The First of the last: Happy December

Today is December 1st, the first day of the last month of the year.  I (yiola) have finished teaching for the term as courses have ended and student teachers are wrapping up their final week of classroom teaching placements. I have papers to read and evaluate and grades to report and then my thoughts move into the next term with considerations for how to make my courses and learning experience even better than the last.

It has been a wonderful term. Beyond feeling good about the term, I reflect on what I think has made my courses run smoothly. Below I list some of the elements that stand out as contributing to the making of successful learning experiences in my teacher education courses.

The Students: Hands down the most influential element for fostering successful learning experiences in my courses are the students; their preparedness, willingness to learn, participation in class, positive attitudes and approaches during class discussions, and openness to critically thinking about all they are learning.

Content and Pedagogy:  What to teach and how to teach in teacher education have always made for interesting discussions. As post-graduate education I see the courses as graduate level courses that are also part of a professional program. I ground the readings and my teaching in research and share information that is interesting, accessible, and what I will call connectable.  Connectable meaning bringing together the research with student teachers’ practical experiences and the Ministry curriculum. Research, practice, policy are the three points of my pedagogical content triangle.  The content needs to be current, relevant, accessible and grounded in research. My role is to bring the content to life; to encourage students to think about the content and how it applies to their practice and to student learning; to critique the content and think critically about it, not to criticize but rather to analyze.

Our teacher education classes are three hours long and within those three hours there are a number of pedagogical strategies used to engage and extend our learning:  what I call a lecturette is something I bring to each class ~ a short presentation that addresses and extends key issues based on research and scholarship; small group discussions; whole class discussions; student led presentations; short experiential opportunities. For example, last week as we explored program planning and cross curricular considerations I gave a short lecturette on the concept of program planning using Beck and Kosnik’s work from The Seven Priorities of Teacher Education. The literature we used was liberating in that it presented not only research-based content but also “real life” content of what it meant to consider for program planning. Student teachers were able to relate and think broadly about what it meant to program plan in the elementary classroom and this was evident through the class discussions.  We then moved into exploring some of the concepts presented in the reading and focused on integration and cross-curricular connections. I shared a read aloud Wangari’s Trees of Peace set a context for planning development. I modelled working through the beginnings of a planning process.  The students got into small groups and explored the curriculum looking at ways to integrate and build on what I started.  Students represented their thinking on chart paper which was put up for a gallery walk (that way avoiding every group presenting) and we came back and analyzed the experience of thinking about cross-curricular possibilities  and how it relates back to the broader scope of program planning.

Theory and Practice:  I teach theory. Even when I talk about practice, I am theorizing practice. As a teacher educator in my university classroom it is what I do. I can talk about my practice. I can have students talk about their practice and we can apply practical elements into the classes. These are some subtle ways of connecting theory to practice. What happens in our course that I believe really ties theory to practice is the presence of the practicum coordinator at our classes. The practicum coordinator is the person who sets up the teaching placements, consults with students about their teaching placements, visits the students at their teaching placements and brings to the program all elements of practice. This person also attends my courses. She often sits in on the classes, adds practice teaching suggestions and resources to the discussion and often extends the learning by taking twenty minutes to share insights between what we discuss in class and the teaching placements. The students share their experiences and provide concrete examples from their specific teaching placements.

Snack: Food = community. Food = nourishment. Food = caring.  The learning environment is enriched when there is time for the community to come together over a small snack during the break. This is an essential part of the class.

And then there are elements that run outside the courses  that have had such strong influence on my practice:

Mentorship:  The modelling and care my mentors have shown for teacher education has paved the way for my practice. The opportunity to be a Teaching Assistant in an exemplary teacher educators class during one’s doctoral journey holds much benefit. Clare Kosnik has been my mentor and has demonstrated excellence in teacher education that I have been able to learn. From planning, to content, to pedagogy, and community building I have received mentorship through observation, discussions, sharing, and co-teaching I have been able to extend and build on her amazing work.  Excellence does not happen at the onset of one’s practice but there is no better way to begin one’s practice than to listen, observe and work with an exemplary teacher educator.

Research:  Reading about teacher education, talking about teacher education, researching teacher education, writing about teacher education are at the core of my practice.  When I wonder how to design my assignments, I look to the literature and discuss with my mentor;  when I wonder how student teachers may respond to particular critical content areas, I look to the literature and quickly gain a clear portrait of what to expect and how to approach the potential reactions and experiences my students may face; when I prepare to teach issues of literacy teaching I look to the literature of literacy teacher educators and that allows me to consider my own practice and how to make it better for student teacher learning.

And now with December upon us, today is the first day of the last month of the year,  and the closing of a term is near I wish all teacher educators all the best.

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