Course Reflection: EDU 6150 – General Inquiry, Teaching, & Assessment Methods

4.2 Setting Instructional Outcomes

All the instructional outcomes are clear, written in the form of student learning. Most suggest viable methods of assessment.

Program Standard 4.2 addresses the need for educators to plan lessons with clear and definite outcomes in mind.  An effective lesson is built around specific statements of what teachers want students to know or do.  When such statements are strong, they will naturally identify a specific method of assessing student progress toward the instructional objectives. An insufficiently specific instructional objective like “Students will learn to read better,” won’t help an educator select assessment methods.  An objective that is specific and measureable is easier to assess.

This partnership between instructional objective and assessment method lies at the heart of “backward design,” the curriculum planning sequence laid out by Wiggins and McTighe (1998) who have pointed out that “Teaching ‘moves’ must be made in light of our goals and what they require” (p. 159).  In other words, every decision an educator makes about a lesson should be tied to a clear learning objective.

I’m excited about backward design. I haven’t talked to anyone who isn’t.  Backward design is dreamy.  It’s logical and precise; I almost want to call it sleek.  Perhaps the most exciting aspect of backward design is its exquisite usefulness.

Ironically, backward design is also difficult to execute.  It is intuitive, but it is not simple.

During my first attempt to write a lesson, I forgot all about the principles of backward design, and rattled off various practice activities.  Something about that burst of energy induced a miniature post-traumatic stress flashback to a humbling coaching experience.  The short version is that a group of 10-year-old girls’ had to be rescued from my coaching style.  I was all over the place – my basketball practices featured a turbulent assortment of meticulously thorough, but entirely unrelated, drills.  I was trying to teach a comprehensive theory of basketball through repetition of the game’s smallest movements.  It was zero fun.

You see, I really love basketball; so I like the fundamental pieces of basketball, too.  I can enjoy drills without having any particular goal, without motivation, even without fun.  Unfortunately for an anonymous group of middle school students, I love language arts even more than I love basketball, and am likely prone to the same manic style of instruction I exhibited in the gym.

Before I received some very helpful feedback, my Mid-Quarter Lesson Design featured a two-pronged learning target which failed to indicate a specific task, let alone particular form of assessment.  But somehow, every “practice activity” field was filled in.  Somehow, I wrote out some different things for students work on without knowing what I wanted them to work toward.  My process was nothing like the dreamy backward design I’ve described above.

My first stab (and I do mean stab) at lesson planning has dramatized and reinforced the cornerstone of backward design:  effective lessons are built around clearly defined instructional outcomes.  Writing a solid learning target (or the central focus, or essential questions, big ideas, etc.) is the necessary first step because every other element of the lesson must directly support the objectives specified in the learning target.

Work Cited:

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J.  (1998).  Understanding by design.  Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Course Reflection: EDU 6918 – Introduction to Teaching

This class has covered a huge assortment of information.  Our content ranged from the huge questions, such as “Where does knowledge come from?” and “What is your vision for education?” to smaller and more practical questions like “What does OSPI stand for?” and “What should I wear to work?”

Why such an outrageous range of topics?  Not surprisingly, effective educators are expected to know lots and lots of things.  That’s probably part of the common misconception that every great teacher is a Renaissance type.  Teachers are supposedmary-poppins-practically-perfect-in-every-wayto be exceptionally knowledgeable as well as exceptionally patient, interesting, diligent – the list goes on.  No wonder
friends and family give me a glossy-eyed look when they learn about my professional aspirations.  People believe that all teachers are just like Mary Poppins.  I have mostly believed that in order to be a great teacher, I’ll have to be “practically perfect in every way.”  So I had planned on pretending; I would just pretend to know and be everything.

I was relieved to find the following quotation, from Parker J. Palmer’s The Courage to Teach, projected in enormous letters on our first day of class:  “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.”  Parker goes on to explain that, “Identity and integrity have as much to do with our shadows and limits, our wounds and fears, as with our strengths and potentials.”

Parker Palmer and the work of this course recommend the opposite of pretending; this quarter, we have practiced a two-fold method for improvement: humble self-assessment and collaboration.

One assignment through which we were able to humbly confront what Palmer has called our “shadows and limits” was the Disposition Self-Assessment paper.  We rated ourselves on teacherly dispositions, such as compassion, attentiveness, and professionalism.  And then we had to write a paper about it.  Parker Palmer loves this stuff, but it’s hard for me.  I have never thought of myself as “professional.”  As far as I know, no friend or colleague has ever described me as such.  This section of the disposition self-assessment, as well as our eighth program standard, gave me a bit of a rash.

8. Professional Practice The teacher participates collaboratively in the educational community to improve instruction, advance the knowledge and practice of teaching as a profession, and ultimately impact student learning.

Developing proficiency in this standard requires Parker Palmer’s notion of integrity, not Mary Poppins’ measurement of perfection.   In order to engage the educational community in a meaningful and collaborative way, I can’t pretend.  My contribution is only as good as what I actually know, and a humble awareness of the gifts I bring to my community.  In other words, professional collaboration begins with honest self-assessment.

Unfortunately, my first stab (and I do mean “stab”) at reflection on my dispositions yielded more fretful self-consciousness than productive self-awareness.  I stayed up far too late writing what was more or less an apology to myself, and submitted this about a 80 seconds after it was due.  That’s when the a slightly more authentic reflective thought occurred to me – what have I just turned in?  Was all that navel-gazing what my professors had in mind when they designed this assignment?  Do I reflect in a way that will make me a better teacher?  Or do I mostly scrutinize myself, stew about the fact that I’m not Mary Poppins?

During the next class session, we had an opportunity to talk through our strengths and weaknesses with our classmates.  While it seems like the added social factor would make this experience much more unnerving than the process of writing a paper alone at my desk, I found that the opposite was true.  It was only after I spoke with my peers about our self-assessments, that I able to accurately evaluate my own dispositions.  In the context of academic community, my self-conscious inner monologue became a focused and profitable self-awareness.

The Disposition Self-Assessment, and this course, has effectively replaced my most troubling misconception about becoming a teacher – that it’d require me to feign perfection in order to be professional.  As it turns out, professional practice isn’t about perfection. Professional practice is developed by taking humble and well-informed steps, in the context of educational community, toward the goal of positively impacting students.Dispostions Evidence

Course Reflection: EDU 6132 – Learners in Context

3. Differentiation – The teacher acquires and uses specific knowledge about students’ cultural, individual intellectual and social development and uses that knowledge to adjust their practice by employing strategies that advance student learning.

I’ve spent summer chasing a bright thread through all these theories.  Piaget called it “cognitive conflict,” information processing theory urges educators to orient students within their “current semantic networks,” and Vygotsky has named it the “Zone of Proximal Development.”  While stage theory, information processing theory, and Vygotsky’s Sociocultural theory each emphasize their own favorite aspects, they all agree that students need to be challenged appropriately.  Visit any childcare provider and you’ll likely see the same principle at work – adults teaching a child to walk will often place a toy just beyond his current reach, to motivate his development.  Oddly enough, you might not see principle at work in schools; students are often bored by work too easy, or frustrated by instruction or assignments they can’t begin to understand.

I arrived at Learners in Context with three years of experience in schools under my belt.  Much like the hypothetical day care provider, I had the intuitive sense that kids are motivated toward progress when they can see that the goal is just beyond their current reach.  However, looking back on my work as a paraeducator, I often neglected to consider what precise amount of support would be most motivating for my student; I was more concerned with what made the most sense on my side of the interaction.  I know from personal experience that while the concept of ZPD makes so much sense it feels intuitive, it isn’t necessarily easy to use.  Pressley and McCormick (2007) have pointed out, “Scaffolding demands much of teachers, and for teachers to work that hard, they must care about their students” (p. 166).

I have always made it a point of honor to care about my students, but Vygotsky’s interactive apprenticeship model, which emphasizes modeling, coaching, and scaffolding, invites me to a more precise and deliberate type of caring.  While the sociocultural learning theory clearly emphasizes student-teacher interaction, this theory requires a teacher to facilitate her students’ interactions with the content, not with herself.  This means that what I can do in 55 minutes is not as important as identifying what students can do in that time.  When I design lessons, student progress toward the next cognitive post must be paramount.  I’ll need to systematically assess student understanding, so that I will know what that next post is, and what types of models, prompts, or cues will help students struggle toward it.  I’ll also have to keep in mind that sometimes the best thing for a student is for their caring guide to decrease or remove support.

Pressely, M., & McCormick, C. B. (2007). Child and adolescent development for educators. New York, NY: Guilford Press.