As I work my way through the Curriculum and Instruction program at Seattle Pacific University, I find my capacity for self-reflection increasing in prodigious ways. Now, I don’t mean prodigious in the extraordinary or phenomenal or even exceptional sense, I truly am not that smitten with my own thinking. When I say prodigious, I mean huge, profuse and copious; I’m talking about the sheer quantity of writing, reflecting, and writing on the reflecting that I’m engaged in at any particular moment of my waking (and sleeping) day. While this absorption with reflective thought does not lend itself to a restful night sleep, it is nonetheless a critical aspect of learning. It is through metacognition, or thinking about one’s own thinking, that that we are able to strengthen the neural networks and pathways that solidify and strengthen our knowledge so we are better able to make future connections… I could go on, but that’s a discussion for a different metareflection. What I will focus on is what I’ve discovered about instruction that engages students and perhaps even more importantly, myself as a learner and educator in EDU 6526 Survey of Instructional strategies. This course meets the requirements of Standard 4 in the C & I program, namely pedagogy, which is essentially the day-to-day teaching and instructional aspect of education:
C & I Standard 4: Engages students in learning experiences that are meaningful, stimulating, and empirically proven to promote intellectual growth.
It seems that the best way to approach thinking about the learning I’ve engaged in this quarter is to begin with what Steven Covey would recommend, the end in mind; a review of the course objectives and how I feel I have met each through my weekly WordPress blog entries and discussion board musings.
1. Examine pedagogical styles and instructional strategies that have widely influenced educational practices.
Having an opportunity to learn about the origins and philosophies of different instructional practices has given me valuable insight into my own leanings as an instructor. I try to approach education with the thought “what’s best for students” forefront in my mind, yet the answer to this question is value laden and informed by each educators’ own unique set of experiences, philosophical leanings and understanding of what makes a well-educated person. While educational philosophy is a reoccurring thread throughout my writing, I confront the tension between philosophy and education practice in my final blog entries directly. In my blog entry, An Eye for an Eye, I suggest that there cannot exist a uniform approach to the teaching of virtues and moral character; morality is a cultural construct and cannot be stringently codified in a culturally diverse setting such as the American educational system. In my blog entry Milk, It Does a Body Good, I reject what I see as the homogenization of education advocated by educational philosophers such as Mortimer Adler who desire“…the same educational objectives for all, calls for the employment of… a required curriculum for all, with the elimination of all particularized job-training and of all electives in the upper years”. Additional blog entries address the nuts and bolts of particular instructional practices (advance organizers, direct instruction, etcetera) and philosophies (constructivist learning theory, self-actualization, and others) yet I would argue it was through writing specifically about what I value as an educator, by taking a humanist approach, that I can best make conscience decisions about which instructional strategies to employ and why.
2. Apply models of teaching and learning introduced through the text and selected readings in written documents and in practice.
I have numerous examples of my ability to apply the models of teaching that were introduced in our text and readings, indeed, my blog entries and video implementation entries speak to my level of rigor in this area both through this class and in prior practice. In my blog post titled The Child as Scholar, I had an opportunity to delve into my past experiences using inquiry-based learning through The Exhibition at an International Baccalaureate world school. I also focused in on my previous and continued use of advance organizers as a means to jump start units by providing visual and/or textual resources. As I wrote in my blog entry Bridging the Gap: Advance Organizers, “Advanced organizers are practical tools that function as a scaffold for student cognitive development across the curriculum. David Ausubel, the developer of advanced organizers envisions their use as a means to “bridge the gap between what the learner already knows and what he needs to know before he can meaningfully learn the task at hand” (Ausubel, 1978)”.
3. Students will demonstrate their ability to use technology by accessing course documents on Blackboard, sending assignments electronically, preparing a portfolio of instructional strategies and related implementation plans, and presenting video taped lesson segments.
The practical application of instructional strategies through an implementation and subsequent video taping of strategies in practice was a key component of my learning in this course. I found it useful to go through the process of initially reading about and then researching a specific strategy. The additional step of writing a comprehensive lesson plan followed by teaching my chosen strategies Strategy Implementation 1 & 2: Advance Organizers & Jigsaw provided another practical application of theory. Since I am not currently teaching in a traditional classroom, finding actual students to teach the lesson to presented an additional exercise in creative problem solving. But of course, viewing the video of my lesson plan in action provided the rich experience and unbiased perspective of the camera lens. It was through a critical analysis using guided questions provided by Dr. Williams that I was able to see where I was on and off track.
Thus, while I’ve prided myself on engaging in reflective thought around my teaching practices, I’ve never actually taken the time to video myself teaching; I was given the gift of unbiased clarity through this project as I viewed my lesson unfold. I was able to see when my students were engaged (or not), how I could have asked questions differently, what I left out or didn’t need to include, as well as what went right; hindsight is 20/20. In my blog post The Best Laid Schemes I was able to deconstruct this entire process, including an excerpt from my original Blackboard discussion post that clearly and succinctly laid out the components of sound cooperative learning, followed by a critique of how I did not meet those guidelines in my taught lesson. I wrapped up my metanalysis of this project with ways I could have been more successful in my implementation. Saying and doing are two entirely different activities; this process has helped me to understand the importance of practical application of theory in my practice.
4. Understand what the educational opportunity gap represents and strategies for increasing cultural competence as applied in instructional design.
Initially, I did not fully understand the connection between cultural competency as seen through the eyes of the educational opportunity gap and pedagogy. Sure, I knew that instructional materials need to be culturally relevant and diversity in the classroom is something to be supported and celebrated. Through my background in cultural anthropology, I am well aware of the research and realities behind the idea of white hegemony and how this affects access to resources while impacting the relational interplay and power dynamics amongst constituents of the educational system and beyond.
Where I had an opportunity for growth was through some deep thinking around my role in creating an instructional and emotional environment that supports decreasing has been reimagined as the “opportunity gap” by the Achievement Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee (January, 2010); essentially a culturally competent classroom. This theme was revisited in my blog post Beating the Drum where my thinking was influenced by the writing of Maisie McAdoo who reminds us that, “While teachers have little control over school or district policy, they can make a difference in their classroom climate”. It truly comes down to the choices I make as an educator and human being, whether my impact on a child’s life will be positive or negative, or somewhere in between.
5. Develop an awareness of the research base that supports the various models of teaching, and the use of instructional frameworks.
Not all the instructional strategies that I encountered in this course felt valuable at the outset. For example, Concept Attainment seemed like a strategy best applied to math or science classes given it’s focus on students identifying similarities and difference. Yet, as I pointed out in my blog entry Potato, Potahto,
“…as I’ve delved more into the readings and allowed the idea of Concept Attainment to percolate in my mind, I’ve begun to realize the value that it can have across content areas. Indeed, the cognitive value of teaching students to identify similarities and differences is pointed out by Dean, Hubler, Pitler & Stone (2012) “We ask, “Is this like that?” By answering the question we enhance our existing mental representation or abstract schema for the information. This increases the likelihood that we will make connections to the schema when we encounter more new information and be able to make sense of that information” (p. 119)”.
Having an opportunity to interact with known and unknown instructional strategies in light of the research has helped expand the possibilities of strategies across content areas.
6. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of teaching models in light of their ability to promote learning for students across the span of diversity.
I believe that my ability to evaluate teaching models in relation to diversity was best addressed in my musings on the question posed by Dr. Williams in one of her podcasts: Is teaching an art or a science? I found this to be an intriguing question, and in the end, I believe that it is a mixture of both. It is through the science of teaching, through looking at research-based practices that we are able to make sound decisions regarding which instructional practices are proven to be effective across or within particular student populations; I looked to the instructional strategies in our class texts Classroom Instruction that Works and Models of Teaching for guidance in this area. In my blog titled Listening, I was able to use the framework provided in Classroom Instruction that Works as a guide for study of instructional strategies throughout the course:
Creating the Environment for Learning
◦ Setting Objectives and Providing Feedback
◦ Reinforcing Effort and Providing Recognition
◦ Cooperative Learning
Helping Students Develop Understanding
◦ Cues, Questions, and Advance Organizers
◦ Nonlinguistic Representations
◦ Summarizing and Note Taking
◦ Assigning Homework and Providing Practice
Helping Students Extend and Apply Knowledge
◦ Identifying Similarities and Differences
◦ Generating and Testing Hypotheses
The art of teaching begins through the laying of relational foundations between student and teacher, then expanding that relationship to include the school as an intentional cultural construct. This is an excerpt from Listening where I comment on the tension between the science and art of teaching:
“A painter cannot realize a masterpiece without a canvas from which to begin; a sculptor needs materials from which to mold and form their shape. So we can say that the art and science of education are not mutually exclusive dispositions that are carried out in isolation. Though not always occurring at the same moment in time, the art and science aspects of teaching nevertheless intersect in serendipitous ways that complement, support and extend the other, but only if we are careful listeners to what is happening in our classrooms. It is the listening and responding appropriately that’s tricky”.
My learning in the philosophy, application and reasoning behind various instructional strategies has been deep; I am better able to determine and articulate situational choices that I make. I am more deeply aware of how my own educational philosophy, values and choices as an instructor impact the opportunities and achievement of my students. I can see the value of utilizing video as a reflective tool in my practice and will make plans to periodically “check in” this way. Though my self-reflections may not continue to produce gigantic, enormous or massive blog entries, they will continue to have an extraordinary impact on my practice, nonetheless.
Adler, Mortimer. 1984. “Introduction” to The Paideia Program: An Educational Syllabus. Retrieved from https://bbweb-prod.spu.edu/courses/1/EDU6526_28255201232/content/_825513_1/Adler.pdf
Ausubel, David P. 1978. The Nature and Use of Organizers in Educational Psychology: A Cognitive View. Retrieved from https://bbweb-prod.spu.edu/courses/1/EDU6526_28255201232/content/_825487_1/Ausubel%20reading.pd
Closing Opportunity Gaps (2010). Retrieved from: http://www.k12.wa.us/Cisl/pubdocs/AgapLegReport2010.pdf
Dean, Hubbell, Pitler & Stone. 2012. Classroom Instruction That Works 2nd Edition. Washington: American Psychological Association.
Dell’Olio, Jeanine M. & Donk, Tony. 2007. Models of Teaching: Connecting Students Learning With Standards. California: Sage.
McAdoo, Maisie. (ND). Inside the Mystery of Good Teaching. Retrieved from https://bbweb-prod.spu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_63636_1%26url