Diversity In the Classroom

Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 1.35.04 PMImage Source: Pixabay

Diversity, according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary is, “the condition or fact of being different.”

The differences between students can be almost endless (Brookfield, 2015):

  • Age;
  • Gender;
  • Citizenship status;
  • Racial background;
  • Primary language;
  • Preferential learning style;
  • Talents and skills;
  • Level of:
    • Motivation;
    • Self-regulation;
    • Self-direction;
  • Personality;
  • Extroversion and introversion;
  • Sexual identity;
  • Social status;
  • Religious affiliation;
  • Cultural background.

How on earth is the teacher supposed to deal with all this diversity? Even Brookfield (2015) admits that, “(d)iversity can never be fully addressed to the satisfaction of all involved” (p 108). But before we all quite trying, he offers us this: “(i)f your purpose is to help people learn, then you must be open to constantly varying your activities to what we find out about the range of students we work with” (Brookfield, 2015, p 108).

Some of the differences with how students learn and personality variances can be mitigated by employing a variety of different and effective learning strategies. Brookfield (2015) also suggests:

  • Team teaching (p 102) “. . . whenever two or three people with different racial identities, talents and personalities form a teaching team, the possibilities for connecting to a wider range of students expand exponentially.”
  • Mixing Student Groups (p 103) “Do you cluster together individuals who are roughly the same and who you think will therefore work well together? Or do you create a pedagogic bouillabaisse – a mix of different experiential, racial and personality ingredients plus contrasting ability levels that are stirred together to produce a satisfying blend? I would argue that both approaches are necessary and called for at different time.”
  • Mixing Modalities (p 105) – applying a variety of teaching strategies.

In my search to learn more about issues of diversity in the classroom, I came across this resource from Harvard University’s Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. It takes a look at the classroom contract and its impact on students; what is explicitly laid out for students in the syllabus and what is implicit – the unspoken contract of classroom dynamics that leaves students wondering “(w)hat will be my position . . . will I have to talk; can I talk; how will I get to talk; will I be dominant, or not? How will I be judged? What is expected of me?” (Classroom Dynamics & Diversity, n.d., para 4).

In a diverse classroom, these implicit issues can become real barriers for learning, which is why we must strive to bring these issues out in the open for discussion as well.

Differences between students can also bring conflict. Classroom Dynamics & Diversity (n.d.) describes a classroom ‘hot moment’ as the “ . . .moment when the conversation either stops or erupts because of the volatile nature of the subject matter, or because of conflicts among students” (para 8). The article has links for Examples of Hot Moments and Diversity and Tips for Dealing with Hot Moments. The quick and dirty take home tips for me when dealing with a hot moment were:

  • Calm yourself;
  • Detach yourself from emotion;
  • Acknowledge the moment with the students;
  • Make the issue (not the individual(s)) the focus for discussion and turn it into a learning opportunity for everyone.

The article helped me recognize the importance of knowing my own biases as a teacher and appreciating the effects my attitudes have on classroom dynamics.

Diversity in the classroom is a complex issue that requires the instructor to be skilled in applying varied strategies to maximize learning for all students; to have an awareness of how his or her actions and attitudes are impacting the classroom; and to have the flexibility and openness to make revisions in actions and thinking patterns. Lofty aspirations I hope to some day be able to meet!

References

Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Classroom Dynamics & Diversity (n.d.). Harvard University Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from https://bokcenter.harvard.edu/classroom-dynamics-diversity

Putting the Team in Team Teaching

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“One of the most predictable contradictions in American college classrooms is that a solo instructor confronts a classroom full of diverse students. No matter how much she might strive to empathize with different learning needs, racial traditions, and personality types, any individual teacher is inevitably limited by the boundaries of her personality, learning preferences, racial group membership and experience . . . As teachers we all bring different gifts and handicaps to the table. A team that works well is aware of the different talents of its members and attempts to mix these as equitably as possible” (Brookfield, 2015, p 102).

The idea of creating a learning environment that capitalizes on the strengths of each member while minimizing weaknesses is so exciting! After all, aren’t ‘two heads better than one’? Brookfield (2015) states, “ . . . when two or three people with different racial identities, talents, and personalities form a teaching team, the possibilities for connecting to a wider range of students expand exponentially” (p 102). Yet, when I reflect on my experiences of ‘team teaching’ in workshops and in the online environment, I must confess it hasn’t been exciting at all – in fact sometimes it has been quite frustrating!

Are two heads really better than one? According to Ludden (2016), it depends on how they interact. In the past, it was thought that group work intelligence was determined by the average intelligence of the members or that one really clever team member who takes over and runs the show (Ludden, 2016). Research from Woolley (as cited in Ludden, 2016) reveals that the group actually develops a group mind and that the determining factor in how well the team performs is not based on “ . . . accumulated knowledge or skill set . . . (but) how well the individual team members can read the emotions of team members” (para 10). In other words, “ . . . a group composed of members who have moderate intelligence but are very good at reading each other’s emotions can outperform a group with high average intelligence but low social perceptiveness” (Ludden, 2016, para 12).

Another factor that impacts team functioning is how alike or diverse team member personalities and cognitive styles are (Ludden, 2016). Too close and there are limitations to the approaches the team will use, but too diverse and there are breakdowns in communication and a loss of empathy amongst team members (Ludden, 2016).

Too great of a diversity in teaching perspectives certainly was the cause for the feelings of vulnerability and frustration Dabbs (2013) had during “ . . .a very tough first year . . . “ (para 3) of teaching with a co-teacher who did not share her enthusiasm for teaching “ . . . in new and authentic ways” (para 1). As someone who is equally and enthusiastic about the very same thing, I can relate!

Team Teaching Advantages and Disadvantages, (n.d) lists the disadvantages of team teaching as follows (para 12):

Team teaching is not always successful. Some teachers are rigid personality types or may be wedded to a single method. Some simply dislike the other teachers on the team. Some do not want to risk humiliation and discouragement at possible failures. Some fear they will be expected to do more work for the same salary. Others are unwilling to share the spotlight or their pet ideas or to lose total control.

Despite the challenges team teaching presents, students do indeed value its impact on learning. Here are the results of a survey of 440 students taking a large undergraduate marketing class in Australia where team teaching was employed (Yanamandram & Noble, 2006, Abstract):

Despite the relatively weak forms of team-teaching adopted to teach this subject, the majority of the students liked the concept of team-teaching. The findings in this study suggest that team-teaching can facilitate student learning through the generation of interest and exposure to ‘experts’, but can hinder student learning if the team fails to act as a cohesive unit and work together to adequately link learning concepts. This study also argues that the most critical factor in determining the success or failure of a team-teaching effort is the actual composition of the team. A key implication of this study is that a team that comprises of ‘good teachers’ (perceived as those skilful in teaching large classes) is far more important than a team comprising of ‘experts’ in different knowledge areas.

Team teaching requires strong communication skills, dedication to ensuring skillful teaching is taking place, commitment to the team effort and a thorough understanding of the key concepts in order to reach the potential it can have on student learning. In order for this to take place, team members first have to be able to work together.

Tips on Working Together

For me, the clearer I am with myself about what is important to me the better I am able to communicate my expectations to team members. Murawski and Bernhardt (2015) suggest using tools to help a supervisor be able to understand how best to pair teams together, but if like me, you don’t always have a choice in who you will be team teaching with, understanding where everyone is coming from sounds like a good idea. Some tools to use to help identify teaching perspectives include:

Murawski and Bernhardt (2015) also acknowledge that sometimes teams may need “ . . . couples therapy” (para 30) if problems continue. For me, I feel that accessing my manager and or the teaching and learning centre in my university may also provide some more ideas of how problems can be worked through.

Once the team in on the same page in terms of teaching perspectives and approach the next step is to implement best practices with the approach. Here is a list of 10 ‘commandments’ that I thought really outlines these key concepts and will help pave the way to successful team teaching.

 The 10 Commandment of Team Teaching

For all of the commandments that Anderson and Landy (Leavitt, 2006) made, I was able to find supporting evidence from Brookfield (2015). I will definitely need to post these in my office!

  1. “Thou shalt plan everything with thy neighbour” (Leavitt, 2006, p 1)
    • “Team teaching is not two or three people agreeing to carve up a course into sections so that each person does 30 or 50 percent of the sessions. Properly conducted, team teaching involves all members of the team planning the course, writing the syllabus, specifying learning objectives, conducting the class, and evaluating student work” (Brookfield, 2015, p 141).
      • For the online course I teach, I need to ensure that my co-teacher and I are involved in all parts of planning by preparing content material jointly – either each taking on different parts and then providing constructive feedback or actually sitting down to the work together.

2. “Thou shalt attend thy neighbour’s lectures” (Leavitt, 2006, p 1)

  • “ . . . (E)very team member is in the class all the time so that she or he can complement and support whatever the lead teacher is doing (Brookfield, 2015, p 142).
  • An online course doesn’t have lectures per se but there are Discussion Forums and a Clear as Mud Post where we as instructors provide feedback to students about their anonymous muddiest survey questions (there are 5 surveys throughout the course). Instead of just having one instructor answering the questions, we could each take turns and then provide comments and debate concepts with each other in the forum (see commandments 3 and 4).

3. “Thou shalt refer to they neighbour’s ideas” (Leavitt, 2006, p 2)

  • “In team teaching we can hear a colleague explain and idea or contribute some information then show students how we connect it to our own stock of knowledge” (Brookfield, 2015, p 145).

4. “Thou shalt model debate with thy neighbour. (Leavitt, 2006, p 2)

  • “One of the meta-agendas of higher education is teaching students how to disagree in ways that don’t shut down further communication” (Brookfield, 2015, p 143).

5. Thou shalt have something to say, even when thou art not in charge (Leavitt, 2006, p 2)

  • “There will always be time when one instructor has more knowledge or experience than another, but when this is the case the teacher with less content knowledge has an important role to play as a skilful questioner and also as an observer of the class to ensure that everybody is getting the chance to participate” (Brookfield, 2015, p 152).
  • While this may be hard to make happen online, there is a face-to-face workshop where case studies are reviewed as a group. Having one person field questions, while the other observes classroom dynamics and takes a closer look at the students’ work would help to ensure that everyone is able to participate.

6. “Thou shalt apply common grading standards (Leavitt, 2006, p 3)

  • “Specifying the criteria by which students work will be assessed is crucial in any classroom but never more so than in a team-taught course. Ideally, it should be possible for either faculty member to slot into the grading role and assign the same grade or number of points for any particular piece of work” (Brookfield, 2015, p 151).
  • In the online course, there are rubrics for marking case studies and discussion forums, but one of the problems could be that my co-teacher and I may mark differently if we identify different issues, recommendations and relevant evidence to support decisions for the cases. In order to mark the same, we need to be able to work through the case studies together first, come up with a list of key issues etc. and then use that when we mark.

7. Thou shalt attend all staff meetings (Leavitt, 2006, p 3)

  • “Team members plan, conduct, evaluate, and debrief all activities together. This is the sine qua non of team teaching.” (Brookfield, 2015, p 150).
  • I feel that my co-teacher for the online course and I need to meet by phone every week to ensure that grading, discussion forums and plans for the next week’s module are discussed.

8. Thou shalt ask open questions (Leavitt, 2006, p 3).

  • “When a solo teacher tries to convey the different viewpoints or theoretical frameworks that exist on an issue, he or she is always working within the confines of being a singular voice . . . Team teaching allows your partner to pose a question or contribute an insight that opens you up to a genuinely new way of thinking about something” (Brookfield, 2015, p 145).
  • The online forums and Clear as Mud post provide wonderful opportunities for both of us to pose questions to students and each other.

9. Thou shalt let thy students speak (Leavitt, 2006, p 3).

  • Team teaching reaches a wider variety of learners. Solo teachers teach out of their preferred learning style. Although we can all expand our repertoire of teaching practices, there is a limit to how much we can change who we are (Brookfield, 2015, p 142).
  • I love researching information and will often take a very theoretical approach to a topic – an approach that may not work for all people. Engaging my co-instructor into the discussion forums will encourage more participation from the students, as it will appeal to a broader range of learning needs.

10. Thou shalt be willing to be surprised (Leavitt, 2006, p 3).

  • In team teaching there is no clear source of authority and knowledge in the classroom. This can create an environment of discovery and inquiry (Brookfield, 2015, p 144).
  • One huge advantage of teaching online is that you have time to think something through before you post it, but this is not the case in the workshops. Team teaching sounds like a very exciting adventure in learning!

 

References

Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Dabbs, L. (2013) Back to School: Teaching with Authenticity Edutopia George Luca Educational Foundation. Retrieved from: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/teaching-with-authenticity-lisa-dabbs

Leavitt, M. (2006) Team Teaching: Benefits and Challenges The Speaking of Teaching Center for Teaching and Learning at Stanford University Fall 2006 Newsletter Vol.16, No.1. Retrieved from: https://web.stanford.edu/dept/CTL/Newsletter/teamteaching.pdf

 Ludden, D. (2016) Are Two Heads Better Than One? It depends on how they interact. Psychology Today Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/talking-apes/201602/are-two-heads-better-one

Murawski, W.W. & Bernhardt, P (2015) An Administrator’s Guide to Co-Teaching ASCD Learn Teach Lead Educational Leadership December 2015/January 2016 | Volume 73 | Number 4 Co-Teaching: Making It Work Pages 30-34. Retrieved from: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/dec15/vol73/num04/An_Administrator’s_Guide_to_Co-Teaching.aspx

Team Teaching – Advantages, Disadvantages (n.d.) Education Encyclopedia – StateUniversity.com. Retrieved from: http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/2493/Team-Teaching.html

Yanamandram, V.K. & Noble, G. (2006) Student Experiences and Perceptions of Team-Teaching in a Large Undergraduate Class University of Wollongong Research Online Faculty of Business Faculty of Commerce. Retrieved from: http://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1238&context=commpapers

 

Striking the Balance: Teaching with Credibility and Authenticity

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Photo: A. McKenzie

David-Lang (2013), summarizes John Hattie’s book, Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning (2012) this way: “The big idea is – know thy impact! Expert teachers are not wedded to specific teaching strategies – rather, they regularly focus on evaluating the effects they have on students, and adjust teaching methods accordingly” (Summary of the Summary).

Of the influences that teachers can have on student learning which ones do you think are the top 3 of the lot? Interestingly, it isn’t feedback or metacognitive strategy programs (they rated highly but not the highest) and it certainly isn’t matching students with learning styles, which rated low – it is (David-Lang, 2013, p 10):

  • Providing formative evaluation to teachers;
  • Teacher credibility in the eyes of the student;
  • Student expectations.

I have already been reflecting on the importance of instructor feedback so that was expected but it was the “(t)eacher credibility in the eyes of the student” (David-Lang, 2013, p 10) that surprised me. Yikes! I had better get reflecting on teacher credibility!

Brookfield (2015) acknowledges the importance of teacher credibility and pairs it with another term – authenticity. So, in a nutshell, what exactly do these terms mean?

Credibility 

“Credibility is the perception that the teacher has something important to share and that whatever this “something “is (skills, knowledge, insight, wisdom, information), learning it will benefit the student” (Brookfield, 2015, p 43). Indicators of credibility include (Brookfield, 2015):

  • Expertise ( p 43) – “students say it is reassuring to know that the person in charge of their learning clearly knows, and can do, a lot” (p 43);
  • Experience  ( p 46) – the perception that the teacher is able to “ . . . draw on a substantial history of teaching the course” (p 46);
  • Rationale  (p 47) – sharing rationale behind classroom decisions- “Students say that it inspires confidence to see that teachers clearly have a plan, a set of reasons, informing their actions (p 48).

It certainly makes sense to me now why credibility is so important to students. When I reflect about teachers I think of as having high credibility, I would say I learned a lot from them because I trusted them; I focused on everything they said and did because I knew I would learn something. In other words, what they said and did mattered to me.

Authenticity

 “Authenticity is the perception that the teacher is dealing with students in an open and honest way” (Brookfield, 2015, p 43). Indicators of authenticity include (Brookfield, 2015):

  • Keeping your words and actions congruent (p 49) – walk your talk! Sometimes we may not even know that our actions and words are incongruous which is why it is so important that we obtain student feedback;
  • Full disclosure (p 50) – “ . . . find ways to communicate your criteria, assumptions, and purposes and then . . .keep checking in to make sure students understand them” (p 50);
  • Demonstrate responsiveness (p 51) – Respond to student concerns;
  • Disclosing Personhood (p 52) – “Personhood is most appropriately evident when teachers use autobiographical examples to illustrate concepts and theories they are trying to explain, when they talk about ways they apply specific skills and insights taught in the classroom to their work outside, and when they share stories of how they dealt with the same learning fears and struggles that their students are currently facing” (p 52).

I can certainly see how the 2 go hand in hand – I need to know my stuff, to share my thinking with my students, respond to feedback, model the behaviour that aligns with my expectations of students and share appropriate personal experiences. I can also see how striking a balance between credibility and authenticity can be challenging, for example being knowledgeable without being authentic could come off as arrogance, and being too frank about your flaws could affect your students’ perceptions of your expertise.

Here is a video featuring Stephen Brookfield  sharing his insights on credibility and authenticity.

References

Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

 

David-Lang, J. (2013) The Main Idea current education book summaries: Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning, Hattie, J., 2012 retrieved from: http://www.tdschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/The+Main+Idea+-+Visible+Learning+for+Teachers+-+April+2013.pdf

 

Flattening the Power Gradient: Brookfield’s Core Assumption #4

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It was when I took my first PIDP course 3250 that I learned that Knowles, who, 50 years ago, shifted the educational paradigm of adult education from that of pedagogy– “ . . . the art and science of teaching children” to that of andragogy “ . . . helping adults learn” (Knowles, 1973, as cited in Merriam & Bierema, 2014, p 46). Brookfield’s Core Assumption #4: “College Students of Any Age Should Be Treated as Adults” (p 23), reflects this key concept.

In his explanation of this assumption, Brookfield (2015) states that even college students who are still in their teens need to be treated as adults. When I reflect back upon my 17 years old college freshman self, I can certainly appreciate why this is a good reminder for teachers because I know that sometimes, I and my other teenage freshman college colleagues didn’t always act in ways that would make one think appropriate of an adult. Below is an explanation from Brookfield (2015) that I think provides a wonderful insight into why, however, this core assumption is so important:

The first is that as they move into early adulthood, 18-22 year old students are becoming increasingly self-aware of who they are as people, who they are as learners and who they are as moral beings. They use college to develop their independent identities (Jones and Abes, 2013) become self-authors of their lives (Baxter Magolda, 2004), find purpose (Nash and Murray, 2010) and create meaning (Daloz Parks, 2011) out of their experiences (p 25).

 The only way that teachers can help students make the changes Brookfield (2015) describes above is to flatten the power gradient and respect college students’ needs as adult learners, which according to Knowles are as follows (Pappas, 2013):

  1. Self-Concept
    As a person matures his/her self-concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being.
  2. Adult Learner Experience
    As a person matures he/she accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning.
  3. Readiness to Learn
    As a person matures his/her readiness to learn becomes oriented increasingly to the developmental tasks of his/her social roles.
  4. Orientation to Learning
    As a person matures his/her time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application. As a result his/her orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject- centeredness to one of problem centeredness.
  5. Motivation to Learn
    As a person matures the motivation to learn is internal (Knowles 1984:12).

As this is the last of Brookfield’s Core Assumptions for skillful practice (2015) I would like to conclude with this final statement: “These four assumptions of skillful teaching are deliberately proposed at a level of generality. How each plays itself out varies enormously from context to context” (p 26).

There is so much more to learn!

References

Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

 Merriam, S.B. & Bierema, L.L. (2014) Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Pappas, C. (2013): The Adult Learning Theory – Andragogy – of Malcolm Knowles eLearning Industry. Retrieved from: https://elearningindustry.com/the-adult-learning-theory-andragogy-of-malcolm-knowles

Gaining Insights: Brookfield’s Core Assumption #3

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The PIDP 3260 course is opening my eyes to the importance of Brookfield’s 3rd Core Assumption; “Teachers Need a Constant Awareness of How Students Are Experiencing Their Learning and Perceiving Their Teachers’ Actions” (p 22). I see how, in spite of our best self-perceived efforts to create a learning environment, learners may have very different opinions about their learning, so unless we use the right tools to obtain feedback we will never know what our learners are thinking.

Here is a link from the University of Waterloo that lists some great strategies to use as a way to obtain feedback from students. Some of their suggestions are (Tools for Reflecting on Your Teaching, n.d.). :

  • Questionnaires
  • One minute paper
  • Muddiest point
  • Blank index cards
  • Suggestion box
  • In-class trouble shooting sessions

Brookfield (2015) also includes suggestions for other feedback tools like twitter, TodaysMeet and the Critical Incident Questionnaire which he has created and has posted online.

An important point to keep in mind is to not let yourself fall prey to the syndrome that Brookfield himself confesses to having, the ““. . . Perfect-Ten” syndrome . . . the unreasonable desire to want to collect a batch of CIQ (Critical Incident Questionnaire) forms at the end of every class that contains no negative comments and a surfeit of compliments” (Brookfield, 2015, p 38). I must confess that I too am afflicted by the syndrome and, even though I also intellectually understand that this not possible in “ . . . the contextual, complex nature of learning . . .” it still happens. I suppose the next time this happens I will go back and apply Core Assumption #3.

References

Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Tools for Reflecting on Your Teaching. (n.d.). Centre for Teaching Excellence Retrieved from: https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/professional-development/enhancing-your-teaching/tools-reflecting-teaching

Taking a Closer Look at Brookfield’s Core Assumption #2 : Critical Self-reflection

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Photo Credit: A.McKenzie

For me, Brookfield’s (2015) 2nd Core Assumption “Skillful Teachers Adopt a Critically Reflective Stance Towards Their Practice” ( p 19) hits home; unless you apply a critically reflective stance on your practice as a teacher, you run the risk of not only having students not learn, you could even being doing harm without realizing it, see: Taking a Hard Look at Experience. 

I guess it’s been good for everyone involved that self-reflection is something that I have really grown into. When I took my first course PIDP 3250 my initial self-reflection and evaluation assignment (I had to give myself a mark) felt very awkward and uncomfortable. But the more I learned about learning and the more I practiced it the less awkward it has become. I confess that the discomfort feeling hasn’t gone away but I have learned that those feelings are like road signs that let me know that there is something important for me to learn.

Identifying what it is you want to reflect upon is key. Cox (n.d) states “(t)he first step is to figure out what you want to reflect upon. Are you looking at a particular feature of your teaching or is this reflection in response to a specific problem in your classroom?” (para 7). She then outlines the following ways to get information (para 8):

  • Self-reflective journaling;
  • Video recording;
  • Student observation – feedback from students;
  • Peer observation – feedback from peers.

Finally she suggests analyzing the results by looking for reoccurring themes. To find solutions to these challenges she suggests looking to peers and learning communities.

Here is a great video, called ‘Effective Teacher, Reflective Practice’ by Deb Hill that sums up self-reflective practice this way:

In this video, the author outlines four questions that teachers should ask themselves (1:49-3:50 min)

  1. Is the material worth learning?
  2. Are the students learning what the course or class is supposed to be teaching?
  3. Am I helping and encouraging the students to learn or do they learn despite me?
  4. Have I harmed the students?

The author also encourages teachers to keep a teaching portfolio where they (3:56 – 5:17 min):

  • Keep track of what course learning outcomes are;
  • Reflect on how teaching methods helped foster achievement of learning outcomes;
  • Provide evidence of student achievement/performance;
  • Provide evidence that teaching methods contributed to the learning that took place.

The discussion of how we can use tools to assess how our actions as a teacher are affecting learning also fits under Brookfield’s (2015) 3rd Core Assumption: “Teachers Need a Constant Awareness of How Students Are Experiencing Their Learning and Perceiving Their Teachers’ Actions” (p 22).

 

References

Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Cox, J. (n.d.) Teaching Strategies: The Value of Self-Reflection TeachHUB.Com. Retrieved from: http://www.teachhub.com/teaching-strategies-value-self-reflection

Hill, D. (2013) (YouTube) Effective Teacher, Reflective Practice Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUvz_-R5820

Zimmerman, B..J. (1990) Self-Regulated Learning and Academic Success: An Overview Educational Psychologist, 24(1), 3-17 Lawrence Erbaum Associates, Inc. Retrieved from http://itari.in/categories/ability_to_learn/self_regulated_learnin_g_and_academic_achievement_m.pdf 

Teaching So They Learn: Brookfield’s Core Assumption #1

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Brookfield’s (2015) first core assumption about skillful teaching is: Skillful Teaching is Whatever Helps the Student Learn” (p 15). “At first glance this seems a self-evident, even trite, truism – a kind of pedagogic Hallmark greeting card,” (p 15) states Brookfield (2105). But perhaps, as the cartoon above illustrates, it is a bit more complicated than that.

What I have discovered so far is that learning isn’t just about being shown or told something. It is a complex interplay of cognitive and emotional factors, situational factors including how much sleep we get and when we get it in relation to the learning, and student motivation. It’s about using the right instructional strategies, shifting the paradigm to student centered learning and asking the right questions at the right time. As Brookfield (2015) states sometimes it’s about “ . . . do(ing) things as a teacher that you might otherwise avoid because you feel that somehow they are unprofessional or deviant” (p 17). For me, this assumption means taking risks, opening my mind to be curious about what and how I am teaching and to always be assessing if my students are learning: in other words “(a)dopt(ing) a critically reflective stance . . .” about my teaching practice – which just happens to be Brookfield’s Core Assumption #2 ( p 19).

Reference

Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Reflections: Taking a Hard Look at Experience

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Reflections Photo: L.. Schmidt

Brookfield (2015) states that “(s)imply having experiences does not imply that they are reflected upon, understood or analyzed critically. Individual experiences can be distorted, self-fulfilling, unexamined and constraining” (p 12).

I had the opportunity of homeschooling my two children for a period of about twelve years. It was during this time that I was able to hone my skills as an educator – in other words I did all the things wrong that you possibly could do because I couldn’t get fired. When I read the quote above I immediately thought of one particularly uncomfortable and miserable homeschooling experience: writing essays. It went like this: I would provide a scintillating and profound prompt and send the kids off to write an equally scintillating and profound response in essay form. When they would come back proudly bearing their work I would ‘mark’ the paper i.e., bleed red ink over all the things that were wrong with it and then I would rewrite the paper to show them how it should be done. (It seems my Apprenticeship Perspective was well established even back then). The kids would cry and hate me for taking over their projects. I felt badly but I certainly didn’t change anything and continued to tell them that this was the only way they were going to get better at writing (being their mother apparently made me an expert on everything).

Brookfield (2015) encourages us to be “experts on our own teaching” (p 11). To do this it means being critically reflective so that we can “unlock . . . experiences and reflect on them in a way that provides problem-solving insights” (Brookfield, 2015, p 11). As I read my own experience outlined in painful detail above I am horrified. What on earth was I thinking? Why didn’t I critically reflect and try to change things up? I mean, it was a pretty ghastly experience for all of us. I suppose now it was because I didn’t have a competency framework to guide my practice. I was simply using trial and error (like much of parenting was for me) and hoped that things worked out.

Without a competency framework I see that I too am prone to continue with strategies that simply aren’t working for learners. Teaching is a profession where there is a power gradient (just like parenting) and without a competency framework to keep me accountable, I am at risk of exerting my power in an inappropriate and destructive way. A competency framework will keep me real, in balance and able to grow as a teacher. Let’s take a look at how I can help my homeschooling self use the competency framework we developed in the workshop to improve the situation.

Expertise

Communication: Yes, I know that these are your kids but sometimes kids have some really good points to make. Have you taken a moment to listen to your kids about how they would like to learn how to write essays? Think about how you might want to do this. Communication doesn’t have to always be verbal. Hey, great idea! You could get them to write on how they want to learn.

Evaluation: Is bleeding red ink all over a writing assignment really the best way to give feedback? Have you heard of formative assessment? How might you incorporate this into your teaching strategies?

Professional Development

Lifelong learning: What about taking some courses to learn about how to improve your skills teaching?

Evaluation: You have a facilitator that works with you. Have you considered asking her for feedback?

Flexibility: Try out a new teaching strategy!

 

Personality Traits

Flexibility: Is having your kids be angry and upset going to help their learning? Listening to their feedback could help you grow as a person.

Caring/Empathetic/Compassionate: Yes, you can be like this even when you are teaching your kids.

Integrity: It seems to me that you have been pretty set on continuing to use this approach even though it doesn’t seem to be working. Is this the kind of behaviour you want to model to your kids?

 

Morality/Ethics

Fairness: Ok, so your kids don’t want to learn how to write essays but you think they should. This sounds like what Kidder (1995, 2005) would define as a short-term vs. long-term ethical dilemma: you feel that if your kids don’t learn how to write essays now their career choices (as they won’t be able to get into university in the future) may be somewhat limited. Kidder (1995, 2005) describes three principles that you can use to resolve this dilemma (p 24-25):

  • Ends-based thinking – doing whatever produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
  • Rules-based thinking – acting in ways that model the highest principles regardless of the consequences.
  • Care-based thinking – taking the perspective of another and encourage promotion of his/her interests.

I would also suggest that you take a look at Kidder’s Nine Steps of Ethical Decision Making to help you resolve this dilemma.

Acknowledging Bias: I see that you have a very strong preference for Apprenticeship. Do you think that this is always the best approach to take? What about the other approaches like Developmental or Nurturing? What about your bias about children? Do you believe that they are unable to tell you what helps them to learn?

 

Professional Development

Self-reflection: Have you taken any time to self-reflect on this? This article from the University of Waterloo has some great tools to help you with self- reflection. Mmm, yes, I see how doing a Feedback Instrument for your kids would seem a bit strange but maybe a good place to start could be filming yourself as you teach. Seeing how you are communicating with your kids might help you reflect on things you like (Tools for Reflecting on Your Teaching, n.d., para 36):

  • What am I doing well/not doing well?
  • What do the students seem to enjoy least/most?
  • If I could do this session again, what are 3 things I would change?
  • What resources do I need to use in order to change? 

    I am happy to conclude that my kids did eventually learn to write essays, that they both graduated from university ‘with distinction’ and that they still talk to me from time to time.

References

Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Kidder, R.M. (1995,2005) Overview: the Ethics of Right versus Right. In How Good People Make Tough Decisions: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living (Institute for Global Ethics), (pp 18-29). Retrieved from: https://usm.maine.edu/sites/default/files/core/How%20Good%20People%20Make%20Tough%20Choices-Kidder%20chapter1.pdf

Tools for Reflecting on Your Teaching. (n.d.). Centre for Teaching Excellence Retrieved from: https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/professional-development/enhancing-your-teaching/tools-reflecting-teaching

The Teaching Perspectives Inventory

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Photo source

Much of what I have learned and reflected on in my Blog so far has been on the ‘how’ of teaching – how to create engagement in the classroom, how to help students understand about how they learn and how to improve their learning and how to get them critically thinking see Let’s Get Critical Thinking and Critical Thinking Revisited) etc. For the first time I am now exploring the ‘why’ of how I teach. What makes me chose the teaching strategies, assessments and delivery methods that I do? Are there any discrepancies between my beliefs, intentions and actions about teaching and learning lurking in my unconscious that I am not aware of?

Luckily for teachers there is a tool called the Teaching Perspectives Inventory. The Teaching Perspectives Inventory (TPI) is the result of over 2 decades of research by Drs. Pratt and Collins and involved teachers from different cultures with varying levels of experience and 7 different educational occupations (Pratt & Collins, 2000). The TPI identifies which of 5 perspectives on Teaching: Transmission, Apprenticeship, Developmental, Nurturing and Social Reform is a teacher’s dominant or co-dominant perspective(s) and what back-up perspective(s) s/he might have.

The TPI also teases out for each teacher (Reflecting on your results. In TPI Teaching Perspectives Inventory, 2014) :

  • Beliefs: beliefs about the teaching and learning;
  • Intentions: what the intentions are for teaching and learning;
  • Action: what actions are taken when teaching.

These sub categories are very useful in identifying states of internal consistency or internal discrepancies within a perspective:

  • Internal consistency: beliefs, intentions and actions all align (scores within 1 or 2 points of each other);
  • Internal discrepancies within a perspective where beliefs, intentions and actions do not align (scores differ by 3 or more points).

Pratt and Collins (2000) define their teaching perspectives as follows (Table 1, p 4):

Table 1: Summary of Five Perspectives on Teaching

Transmission

 

From a Transmission Perspective, effective teaching assumes instructors will have mastery over their content. Those who see Transmission as their dominant perspective are committed, sometimes passionately, to their content or subject matter. They believe their content is a relatively well-defined and stable body of knowledge and skills. It is the learners’ responsibility to master that content. The instructional process is shaped and guided by the content. It is the teacher’s primary responsibility to present the content accurately and efficiently to learners.

 

Apprenticeship

 

From an Apprenticeship Perspective, effective teaching assumes that instructors will be experienced practitioners of what they are teaching. Those who hold Apprenticeship as their dominant perspective are committed to having learners observe them in action, doing what it is that learners must learn. They believe, rather passionately, that teaching and learning are most effective when people are working on authentic tasks in real settings of application or practice. Therefore, the instructional process is often a combination of demonstration, observation and guided practice, with learners gradually doing more and more of the work.

 

Developmental

 

From a Developmental Perspective, effective teaching begins with the learners’ prior knowledge of the content and skills to be learned. Instructors holding a Developmental dominant perspective are committed to restructuring how people think about the content. They believe in the emergence of increasingly complex and sophisticated cognitive structures related to thinking about content. The key to changing those structures lies in a combination of effective questioning and ‘bridging’ knowledge that challenges learners to move from relatively simple to more complex forms of thinking.

 

Nurturing

 

From a Nurturing Perspective, effective teaching must respect the learner’s self-concept and self-efficacy. Instructors holding Nurturing as their dominant perspective care deeply about their learners, working to support effort as much as achievement. They are committed to the whole person and certainly not just the intellect of the learner. They believe passionately, that anything that threatens the self-concept interferes with learning. Therefore, their teaching always strives for a balance between challenging people to do their best, while supporting and nurturing their efforts to be successful.

 

Social Reform

 

From a Social Reform Perspective, effective teaching is the pursuit of social change more than individual learning. Instructors holding Social Reform as their dominant perspective are deeply committed to social issues and structural changes in society. Both content and learners are secondary to large-scale change in society. Instructors are clear and articulate about what changes must take place, and their teaching reflects this clarity of purpose. They have no difficulty justifying the use of their teaching as an instrument of social change. Even when teaching, their professional identity is as an advocate for the changes they wish to bring about in society.

 

I thought the tool would be a perfect way to begin answering some of my questions. Here are my results.

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One thing to keep in mid when taking the TPI is that you are to have one learner group in mind and answer the questions according to how you teach them. For me, I was thinking about the online perinatal care course I facilitate for post RNs.

Analysis of dominant perspective

My dominant teaching perspective for this cohort is Apprenticeship. Beliefs, intentions and actions all aligned so internal consistency is noted.

The upside

As I reflect on the definitions of this perspective (as outlined above) I see how it fits with a profession like nursing where, (from what I have determined so far in my learning), the concepts of authentic assessments and social constructivism are key. (For more information about both of these concepts please see my previous blog posts: Constructivism – Learning by Constructing Meaning from Experience and Outcomes Based Education: Advantages and Disadvantages).

The perspective of Apprenticeship allows me to break down tasks to into manageable chunks for students so that they can continue to build on the complexity of the learning while the presence of a mentor provides a safe buffer for patients. As students begin to gain competency with the tasks, they are able to take on more and more responsibility.

The downside

 Collins and Pratt (n.d) identify one of the downsides of the Apprenticeship perspective for the teacher is how to articulate exactly how to perform complex tasks that over time have became almost instinctive. While I do find this to be true when I am mentoring students in the clinical area, for the online course I have the opportunity to be able to take the time to think about what is all involved with a task before I post online.

Another downside proposed by Collins and Pratt (n.d) is knowing when the right time is to shift more of the responsibility to the students. Again, I find that for an online theory course, this is not really relevant but certainly in the clinical area it has created some issues for me. For example, there have been times when I thought that a student would benefit from learning by watching but the student felt that she was ready to do the task herself and only wanted me as support. I see now that I need to balance my strong tendency for the Apprenticeship perspective with one of my back up perspectives: Developmental.

Analysis of back up perspectives

 Developmental

Interestingly my beliefs scored lower than my intentions and actions for this perspective. I wonder if my strong views on Apprenticeship coloured my beliefs on this one. I am glad to see, however, that my intentions and actions were aligned as this perspective is something I actually value as a learner and endeavour to provide for my students when I am able to move past the Apprenticeship perspective at least!

Nurturing

While I appear to believe and intend quite strongly to be nurturing to students I see that my actions do not demonstrate this to the same degree. I suspect this is so as while I totally believe in and intend to provide a supportive and nurturing environment, there is a standard level of care that all students must achieve and if the student is not able to meet this standard s/he is not safe to work with patients.

Recessive perspectives

Transmission

The results of my beliefs, intentions and actions were interesting for this one as I scored the lowest you can for intention, somewhat middle for beliefs but the highest possible for action. I feel that despite me not being a fan of this perspective, it is a health care course I am facilitating and the expectation is that information is conveyed efficiently and logically. I totally agree that the course is heavy on content and not enough on learners’ needs so it does cause me to constantly wonder how I might be able to change up things. As a start, I am working on improving the workshop component of the course where the flipped classroom approach is being utilized.

Social Reform

Beliefs, intentions and actions were a bit all over here – belief was at the lowest score but my intentions and actions were somewhat higher. I feel that this reflects the conservative nature of nursing – being a rebel in nursing is NOT encouraged so I have learned to tone it down. That being said, I also believe strongly that as health care providers we need to examine system and personal biases so that we can provide the best care possible to our patients. As a result there are case studies and questions I have worked into the course that are there to help the students reflect and hopefully make changes in themselves and in their work places.

Conclusion

Taking the TPI has given me a great opportunity to reflect on what I believe, feel and do in regards teaching and learning. I intend on using it again in a few months to assess if my TPI will reflect the Teaching Philosophy that I will be developing later in the PIDP 3260 course.

References

Pratt, Daniel D. and Collins, John B. (2000). “The Teaching Perspectives Inventory (TPI),” Adult Education Research Conference. Retrieved from: http://newprairiepress.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2207&context=aerc

Pratt, Daniel D. and Collins, John B. (2014). Reflecting on your results. In TPI Teaching Perspectives Inventory. Retrieved from: http://www.teachingperspectives.com/tpi/

Pratt, Daniel D. and Collins, John B. (2014). TPI Teaching Perspectives Inventory. Retrieved from: http://www.teachingperspectives.com/tpi/

Pratt, Daniel D. and Collins, John B. (n.d) Teaching Perspectives Inventory (Power point slides). Retrieved from: http://bus.emory.edu/scrosso/Talks/AAA%20Regionals%20Teaching%20Perspective%20Inventory.pdf