At the American Education Research Association annual meeting in April, Clive Beck, Clare Kosnik and members of their research team received an award from the AERA Constructivist SIG for a submission based on their longitudinal study of 40 teachers. This study, which began in 2004, has been funded by four successive SSHRC grants and will continue for at least two more years; it is one of the most extensive longitudinal studies of teachers ever conducted. Also in April, a chapter on longitudinal research written by Clive, Clare and Elizabeth Rosales was published in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia, Education.
As I (Yiola) prepare for the upcoming AERA conference by finalizing and editing my papers I am drawn to a few key ideas on teacher development that I have come across in the literature.
The International Handbook of Teacher Education volumes 1 and 2 (Loughran and Hamilton Eds., 2016) include a number of chapters on topics in teacher education. Our own team leaders Clare Kosnik and Clive Beck along with close colleague Lin Goodwin (Teachers College, Columbia University) share a chapter on Reform Efforts in Teacher Education.
The volumes are filled with interesting chapters. What has caught my attention at this time is a chapter on teacher led professional development. Bullough and Smith write on Being a student of teaching: Practitioner research and study groups. The chapter describes the idea of being a student of teaching (as a current practitioner) from two dimensions: the personal and the contextual. Exploring reflective practice (the personal dimension) and opportunities and support for teacher learning (the contextual dimension), the authors share insights from Dewey (1933) to Avalos (2004, 2011) and Livingston (2011). The chapter also explores ways of being a student of teaching: through practitioner research and study groups and the varied ways one can learn. An in-depth and detailed review and analysis of teacher led professional development.
This work fits beautifully with my paper titled: Examining the Professional Life of an Elementary School Teacher: Literacy Education in the Making where I have taken one participant from our 13 year longitudinal study of 40 elementary schools teachers from Canada and the USA and shared her literacy teaching trajectory (mainly from the contextual dimension). I am looking forward to sharing this paper and work at the upcoming AERA conference in late April.
I came back to academia after being in a professional role for over three years with a promise to myself: I will not work across weekends.
As I mentioned in a recent post, some people derided my promise. Many more laughed in disbelief, or were encouraging in their words but exuded an air of ‘that promise is doomed, doomed!’. Having been in a professional job where I found it extremely easy to maintain the boundaries between work and non-work time, I was very used to having weekends in my life. I assumed that transitioning (again) into an academic role while keeping weekends free would be relatively easy. It was the status quo for me at the time, after all.
Two and a half years after returning to academia, then, how is my promise of ‘not working on weekends’ going for me?
A number of my friends and colleagues experienced the scenarios depicted below. Luckily, I (Cathy) never did. The transitions were smooth for us as parents and for our children. As teachers, however, my husband and I would get anxious, whether teaching K or undergraduates: what will our students be like?; am I ready?; how will I get my classroom set up?; I don’t understand this new policy… Parents I spoke to (that were not teachers) were surprised by this. They assumed we had it ‘down pat’ and never even thought about it. They didn’t understand that every year was a brand new set of challenges and joys and it would take a few weeks to get things settled in.
I wish all the teachers out there, elementary, secondary, and higher education a great start to their year. May it be as smooth and fruitful!
One of my (Cathy’s) favourite first tasks for my new teacher candidates is to have them define the term literacy on paper- written or drawn- no right or wrong. I tuck this away for them and then give it back on the last day of our literacy course so they can it to compare their (hopefully somewhat) altered definition. For some the definition changes a lot and for some not so much. The differences represent the teacher candidates prior knowledge of literacy and literacy practices; their ability to make adjustments; their open mindedness; and their ability to accept change. Reshaping ones definition of literacy is a process and its actually quite demanding.
Every year I look for new academic, scholarly, or institutional definitions of literacy, or as I prefer to refer to it- literacies- to share with my TC’s as their definitions shift and grow. This year I will include the definition below. It is from the Ontario government’s document Focus on Literacy (2013):
LITERACY – Kindergarten to Grade 12 Literacy is … the ability to use language and images in rich and varied forms to read, write, listen, speak, view, represent, discuss and think critically about ideas. Literacy enables us to share information and to interact with others. Literacy is an essential tool for personal growth and active participation in a democratic society.
Literacy involves the capacity to:
• access, manage, create and evaluate information
• think imaginatively and analytically
• communicate thoughts and ideas effectively
• apply metacognitive knowledge and skills
• develop a sense of self-efficacy and an interest in life-long learning
The development of literacy is a complex process that involves building on prior knowledge, culture and experiences in order to instill new knowledge and deepen understanding.
I especially like the last line. I hope my TC’s do to.
It started as a little book launch that (I) Clare was organizing for our new book. It grew to include 4 “hot off the press” books. All of which I must read! The book launch was unique because it included authors from different departments and programs. And it was great fun!.
Building Bridges: Rethinking Literacy Teacher Education in a Digital Era by Clare Kosnik, Simone White, Clive Beck, Bethan Marshall, A. Lin Goodwin, and Jean Murray (I know this book well – tee hee!)
Taking Shape: Activities to Help Develop Geometric and Spatial Thinking by Joan Moss, Bev Caswell, Zack Hawes, Cathy Bruce, and Tara Flynn
Teaching Literature to Adolescents by Richard Beach, Deborah Appleman, Bob Fecho, and Rob Simon
The Pedagogy of Standardized Testing: The Radical Impacts of Educational Standardization in the US and Canada by Arlo Kemp
Teaching can be very satisfying, but it isn’t easy. I (Clive) just received my course evaluation for last term and was reminded that “you can’t win them all.” I thought the course was my best ever, and most students rated it as “excellent.” But some just said it was “very good” (hmmm – why was that?) and one gave it a “good” or “moderate” on every item (what’s their problem?!).
One of the most important principles in teaching, I think, is that you can’t win them all. Some people don’t like it because it implies you aren’t going to try hard enough: it lets you off the hook. But on the one hand, it helps you be realistic and maintain your morale as a teacher; and on the other, it reminds you that everybody’s different. Different people want different things from a course and have different views on how to teach. Yes we should try to meet every student’s needs in a course, but no we shouldn’t be surprised or become dispirited when some students are not ecstatic about our teaching approach.
But come to think of it, if I found some good videos and varied the class format more, maybe I would get excellent from everyone…. Just joking!
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.
Here are some snapshots and highlights of my experience at AERA this year. If I (yiola) could name the experience I would call it: Goosebumps and Inspirations… it was just that good.
I attended a Round Table session (this is where presenters gather at a “round table” and share their research). The Round table is a great opportunity to not only share your work but hear from others in a less formal manner. This round table was hosted by the Writing and Literacies special interest group (SIG) and the focus of the round table was critical literacy. Dr. Barbara Comber from the University of South Australia presented on critical literacy pedagogy in the early years. Her work and my work are closely aligned.
2.I attended a presidential talk that was a tribute to the life and work of Dr. Phil Jackson. The focus of the talk was on the question of education. I really like what this panel did: each panel member selected a passage from a text written by Dr. Jackson and talked about its significance to them. A paragraph was read from The Practice of Teaching and the idea of transformative teaching… such an important and central idea in progressive education. A piece was read from Handbook of Research on Curriculum: Conceptions of Curriculum and the the idea that school is systematically harming children… and how can we work against that? Linda Darling-Hammond read a passage from his famous book Life in Classrooms and spoke of the “multi-dimensionality and simultaneously nature of teaching” and the essential relationships associated with teaching. And, one panel member shared from Dr. Jackson’s last book published in 2012, What is Education and spoke of education as pure and simple; something we must rededicate ourselves too over time.
3. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to listen to the presidential lecture for Division K hosted by Dr. Lin Goodwin, Teachers College Columbia University. A remarkable speaker who not only inspires with her words but truly challenged me to think about what quality teacher education requires. What I like most about Dr. Goodwin is her genuine nature. A distinguished academic and also a beautiful human being. Here are some pictures from her talk including slides from her presentation.
4. Yet another interesting Presidential session with Wayne Au, Marilyn Cochran-Smith, Kevin Kumashiro (and others) that explored policy and standards in Teacher Education. Laden with some controversial findings for the testing systems for new teachers and teacher education programs, the presentations were provocative and interesting:
5. The last session I would like to share is one where we presented at the Constructivist SIG. A lovely group of people from across North America, we exchanged ideas of what it means to teach in constructivist ways. Our team leader Dr. Clare Kosnik presented work from the Literacy Teacher Education research and presented on a group of literacy teacher educators who had strong constructivist pedagogies.
Finally, AERA is held at such interesting places. One has to take some time to enjoy the beauty of the district and take in some of the sights.
Dinner with the Research Team
An afternoon at the Renwick with artist Jennifer Angus who currently has an exhibit at Wonder (Angus is 2nd from the right)