When we hear the term “courage” we often think of someone dashing into a burning building to save a child or an unarmed individual wrestling to the ground someone with a gun. Yes these are courageous acts but I (Clare) want to talk about an unsung group who I feel have the fortitude and tenacity to be courageous.
In our study of literacy teacher educators which we have written about on this blog we shared some of our findings showing many examples of truly exemplary teaching. We are currently working on a paper about 6 literacy teacher educators who use a constructivist approach to their literacy courses. In this era where education is highly politicized with mandated national curriculum and oversight by external bodies it takes “guts” to adopt an approach that includes: knowledge is constructed by learners; knowledge is experience based; learning is social; all aspects of a person are connected; and learning communities should be inclusive and equitable.
Ahsan and Smith (2016) who advocate a social constructivist approach have identified practices that support learning based on the social constructivist theory
- Social interaction and dialogue
- Environment deeply rooted in culture
- More Knowledgeable Others (MKOs) helping students
- Progressing through the zone of proximal development (ZPD)
- Constructive and timely feedback
- Collaboration among students (p. 134)
Constructivism does not mean that you discard traditional forms of teaching (lectures, assignments, and readings) but it requires the teacher educator to have an inquiry-orientation; not just model good teaching but unpack it with their student teachers often revealing their own vulnerabilities; willingly to admit that they learn from their student teachers; have courses that are organic because they respond to student teachers’ needs; and build a social and intellectual community — often blurring the traditional lines between professor and student teacher. Yes their courses can be somewhat messy because they create space for discussion which often veers off from the plan but they are addressing student teachers’ needs.
To teach in this way takes courage because they are teaching in a way that they most likely did not experience as a student. A constructivist framework which is both a philosophy and a pedagogy may be a more useful approach to reform than the endless lists of expectations. These literacy teacher educators trusted themselves and their student teachers. The next step is for governments to trust teacher educators. And we need to applaud their courage to think outside the box and truly focus on their student teachers.