Tag Archives: Quality teachers

KWL and Student Voice

The Know, Want to Know, Learned (KWL) chart is an incredibly important instrument for the Constructivist educator. In the classroom in which I student teach we have used this method a few times, particularly with topics to which students have before been exposed. The KWL chart worked particularly effectively during a lesson on slavery in colonial America in my AP US History class. With an issue as important and charged as slavery, my mentor teacher and I wanted to make sure we weren’t just covering what students already knew about the oppressive institution. We wanted to get them to start questioning deeper into the institution itself — question slavery in ways they had never thought to before.

We began that particular lesson on slavery, then, with students writing down what it was they felt they knew. We then had students write down remaining questions they had about it — what they still wanted to learn, gaps in their own knowledge and understanding. We then asked students to share these questions with the class, and wrote several of them on the board. As students began sharing, more thought up new and thought-provoking questions like how did this all begin? Why African slaves in particular? What about guilt? Morality? Does morality itself change with time? How do we reconcile anachronistic notions of “right and wrong” when studying slavery? Are we willing to forego morality for profit always? Do we do this now? How directly in front of us need oppression be to see it as wrong?

These types of questions got the whole class reeling. They were stimulated by their classmates’ questions, and kept coming up with more of their own. They were so genuinely curious, astonished, confused, and angered by the whole institution in a way I am certain many had not been before. The energy in the classroom was intense — I hadn’t seen anything quite like it before.

When my mentor teacher began showing images to the students of the Middle Passage ships, shackles, whips, the students shifted uncomfortably in their seats. They didn’t keep quiet though. Once the questions had begun, there was no stopping them. The students now knew what they wanted to know, and they wanted their questions answered right then and there. They realized some of their bigger questions would never be satisfactorily answered that day, and that was an important lesson to learn.

At the end of the lesson we asked that students write a third column after “What I know” and “What I want to know,” titled “What I learned.” The students took up the last five minutes of class writing fiercely away. We plan to collect these notes during our next notebook check to see what questions they felt we answered, and what new questions the lesson spurred in them. What we were most interested in, of course, is getting these students to think in a different way — a more investigative, anthropological, intense, critical way — about slavery than they ever had. I think we achieved what we had set out to do. Those KWL charts will certainly tell us more.

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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.

Characteristics of an Effective Educator

Describing the qualities of an effective educator is no easy task. You have to see such an educator in action to best understand the ineffable.

If you were in fact lucky enough to see this particularly fine educator, you’d see one who, while possessing great knowledge of his or her subject, viewed him or herlsef as among equals in the classroom. Effective teachers know they have just as much or more to learn from their students as they do to teach them.

The effective educator knows that he or she is an eternal learner and student as much as he or she is a teacher. Quality teachers aren’t always at the front of the classroom, then – sometimes you’ll find them seated among students, engaged in discussion, other times students are at the front of the classroom as these teachers sit at a desk attentively. The effective teacher may even change up the classroom composition all together so there is no more front, or back, to the classroom at all, just a group of eager learners thinking together.

The effective educator prizes not only knowledge of particular fields, but also – and in some ways, even more importantly – the learned gift of critical thought. While this teacher may present his or her students with information from a variety of texts and sources and facilitate discussion about them, he or she always asks students to dive into deeper inquiry. This teacher expects his or her students to investigate in order to form opinions, and once opinions are formed to forcefully express them and be willing to change them all at once

The effective educator forces students to think for themselves, even when such individual thought seems uncomfortable or daunting, for he or she is always there to help question and contextualize.

The effective educator knows that education spans far beyond the classroom walls. These teachers help arm their students with the skills needed for them to begin and engage fully in meaningful household conversations, community projects, and civic movements. The effective educator leads his or her students out of the classroom, bringing them to new places around the city – the country, the world – and asks students to discover their surroundings – and new places – through innovative projects of investigation.

The effective educator arrives before the school day begins and is present for his or her students long after the school day is through, for he or she knows the job, and learning, extend well beyond the school day. These teachers live and breathe their job, because teaching to them is as integral to their body and soul as breathe itself. This is not to say that the effective educator has no life of his or her own. No, quite the contrary! The teacher must constantly be doing, learning, and growing. Whether it is through a new, challenging social interaction or an eye-opening, educational trip, the effective educator is constantly learning and applying that fresh and gathered knowledge to all aspects of the school environment.

In sum, the most effective educators are committed and open to life-long learning as well as the lessons of their students and the world around them. Though all of that hardly does them justice!