the educational system out here in the PNW was all pretty new to me. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction’s report (2011), although intended for laymen, detailed the complex roadmap of the state’s public school system and its financing in too dense of detail, and, quite honestly, didn’t clear up any of my doubts. My classmates helped me navigate the roadmap of Washington state school districts and property taxes as well as negotiate differences between my home state’s educational structure and that of Washington.

After these big idea sorts of discussions, our cohort had the opportunity to turn to each other and begin to assess our particular program’s standards and expectations. We thought up questions together that we still had about the ARC program at SPU, and investigated what was coming our way – from our edTPA portfolios to our upcoming internships to the future professional certificate we were bound to someday need. Although I could sense a bit of frenetic energy around this whole discussion – my colleagues and I wanting to know exactly what we were getting ourselves into and just how it would play out – I also felt my classmates had a way of calming me down. They insisted that they were in the same boat as I and that the faculty and staff at SPU would guide us through every step of this fairly overwhelming process towards certification. They were absolutely right, and I was wise to listen to them (and breathe again).

I felt our classroom this semester was colored by this type of mutual support, the same type of support described in standard 8 of SPU’s teaching program. In class, Dr. Denton often had us turn to our neighbor to discuss reflective prompts, and I always came out of those short discussions knowing a lot more than what I had going in. As a result of the collaborative experience in this course, I feel the educational community within our program and cohort has grown significantly stronger. We looked to each other to investigate the big – such as educational theories, strategies, and history – and the proximate – such as program expectations and assessments – and realized that a great deal of the resources we need were seated right next to us.

This collaborative design for the course will certainly benefit our future students. Our classroom techniques and educational ideas will be informed and changed by our classmates, and our teaching will be better for it. Our students will enjoy the benefit of not just one well-trained professional, but all of the collaborative learning and support that same trained professional received from others equally passionate about teaching in the American educational system.

I think in moving forward, our cohort must remember the collaborative lessons learned in our Introduction to Teaching course, and continue to look to each other as resources in our teacher education. If we want our future schoolhouses to be characterized by faculty collaboration and community, it best we keep practicing this within our own small and talented program. If we want our students to reap the benefits of more dynamic and experimental lesson plans, it best we continue to look to each other for ideas, inspiration, and feedback. We have set the foundation for a professional learning community in this course, and we must continue to build on it for the rest of the year and beyond, bringing this sense of foundational community to all of the future schoolhouses and educational communities of which we find ourselves a part.

References

Denton, D. (N/A). Crisis opportunities and perspectives on American Education. SPU Blackboard Portal Site.

Hunt, T. (2005). Education reforms: Lessons from history. Phi Delta Kappan, September 2005, pp. 84-89.

Mehta, J. (2013). How paradigms create politics: The transformation of American educational policy, 1980-2001. American Educational Research Journal, Vol. 50 No. 2, pp. 285-324.

Miller, D. L. (2011). Curriculum theory and practice: What’s your style? Kappan Magazine, April 2011 ed., pp. 32-39.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction (2011). Organizing and Financing of Washington Public Schools. Seattle: OSPI.

Turner, S. (2011). Student-centered instruction: Integrating the learning sciences to support elementary and middle school learners. In Preventing School Failure (pp. 123-131). Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group.

The Takeaways: Meta-Reflection for Learners in Context

In this summer quarter’s Learners in Context (EDU6132) course, our class has focused on child and adolescent psychological development. Pressley and McCormick (2007) introduced us to several theories of development and how we can apply these to the classroom while Medina (2014) described how it is that the human brain works, and works best. This course has already informed my professional practice, and has gotten me thinking about how I can use the big ideas – and even some of that minutia – we have discussed together as a class as a source of professional growth. This course has also allowed me to explore intellectual diversity in new depth, and has equipped me with more tools to work closely and confidently with exceptional learners.

When I came into this course I knew little about child and adolescent psychological development. I had a broad understanding of some of the big concepts, like the Nature vs. Nurture debate, but not about specific theories that informed such concepts, like Piaget’s developmental stages or Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development. I felt my broad understanding was enough to get me by, but I have realized that the most talented teachers are well versed in psychological theories and are really amateur brain scientists. They learn all they can about their students’ psychological development and learning habits, and use background knowledge of psychological theories and learning techniques to find resources to better serve individual learners.

We began our course this summer quarter with a discussion about the age-old debate of Nature vs. Nurture, and its fruits have colored our classroom discussion board ever since. Pressley and McCormick (2007) importantly argued that humans are in fact born with a range of capabilities, but it is our environment that determines the intellectual potential that we actually achieve (p. 4). Medina (2014) expands on the essentials of a “good environment,” explaining adequate nutrition, sleep, exercise, familial support, and tools to work through chronic stress are necessary for the development of a strong mind.

As a class we spoke in detail about the advantages given to those born into emotionally supportive and financially stable environments. Importantly, we questioned to what degree intelligence hinged on parent involvement and privilege – and found the two are often intertwined. The involved parent, after all, is more apt to find resources for their child to help students struggling find support and students excelling find opportunities for further intellectual growth. While chronic stress can pervade any household, the involved parent knows better how to help their child through trying situations and, although unfairly, the privileged parent has more resources at their disposal to provide needed support. Each student’s natural capabilities and home environments differ, and as educators we must recognize and honor this type of intellectual and social diversity. As an educator I realize that I too have a part in making a child’s environment a better one, and must offer not only intellectual but also emotional support to my students to make sure they have an even better chance of reaching their highest learning potential.

The next discussion that has permeated our classroom message boards throughout the semester has been that of cognitive conflict. Piaget explained that to grow incrementally through the developmental stages, children had to be pushed beyond their already acquired skills and begin exercising the new ones needed for progression. Pressley and McCormick (2007) agree that this cognitive conflict, or push to use still undeveloped new skills, “is necessary for cognitive change to take place” (p. 69). As educators we must push our students to become active participants in their own learning and ask that they flex still untrained muscles. As a class, we discussed that teachers must be cognizant of what Vygotsky calls the zone of proximal development (ZPD), which suggests teachers should engage their students in things that they are close to understanding, but could not accomplish without teacher guidance (Pressley and McCormick, 2007, p. 156). Personally, I plan to scaffold my lessons so that students gradually acquire the skills they need to ultimately perform tasks without my direct facilitation. Once students can perform the given task on their own, I as a teacher know that it is time to move on to tackling the next challenge in partnership with my students.

An important thing I have learned in this course is that no one goes through the cognitive stages of development uniformly – some students take more times, and some are unable to acquire certain skills at all – and as teachers we must think critically about this cognitive diversity and plan our lessons accordingly. We must provide additional support or challenges based on our understanding of our student’s psychological and intellectual needs, and we must always consider how to keep all students, regardless of individual learning needs, cognitively challenged and engaged.

Our class agreed that the tenets of constructivist educational theory allow for this type of cognitive conflict to take place in the classroom. The idea really behind constructivism is that through investigative and exploratory learning, students can construct their own understanding of the world around them. Pressley and McCormick (2007) explain that this individual or collaborative student discovery allows for a “much more complete understanding than…cultural transmission of the same ideas” (p. 84). Medina (2014) insists that we must harness our “natural exploratory tendencies by using ‘problem-based’ or ‘discovery-based’ learning models” in the classroom (p. 12). I plan to use these types of models in my future classroom, encouraging my students to investigate and discover. Perhaps the most impactful comment posted on our discussion board all summer quarter was by my classmate Bonnie Christianson, who said, “The days of ‘teacher talk’ being the bulk of teaching are, I hope, a thing of the past…Ideally, I like to think of myself as a resource/facilitator. I can introduce a topic and then give the students a chance to experiment with new words or concepts” (Classroom Discussion Board, July 2015). I really couldn’t agree more and imagine my future role between the classroom walls as this “resource/facilitator.”

Currently, I am reflecting on the takeaways of this course, or what it is I will remember in the future about it. I think that we as teachers need to constantly think about these takeaways, or the central foci, of a given course or lesson segment. I have been asking myself “what is the point of cognitively challenging my students and asking that they construct their own meaning of the topics we cover together if they are not left with some enduring understanding, some memory of it all?” Here, Medina (2007) helped me a great deal. He agrees that this sort of constructivist, exploratory approach to learning that I have discussed above does more easily allow for a genuine encoding of the information at hand (p.138). He explains that learning is best remembered when it was introduced in meaningful ways and is more easily recalled when the learning process itself is personal, “elaborate, meaningful and contextual” (Medina, 2007, p. 138). In moving forward I will use some of Medina’s prescriptive ideas for memory facilitation such as introducing lessons with an interesting “hook” (p. 140) so the lesson content can be more easily recalled, integrating these so called “hooks” throughout class in small intervals to re-grab student attention (p. 120), using multi-sensory activities (p. 179) to get students activating different parts of their brain, getting students moving (p. 27) to better focus, and reiterating information to help “fix memory” (p. 148).

These and many more ideas will stick with me and inform my teaching practice. Coming into this course I thought an overall grasp of human psychology was sufficient for teaching, but I now understand that a more detailed knowledge of psychological research and effective learning techniques is absolutely essential to be an effective educator. This course has left me better equipped to understand and support diverse student psychology and learning habits. I now have a firmer grasp of the tenets of the Nature vs. Nurture debate and know that I as an educator must support my students both intellectually and emotionally. I now also know that I need to constantly challenge my students through cognitive conflict, and facilitate their cognitive growth. I’ll encourage my students to become active participants in their own learning and help them construct meaning out of the world around them. Ultimately, I hope that each one of my students remembers the big ideas of my course, and uses them to inform and guide future learning endeavors, just as I will with this very course.

Thank you Dr. Youde for a thought-provoking and formative class!

References

Medina, J. (2014) Brain rules: 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home, and school. Seattle: Pear Press.    

Pressley, M., & McCormick, C. B. (2007). Child and adolescent development for educators. New York: The Guilford Press.