Tag Archives: Takeaways

Pairing Theory and Practice: Course and Internship Reflection for EDU 6136 Content Methods

In EDU6136 Content Methods this quarter, I have had the great privilege of learning about the pedagogical theories in the educational field that address Program Standard 4, Content Knowledge. The Content Knowledge standard requires that teachers use their understanding of not only their content area and its learning objectives or standards, but also know how best to teach the content to achieve those standards. This requires that teachers learn about and practice the pedagogical processes and resources available to truly impact student learning. This course has exposed me to a wide range of pedagogical approaches, but my internship placement has allowed me to actually apply several of these theories – from assessing prior knowledge, scaffolding, and deepening understanding – to practice.

While I had read Dochy et al. (1999), and believed I fully understood the importance of assessing students’ prior knowledge, I learned quickly in my internship that I wasn’t doing enough to apply this in practice. I was teaching my AP U.S. History students about Eugene V. Debs and the American Socialist Party, and had wrongly assumed we could dig right into a speech of his entitled “Winning the World” about how socialism would ultimately overtake capitalism. Luckily, I did begin the lesson with a KWL chart and quickly picked up on my students’ misguided impressions of the political theory of socialism – I saw my students had conflated the definition of socialism with that of communism. I ditched the planned lesson in order to work with students on coming up with a working definition of socialism. Had I assessed prior learning about the subject earlier, I would certainly have planned a Concept Instruction lesson to help students grapple with the theory on their own with prepared resources. I certainly learned my lesson, and learned that the next time I read about something related to pedagogical practice, I better take note and apply it in my internship!

I was reminded of this again when I read about scaffolding in this course. De Pol et al (2010), for instance, summarize decades’ worth of research on scaffolding in saying, “In general, scaffolding is construed as support given by a teacher to a student when performing a task that the student might otherwise not be able to accomplish” (p. 274). As I thought about scaffolding, I wondered how often I actually gave students too much support, and failed to really challenge them within Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (De Pol, 272). I thought, for instance, how in my AP U.S. History class we give the students time to grapple with review questions before taking a weekly quiz on the contents of the textbook chapter they have just read, and how I often answer several questions without challenging my students to think critically on their own first. De Pol (2012) and others works reminded me that teachers are really just there to facilitate learning, not to give the answers away. With time, and trying to more intentionally apply theory to my practice in my internship placement, I have begun to challenge my students to look in the text themselves or ask each other before coming to me. What a difference that has already made!

Later, as I read the works of Caram and Davis (2005), Goldsmith (2013), and Roberts and Billings (2009) about the importance of asking high quality questions to deepen student understanding, and welcoming questions, conversation, and debate to encourage student engagement, I already knew a little better. My mentor teacher had stressed to me the importance of question asking from day one. She had modeled for me the turn-and-talk in pairs technique, which allows students to bounce thoughts about a given question off of each other before offering them up to the class. I saw how this technique facilitated more open and thoughtful conversation. When I read of this very technique called “Think, Pair, Share” in Goldsmith’s (2013, p.50) research, I recognized it immediately. Additionally when I read Roberts and Billings (2009) work on Socratic seminars and stimulating “conversations that teach” (p.83), I found again that I knew this practice well. In my AP U.S. History course we have hosted seminar discussions on topics from the Declaration of Independence to what it is that Jacob Riis’s work and The Gangs of New York can reveal about the Gilded Age. Currently, I am planning a Socratic Seminar for my students (see below for directions) in which they need to come in as Civil Rights Movement activists and stay in character for the whole of the open discussion – presenting and defending their position on the proper course of the movement.

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It is amazing how theory informs practice (and vice versa)! As I moved forward in the course, I recognized more and more of the strategies we studied, and more intentionally applied them in my internship classrooms. My Content Knowledge skills improved signficiantly as I learned and then practiced how best to teach the information in my classroom. By the time we got to talk about feedback at the end of the semester, for instance, I had already given my students in my AP Language and Composition class substantive comments on creative performance pieces they had presented for the entire class. I typed 1/3-page responses to each and every one of the students about their piece, encouraging them and challenging them with additional questions to grapple with. It took a very, very long time, but I was thrilled I had done it, and had again lined educational theory about skillful feedback to practice.

In going forward, I know I will more intentionally recognize and apply these content method techniques in my internship classrooms in order to further impact student learning. As they say, we learn as we go. In this program I have realized that I learn through both theory and practice, and this course has given me the opportunity to think critically about how best to pair the two.

 

References:

Billings, L. & Roberts, T. (2009). Speak up and listen. Kappan Magazine, October 2009 ed., pp. 81-85.

Caram, C & Davis, P. (2005). Inviting student engagement with questioning. Kappa Delti Pi Record, Fall 2005 ed., 19-23.

De Pol, J., Volman, M., and Beishusen, J. (2010). Scaffolding in teacher-student interaction: A decade of research. Educational Psychology Review. 22, pp. 271-296. DOI 10.1007/x10648-101-9127-6.

Dochy, Filip, et al. (1999). The relation between assessment practices and outcomes of studies: The case of research on prior knowledge. Review of Educational Research, Summer 1999, Vol. 69, No. 2, pp. 145-186.

Goldsmith, W. (2013). Enhancing classroom conversation for all students. Kappan Magazine, April 2013 ed., pp. 48-52.

 

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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.

Bloom’s Taxonomy and Formative Assessment

Currently I am student teaching for an AP U.S. History course (popularly referred to as “APUSH”) at Roosevelt High School in the Seattle School District. I had an important sit-down with my mentor teacher early in the year about how assessments worked in a class as rigorous and expansive as this. I learned that each and every Friday, students would turn in “Key Terms,” which consist of twenty terms taken from the chapter of the textbook. Students are to identify each term and determine their significance. In the last twenty minutes of class every Friday, students were to take a chapter quiz on these same key terms. Some questions would necessitate a closer reading than others, but the tests were designed to test not only chapter reading, but chapter comprehension.

At first I wasn’t all too stoked about the idea of weekly quizzes. “A quiz every precious week just to check in on pretty wry textbook readings?” I wondered. It wasn’t until I saw this in action that I understood why these quizzes were essential to genuine engagement in other aspects of the course. As my mentor teacher had explained, these quizzes tested students’ knowledge — their retention and understanding of the topics at hand. The Key Terms facilitated the jump from Bloom’s first taxonomy category: Remembering, to the second: Understanding. The quizzes added the necessary pressure to ensure students developed the knowledge of the perhaps somewhat dry information they would certainly need to engage more fully in the more colorful and complicated issues of History.

Class time allowed for students to apply this knowledge gained from studying up for weekly quizzes to more timeless concepts. We must know something of the Founding Fathers before we can analyze their prescription for freedom, after all. So it is in the classroom itself that students in this course have the freedom to explore Applying and Analyzing, the next two on the list of Bloom’s taxonomy. From there, my mentor explained, we can ask students to engage more fully with history, and ask them to think for themselves: to evaluate historical events and create their own judgements on the past. Students can more comfortably engage in big questions like “Did the Founding Fathers’ vision for the United States in fact materialize?” with the knowledge and comprehension the quizzes solidify under their belts. Students must depend on their understanding of the Founding Fathers and their vision of freedom to effectively evaluate its impact and presence in today’s world.

Unit tests, papers, and projects in the course test for things much bigger than just raw knowledge — that’s what those pesky Key Terms and quizzes are, after all! In these unit tests, papers, and projects, my mentor teacher explained, students have the freedom to explore and interpret historical happenings and concepts. Unit tests consist of short and long essay responses and document-based interpretations. Papers ask students to formulate arguments about times’ past, and substantiate such arguments with evidence. Projects allow for genuine creativity and extrapolation — students have the chance to dress up and act as historical figures, engage in debate about the very same complex topics that echoed in Congress halls, and even get to create historical scenarios of their own making in a presentation on the “what if’s?” of history. In this last project, students get to formulate and research questions such as: What would have happened had Hitler not invaded Russia? Or had Roosevelt lived to the age of 90? Or had the United States opted not to fight in the Vietnam War? These other types of assessments depend on the knowledge gleaned from the course’s infamous Key Terms and quizzes. How would students know which question to ask of History if they didn’t know what had already happened?

And so, while the formative assessments of knowledge are perhaps not the most exciting parts of teaching, they are absolutely essential to explore those more stimulating and creative aspects of the classroom. My mentor teacher can bring the class to a whole different intellectual and exciting level all because she uses formal, formative assessment to ensure students are keeping up with, remembering, and comprehending the textbook reading.

From the textbook we make our way into the historical inquiries and argumentation of Howard Zinn’s A Peoples History and Richard Hofstadter’s American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It. We begin with a discussion of Zinn’s first chapter on Monday, and I can hardly wait to see what these students come up with!

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 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.