EDS 111

The Professional Learning Community as the Driving Force for Professional Growth

ejournal 8 / module 3e

This week’s module emphasized how lifelong learning, SoTL, and being an active member of a professional learning community can improve teacher effectiveness and professionalism.

I think the most important component of professional growth discussed in this module is active membership in a professional learning community. Elements of lifelong learning and scholarship of teaching and learning are necessary for individuals comprising the learning community. However, continuous lifelong learning and employment of SoTL practices does not guarantee that a teacher is contributing to or involved in a professional learning community in a constructive manner.

In the discussion forum for Module 3e, I expressed some disappointment with my schools lack of a solidified and functional learning community. However, as an individual teacher, I have engaged in lifelong learning – both for the benefit of my career and to satiate personal interests and curiosity. The very fact that I am studying for my Professional Teaching Certification is evidence of my ongoing education. My choice to join the PTC program was in part due a desire to strengthen my own skills and qualifications in the classroom and also influenced by a government policy asking for evidence proving my ongoing professional development. Other ways I’ve continued my education include specific training to improve my ability to use the phonics program prescribed in my school’s curriculum. Although I, and probably many of my colleagues (I can’t be sure – we don’t talk about it!) are practicing, lifelong learners, the school as a whole is not benefitting from our experiences because they aren’t being discussed.

DuFour (2004) mentioned several barriers to a successful learning community, which included not giving teachers sufficient time to collaborate and work together. Another impediment to learning communities is the isolation of traditional teaching, in which an educator might feel possessive of ideas, materials, and strategies rather than wanting to share them for the greater good of the learning community.   Teachers who engage in lifelong learning cannot surmount these obstacles alone. There must be a community of sharing, collaborating, support, and accountability.

A pervasive emphasis on the educator as an individual rather than a team member is further seen in SoTL. While SoTL is commendable for its goal of addressing problematic or challenging issues in the classroom through critical review and enquiry, it focuses an individual teacher on his/her own individual classroom rather than promoting a more universal initiative within the grade level or school community. Like continuous, lifelong learning, a teacher’s engagement in SoTL is an independent venture is doesn’t foster a professional learning community without opportunities for teachers to share their values and ideas. School administrators must provide educators with ‘the autonomy, the opportunity, and the time to meet that they need to decide about improving teaching and learning.’ (Roberts, 2009). It is important to note that even with these opportunities in place, staff may feel resistant to opening up and will need time to develop trust and security before they are able to discuss, share, and collaborate in meaningful ways.

I believe fully committing to one’s role as a professional teacher requires letting go of the usual focus on individual teaching and prioritizing universal learning within the school community. A teacher who is part of a PLC is taking her individual knowledge, skills, learning experiences, and ideas and adding them to the collective expertise of the staff. Through collaboration and discussion, the group can transform and multiply the strengths of individual teachers to create a super power that can impact student learning with greater strength on a larger scale.

Center for Engaged Learning (Producer). (2013, August 16). Scholarship of Teaching and Learning vs. Scholarly Teaching [Video file].  Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eedxoj1CPnk

Costa, A. (2008). Teachers as continuous learners. Teachers Matter, 8-10.  PDF retrieved from http://www.escofcentralohio.org/Achievement/Documents/Teachers_as_Continuous_Learners.pdf

DuFour, R. (2004). What is a “Professional Learning Community?” Educational Leadership, 61(8), 6-11.  PDF retrieved from http://www.allthingsplc.info/files/uploads/DuFourWhatIsAProfessionalLearningCommunity.pdf

Haigh, N. (2010). The Scholarship of Teaching & Learning: A practical introduction and critique. Auckland, NZ.  PDF retrieved from https://akoaotearoa.ac.nz/download/ng/file/group-4/the-scholarship-of-teaching–learning—a-practical-introduction-and-critique.pdf

Helterbran, V. R. (2005). Lifelong learning: A stratagem for new teachers. Academic Exchange Quarterly, 9(4), 250-254. Retrieved from http://rapidintellect.com/AEQweb/6jan3151z5.htm

Roberts, S. & Pruitt, E. Z. (2009). The Professional Learning Community: An overview (Chapter 1). In Schools as professional learning communities: Collaborative activities and strategies for professional development (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press, pp. 1-25.  PDF retrieved from http://www.corwin.com/upm-data/27683_Roberts_Chapter_1.pdf

Soni, S. (2012). Lifelong learning – Education and training. FIG Working Week 2012, Rome, Italy.  PDF retrieved from https://www.fig.net/pub/fig2012/papers/ts05i/TS05I_soni_5945.pdf

EDS 111

Reflection and Metacognition for Effective Teaching

ejournal 7 / module 3d

Critical reflection and metacognition puts teachers in a position to make pivotal changes to their practices to ensure improvement over time, rather than stagnation. When a teacher takes accountability for her instruction styles, though process, and application, she constructs experiential knowledge that not only improves her effectiveness in the classroom, but also her professionalism.

After reading the ‘level 1’ routine reflection example from Harrison’s work, I was inspired to give critical reflection a try. I imagine this critical reflection would appear in my own teaching journal to be used for personal reference or even, as Harrison notes, as part of a professional portfolio used to indicate my competence to future employers. Most people reportedly chose to record negative critical moments, so I attempted to write about a positive incident.

A few weeks ago, my class of kindergarteners (age 4) was ready to write their first sentence. We had previously learned the 42 basic phonic sounds, how to form letters, some sight words, and discussed basic grammar (capital letters start sentences, period or other punctuation marks end them).   In the past, I have noticed some students struggle to pull together the individual pieces of information they know (about phonics, grammar, letter formation) to see the bigger picture of it all – that this knowledge they have is all they need to write their own sentences about anything they can imagine.

Anticipating that some of the weaker students would struggle, I wanted to build student confidence before we started any writing. As a group, we discussed the picture prompt (a hen sitting on a nest). I asked students to tell me what they could see in the picture. I called on students to share their thoughts, such as ‘I see a hen.’ I elicited further information, asking what the hen was doing, how she felt, and whom she was with. Many students raised their hands and were eager to speak. Some students only listened, and I should have asked them if they wanted to add anything to what was already said. Sometimes in the midst of teaching, I focus too much on the general flow and vibe of the class, but I don’t want to leave the quieter, more introverted students without a voice in our discussion. I have been thinking about compiling a can of Popsicle sticks with each student’s name. To ensure fairness in participation and attention, as well as to keep students engaged, I would pull out a name stick, call on that student, and then return the stick to the can before shaking it up again.

As the students shared thoughts about the picture, I wrote down key words on the whiteboard (such as egg, nest, chick, happy). I asked students to help me sound out the words. We decided on a topic sentence verbally, and then transferred it to writing on the board. I asked students to guide me on how to start. Students told me that I needed a capital letter to start, but did not mention anything about spaces between words or punctuation marks. I wanted to demonstrate why we make spaces and punctuation marks, so I wrote the sentence as the student instructed, with a capital letter but no spaces or punctuation: ‘Thehensitsonhernest’. The students realized this wasn’t the correct way to write, and thought it was terribly funny that I had done it this way. I asked them to read the sentence but they struggled to decipher where one word ended and another began. I explained that this confusion is exactly what is avoided by making a space between words. I asked students to practice making one finger space between the end of one word and the start of another. I rewrote the sentence on the board with proper spacing and punctuation. However, this is another teaching moment that I feel would have been improved if I had called the students to the board to write the sentence one word at a time. Students could have further discussed and practiced letter formation, spacing, and spelling simultaneously. I felt pressed for time and wanted to move on to the bookwork, so I forwent the activity. Sometimes I feel more compelled to meet my own schedule than take advantage of classroom opportunities. But so what if spent 10 extra minutes writing together? Those ten minutes writing as a group could have been very helpful for some students.

Finally, I asked the students to open their books and do their best to copy the sentence from the board, keeping spaces between words in mind. In circling the room, I saw that some students’ letters were hovering above the guideline rather than resting on it. I explained that we don’t want balloon letters that are floating up above the line, but letters that sit like birds on a telephone wire. The children seemed to appreciate the novelty of the similes and made corrections to their work as needed. In general, I feel the students are more eager and motivated when the class atmosphere is jovial and playful. I want students to feel that yes, this task requires effort and concentration, but it’s quite fun when we’re all working together. We wrote two more sentences together, working collaboratively from the board then copying the work to their books.

Upon completing the writing, most students seemed content and I was outright proud. I think the students felt accomplished and happy to hear me say how proud I was of their hard work and focus. I wanted the kids to feel they had achieved a great feat, because they did! This writing task was longer than anything else my students had done, and they met the challenge in earnest and without complaint. My co-teacher and I were able to quickly identify those students that needed additional support and students who felt uncertain about how to proceed raised their hands for guidance. For the next writing lesson, I think some students will be ready to write more on their own.

After writing this reflection, I can imagine how sharing it with a mentor would be powerful starting point for a meaningful conversation about the under workings of what was going on in the classroom. Some of my concerns and weaknesses in the lesson (such as not calling the children to the board to write) would have universal application to other lessons in which I might similarly sacrifice a quality activity for the sake of timeliness. Discussing these issues with a mentor would help me weigh the benefits and consequences and identify a goal for improvement (e.g. grasp on to teachable moments, even if that means you are a little rushed in tomorrow’s lessons. Students witnessing your engagement and creativity in a lesson will react more to your presence than getting the task completed). Furthermore, while I feel my teaching experience was positive overall, there are numerous other ways in which the lesson could have been conducted successfully. A more experienced colleague or mentor could help me explore new approaches to improve my teaching.

Harrison, J. (2012). Professional learning and the reflective practitioner (Chapter 1). In Dymoke, S. (ed) Reflective Teaching and Learning in the Secondary School (2nd ed.). London: SAGE, 6-43.  PDF retrieved from http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/49808_02_Dymoke_Ch_01.pdf

EDS 111

(Lack of) Creativity in Schools

ejournal 6 / module 3c

What is interesting about the discussion of creative teachers and teaching for creativity is that the overwhelming majority of school curricula and structures obstruct and discourage creativity. School curricula are designed to standardize and regulate student progress on a prescribed developmental education path. At age five, students should be showing greater ability in representing ideas and thoughts using words and pictures. At ten, students should be thinking more abstractly and able to employ metaphors and work with fractions. With specific achievement goals in mind, large class sizes, and great variation in student ability, teachers may focus on proficient generic performance standards. How does creativity fit in when the educational establishment has fixed expectations?

As noted by Sternberg, creative individuals don’t permit their creativity to be stifled by an unsupportive environment and teachers are at liberty to interpret the curriculum and apply it in creative ways in the classroom. Still, schools should be fostering creativity in their students and staff through design, flexibility in scheduling, and forums. By transforming the learning space to be more open, flowing, and versatile, students and staff can interact and think more creatively. Re-imagine a classroom without rows of little desks, a blackboard in the front and a coatroom in the back. I don’t mean schools need to fund gimmicky, futuristic architecture, but the factory-style approach to education is dated and doesn’t promote the ideals and creative needs of the next generation. The school environment should reflect the values of innovation, originality, and creativity that society hopes for (but usually doesn’t see). Who is looking for the next generation of business leaders, inventors, and politicians to be really good at following directions and raising their hands? I would hope no one, and that it is clear to see that fostering innovation and creativity in schools propels society forward.

Image result for innovative school outdoor space

I think there is a lot to be said for block scheduling in high school, in which a student takes two or three courses intensely for one term, and two or three different courses intently for the next term. Students and teachers alike are able to probe deeper in the content area and have greater opportunity for long-term and intensive projects and research. Such scheduling allows for more creative assignments, as a lot more can be achieved in a two-and-a-half hour class versus a fifty-minute class. Especially with older students, block scheduling can be very effective in promoting creativity in teachers, who can in turn inspire their students. Student interest can have greater play in directing class activities and instruction.

Furthermore, creative and original thinking could be fostered through open forums and workshops. In my high school, we had a monthly forum featuring local professionals debating a controversial issue. Students attended (some out of enjoyment and others for extra credit) and teachers wanted to be there because the discussions were lively and interesting. Topics could be local or global, ranging from eating local, seasonal food to immigration policy to modern-day slavery. Workshops could be another effective way in getting students involved in new and diverse skill sets and ways of thinking. Workshops could feature skills and subjects not offered as school courses and allow students (and teachers) to explore new interests, such as baking or computer coding. Local businesses could host or sponsor one-time introductory workshops.

These changes do not have to be made overnight. They could be enacted as opportunities for shifts in budget or the development professional relationships present themselves. My point is schools should be actively seeking these changes for the sake of developing creativity in students and staff.  Through the development of a more creative environment, staff can inspire each other and students to explore innovative and original interpretations of the curriculum.

EDS 111

Effective Teaching Skills

ejournal 5 / module 3b

I enjoyed the relevance and applicability of the information provided in Module 3b. We have been studying the teaching skills necessary for effective teaching. Five areas were emphasized:

            Instructional Planning Skills

            Classroom Management Skills

            Motivational Skills

            Interpersonal Skills

            Working Effectively with Diverse learners

At first glance, the breadth of knowledge presented can seem overwhelming. But rather than juggling the five skill sets individually (like some sort of frantic clown), the skills are interrelated and teachers can employ all of these skills quite naturally. For example, motivational strategies such as clearly expressing student expectations for success and offering feedback and encouragement are also strategies necessary for working with diverse learners. This overlap of strategies between skill sets indicates how closely linked they are and why they have such a significant impact on effective teaching when employed collectively.

Effective teachers need to demonstrate all of the above skills in their classrooms, lesson planning, and student relationships, but I would argue that most teachers who truly enjoy working with young people are talented in areas of motivation and interpersonal skills. Connecting with students and wanting them to do well seem like very basic expectations for teachers, but maybe I am just revealing my naivety. I must have been very lucky as a student (or just an intrinsically-motivated goody two-shoes), because I always felt a sense of personal responsibility to meeting my teachers’ expectations. In striving to please my teachers, I performed well in school and learned how to transfer and apply classroom skills and knowledge to other areas of my life.

My favorite teacher was Mr. O. He was funny, challenging, a little bit intimidating (if a student was acting out, Mr. O would play up his own theatrics – perhaps not the most professional, but effective nonetheless), and related lessons not only to student interests, but his own as well. As sixth graders, we students were expected to learn how to write research papers as part of the English curriculum. Mr. O was a bit of music fanatic (which we all knew because he made time to talk to us!); he owned literally thousands of records and cds spanning all imaginable genres. Mr. O played into his own immense music knowledge and asked us each to write down our favorite musician. I chose Michael Jackson. Mr. O came back to each of us with a different musician who preceded and influenced the work of our expressed favorite musician. So while Michael Jackson was my favorite artist, I did a research paper on Frankie Lymon. Some 15 years later, I vividly remember the unit on research papers and the smooth sounds of Frankie Lymon because of Mr. O’s interpersonal skills in building positive teacher-student relationships.  I felt a great deal of respect for my teacher because he took the time to get to know me, invested in my well-being, and believed I could succeed.

Another memory I have from my days learning from Mr. O demonstrates his motivational skills.  At my middle school, the English ‘room’ was an open common space defined by wall dividers. We would spend weeks writing a paper or essay, with drafts and revisions submitted for feedback along the way.  On the Mondays after a final submission was due, I recall the excitement of stretching up on my tiptoes to peer over the divider from the hallway into the commons room. Mr. O would always scrawl the top five scores on the board and we all hoped to see our names featured as the author of one of the top papers.  My teacher used feedback, scaffolding, and socialized motivation to motivate learning in his students.

While motivational and interpersonal skills may be more intuitive, I believe instructional planning, classroom management, and working with diverse learners are the skills that require much more effort and experience before they can be mastered. To be perfectly honest, these are the skills I am focusing on improving during my studies in the PTC program.  Since starting the program a year ago, I feel capable in my instructional planning and classroom management skills because I have a much better understanding of why to use certain techniques and what my actions may (or may not) be indicating about my values.

EDS 111

A Teacher’s Knowledge Base

ejournal 4 / module 3a

This week we read about Shulman’s seven categories of teaching knowledge base. Shulman argued that current assessment of teacher readiness relies too heavily on the assessment of ‘research-approved’ techniques and strategies. The extent to which teachers demonstrate those teaching strategies and classroom processes that correlate to student achievement are not necessarily the most effective or appropriate across all subjects and levels. For example, education students may be encouraged to use (and later assessed on) instructional technology in the classroom. However, a teacher who opts to conduct a lesson without advanced technology did not necessarily have an inferior lesson. There is no ‘magic formula’ for creating a perfect lesson and many factors such as content complexity, student ability, and lesson objectives influence how a teacher will develop and justify her lesson.

Shulman further develops his argument by outlining seven essential categories of a teaching knowledge base. In order for a novice teacher to effectively guide appropriate learning activities and enhance lessons with relevant principles and strategies and ultimately evolve into an effective educator, she must first have a knowledge base built on:

– Content knowledge e.g. English grammar, speech, composition

– General pedagogical knowledge e.g. the effectiveness of constructive positive feedback to motivate further learning

– Curriculum knowledge e.g. the Jolly Phonics or Scholastic curriculum for reading and writing in kindergarten

Pedagogical content knowledge e.g. the use of instructional scaffolding to guide students from amateur level to that of a novice; modeling how to read individual letter sounds then repeating them aloud for the child, allowing him to focus on hearing the sounds and blending them together

– Knowledge of learners e.g. understanding and responding to the individual learning styles, individual needs, and challenges of the class

– Knowledge of educational contexts e.g. how pairs of students, small groups, and whole-class activities function differently; the hierarchy of school governance

– Knowledge of educational ends, purposes, values, and their philosophical and historical grounds e.g. understanding why we teach, the importance of education for society as a whole

So where does all of this knowledge come from? Shulman identifies four sources of the teaching knowledge base as

  • Scholarship in content discipline covering not only the actual skills or concepts but also its relevance and justification as a subject matter. Knowing not only about the structure of cells, but also why biology is an important part of a student’s education.
  • Educational material and structures based within school policies, curriculum, rules, and governance. Teachers need to delve into
  • Formal educational scholarship in the form of research-based findings on learning, development and teaching to better define what is a good education? What theories are gaining support in the most current research about how we can teach more effectively?
  • Wisdom that comes from practice and experience

An extensive teaching knowledge base makes pedagogical reasoning possible. Pedagogical reasoning is teacher’s process of understanding an idea, dissecting it into manageable concepts, restructuring it to appeal and relate to students, guiding learning opportunities and evaluating their effectiveness through thoughtful reflection. Both teacher and student should gain insight from the process and the teacher will be able to act more effectively in the future by reviewing the successes and shortcomings (for teacher and students) of the experience.

Shulman emphasizes that the teaching knowledge based is not fixed. Instead, it is always evolving and continues to be improved upon through further definition, description, and review. Just reflect for a moment on the one-room schoolhouse of 100 years ago. A teacher would have had vast general knowledge but likely lacked specific expertise and pedagogical training. It was a fake-it-till-you-make-it situation in which teachers developed classroom management techniques through trial-and-error and imitation of their own classroom experience as students. A child’s education would vary greatly depending on the nature and education of whatever teacher happened to be assigned to the local schoolhouse. Teaching today is more standardized and teachers must adhere to strict guidelines and policies both in and out of the classroom. The quality of education has certainly made significant progress, but there is much more to be done in terms of overhauling in the school system and further development and refinement of teacher expectations and guidelines, The knowledge base Shulman describes can serve as the base on which later reform can be built.

The standardization of the teaching profession creates more uniform quality and competence in the workforce, but there can certainly be too much standardization. Extensive across-the-board teaching requirements and binding classroom policies can create a constricting red tape that limits teacher creativity and stifles what should be an organic and authentic exchange of knowledge between teacher and student.

I personally think Shulman’s knowledge base would be better developed if it were further defined by subject area and student level. Teachers benefit from open discourse and sharing of ideas and strategies. They can support and advise one another for a stronger teaching community. I do believe that guidelines for the most effective approach for teaching primary English should be discussed and encouraged. They should also differ from guidelines for secondary science. Would this sort of regulation be most appropriate and impactful at a school level rather than a community or national level? For example, teachers could meet by department to discuss theories, principles, and strategies that are most useful and effective in the classroom. Observation, feedback, and reflection could inform on necessary adjustments. Communication within departments should be routine and encouraged. I think all schools would benefit from this kind of collaboration.

EDS 111

Teacher Professionalism

ejournal 3 / module 2

text2mindmapTeacher Professionalism Text 2 Mind Map

I think this week’s topic, what does it mean to be a professional teacher? is difficult to answer. My original definition related mostly to what an individual teacher had to do to be a genuine educator, such as knowledge of teaching methods and principles, understanding of cognitive development, and classroom management and assessment skills. I now realize that so many more factors that play into an evolving definition of professionalism. Some of the points I had not previously considered but now think are very important to connect to teacher professionalism are:

  1. Collaboration, collective autonomy, social capital

A professional teacher must be able to work with students, parents, other teachers, community members, and stakeholders for a common goal that transcends classroom education. A professional teacher recognizes that her work impacts each student’s future opportunities, motivations, and expectations.

  1. State Interference

Schools across the world are regulated by state mandated national curriculum, assessment measures, and achievement goals. Public education relies on state funding and so must comply with the state’s standards and definitions of professionalism. I am working in Thailand and have had to jump through several hoops to meet professional teaching standards. That’s my understanding of professional mandate.

  1. Ongoing professional development, improving one’s craft

As the definition of teacher professionalism is varied and continues to evolve, teachers must keep current on the latest trends, debates, and research in education. A teacher should assess her own strengths and weaknesses and seek ways to streamline her skills.  This reflection will help a teacher improve her craft year upon year.

EDS 111

Teaching Perspectives and Styles

ejournal 2 / module 1

Pratt outlined five distinct teaching perspectives that have slightly competing ideologies that justify how and why we teach. Each perspective has validity, strengths, and weaknesses and as teachers, we should be aware of how our beliefs and intentions impact our effectiveness in the classroom.  While studying, I identified teachers from pop culture who could represent each of these perspectives.

1. Transmission

The teacher is the all-knowing expert who must fill the learner with pertinent knowledge, using clear objectives and systematic tasks.  Ex: Yoda from Star Wars

2. Developmental

The teacher who builds meaning, reasoning, and problem solving skills in students using questioning, case studies, and examples. Encourages learner to think and answer independently.  Ex: Ms. Frizzle on the Magic School Bus

3. Apprenticeship

The teacher who builds competence and social identity (belonging to the group, profession) using relevant and authentic tasks to. Learner takes more responsibility and gains independence over time. *Scaffolding is key.  Ex: Shang in Mulan

4. Nurturing

The teacher who fosters learner’s self-concept through emphasis on student motivation, effort, and agency in learning. Teacher is both caring and challenging.  Ex: Miss Honey from Matilda

5. Social Reform

The teacher as a leader who advocates ideals to elicit social change and contribute to a better society.  Ex: Martin Luther King Jr.

Grasha elaborates on five teaching styles that manifest in the classroom and affect how information is presented, student-teacher interactions, classroom management, classroom climate, teacher supervision, and mentoring.  Unlike teaching perspectives, one teacher might employ all styles to varying degrees.  Teaching style can be modified depending on student capability, the teacher’s need to maintain and show control, and teacher willingness to build and maintain student relationships.

1. Expert – teacher as expert; focus on transmitting info

2. Formal authority – teacher as police officer; focus on conduct & the proper way to behave

3. Personal model – teacher as role model/example; focus on observation and practice

4. Facilitator – teacher as guide; focus on supporting and encouraging student on unique learning journey

5. Delegator – teacher as resource; focus on student autonomy and independence