This last week, I worked to develop more routines and procedures that would help me teach “with” and not “to” or “for” as bell hooks discussed building on Freire’s idea of praxis

I find that it’s important to reiterate that no one person can be successful, but that it takes a collaboration of people to be successful. That is the definition of a professional. No doctor, counselor, or dentist can be successful on their own. They need the collaboration of the client to be successful. As a professor, we need the collaboration of all of us to be successful.

This week I tried to be more welcoming of input from students. At the beginning of class, I asked students to hold more of a dialogue, interspersing comments and questions. This was somewhat helpful as students I think felt comfortable to share and I praised those who asked questions and explained that this dialogue makes our class time more complex and thoughtful.

I continue to start class by putting students in breakout rooms where they can talk about how their work as teachers in classrooms and how it connects to the readings and topics we are discussing that day. I take notes in the breakout rooms and address the issues during the lecture/discussion by naming the student who was making the comment. I also mention that the students can make comments in chat. This has happened frequently and I am encouraged by student input as a way to make the conversation in class more complex and applicable to the individual student teachers.

At the end of class, I address any questions for the group and then wait online until all the students have gone. I always have students who are perhaps too shy and meet with me and they wait until the end of class to have a discussion with me.

In all these ways, I hope to be learning more “with” students rather than teaching “to” or “for.” Through our collaboration, we can be successful.

I am still working to understand what it means to learn “with” students as opposed to teaching “for” or “to” students. In this post, I explore the many obstacles that keep me teaching “to” and “for” students.

First and probably foremost, there is a long tradition of authority that the professor holds.  This authority is established in the early in kindergarten when the teacher gives directions to students about what to do.  This is a bit complicated.

In previous blog posts I posted a more extensive argument about the need for teachers to plan for instruction considering Joseph Schwab’s four commonplaces: student abilities and needs, teacher knowledge and talents, the (state) curriculum, and the community.  The complexity that this involves may be ideal, but in reality (and perhaps to be a bit pessimistic) I and other teachers consider a range of factors including but not limited to (in order of priority): 1) what is the easiest and quickest thing to plan, 2) what was successful before, 3) what do I know how to do, 4) what can I control, 5) what will make my students happy, 6) what is the state curriculum, 7) what are my current students’ unique needs, 8) what are the extant community needs. 

So this list of prioritized considerations generally looks pretty selfish, but it doesn’t have to be.  Consider the first three considerations of planning above, if I have done the hard work in advance of developing routines that take into account student need, my abilities as a teacher and community, and the curriculum, then the easiest, quickest way to plan is to follow that routine of assessing or reviewing student needs.  If I have done that many times, then I know how it will be successful; I know how to do it; I can control it; it will make students happy; and it will follow the curriculum.

So the key is to do the hard work in advance of developing content, routines, and procedures that take those ideas into account.  Now that takes a lot of work.  If I am going to teach a class for one semester, I find myself thinking, ‘eh…how much work do I want to put into this.’  So, I find that it’s best if you don’t teach the same class or same types of classes.  Then all you have to do is general pedagogy development to stay current on new technology and pedagogies and stay on the cutting edge of the field updating your course as appropriate.

Learning ‘With’ Students

In 1973 and throughout his career, Joseph Schwab wrote about the complexity that successful teachers face when deciding what to teach. He claimed that teachers have much more to consider beyond the established curriculum (i.e. the books, the established goals, and method of teaching as outlined by the department in the syllabus) when they are making decisions about what to teach. Teachers should also consider the needs of the students and what skills, strategies, and dispositions they will need to be successful. Third, teachers also need to consider how they can use their own special talents such as their visual and performing arts skills, social capital, cultural capital, linguistic capital, (Yosso, 2005) persistence to relay the curriculum. Finally, a successful teacher needs to think about the community context. This includes community resources such as libraries, familial assets (Yosso, 2005) and the needs that exist in the community. Schwab called these considerations teachers need to make to decide what to teach, the four commonplaces.

After reading Teaching to Transgress (hooks, 1994) this past week, my goal this week was to learn ‘with’ students and not ‘teaching to’ or ‘teaching for’ students. That meant not only thinking of the curriculum which was the Blackboard I had set up and the lectures as outlined by the syllabus. I had to consider other areas, the four commonplaces as outlined above. In other words in order to learn with the students, I had to first understand what my student needs were regarding the topic that was on the syllabus. My students, are all student teachers working in kindergarten through eighth grade schools (k-8) teaching virtually to their students and so I had to know what situation they were in. I also know that they need to pass two state exams, the teacher performance exam called the CalTPA and an exam called the Reading Instructional Competency Assessment (RICA). I also had to understand what the community context where they were working in the classroom. Certainly, when they are teaching virtually, students at home may have all the technological equipment needed and they may be in their own room. Other students of my student teachers are learning with poor internet, poor computer, or in an apartment in which other family members’ activities maybe distracting.

This week in order to learn “with” my students, I decided to focus on the student teachers’ needs were in order to be able to teach to their own k-8 students. In two of my classes, the topic of the week, was teaching: 1) phonics, 2) beginning reading using the Language Experience Approach, and 3) oral language development. So I started class with an overview and then asking students to think of what they needed to teach this. I split the students into breakout rooms for about 20 minutes and then visited them in their breakout rooms. I wrote notes down on a piece of paper about the name and need of the student teacher. Then throughout the activities that followed, I was able to name the student and address the need that they had for that week. So basically, I felt that I had made progress learning ‘with’ my students.

Of course, it wasn’t that simple. Several student teachers were in classrooms in the upper grades and as a result, did not have to teach phonics or beginning reading. Other students were in virtual classrooms in which the students were in chaotic learning situations at home. So the curriculum we discussed actually changed significantly to address those needs.

Now writing this, while I feel good about the progress we made, I realize we have not addressed several parts of Schwab’s four commonplaces. I did not sufficiently name the teaching relationship they had with their mentor teacher as a part of the community context. I did not sufficiently address questions about the official curriculum i.e. the state standards and the materials they were using to teach. I did not sufficiently understand their own personal needs and address their yet to be discovered need to know the information to pass the CalTPA and the RICA. I also didn’t sufficiently understand what they need to do to work with the parents of the children they were teaching to improve the learning context for their students. While I did ask them at the beginning of class, I did not sufficiently revisit their needs and incorporate them into my curriculum.

So, I feel good about what I have done so far, and I also feel that I have a long way to go.

hooks, bell. (1994). Teaching to transgress: education as the practice of freedom. Routledge.

Schwab, J. (1973). The Practical 3: Translation into Curriculum. The School Review,81(4), 501-522. Retrieved February 9, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1084423

Yosso, T. J. (2005) Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth, Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69-91, DOI: 10.1080/1361332052000341006

Solving Real Problems in Teacher Education

Students often complain that college professors talk so much about theory and not enough about how to learn specific skills. OK, I am definitely guilty of that. I discuss some theory of teaching literacy without asking the students what particular problems or challenges they are having in the classroom. And so students dutifully listen and respond in chat or breakouts (with Zoom) not wanting to challenge my authority. We all know that challenging a professor’s authority can turn the professor against the student resulting in low grades and classroom humiliation of the student. At worst, in our program, failure in a class might cause a student to have to repeat the semester costing time and thousands of dollars, not to mention the long term effects of humiliation. So students are kind of programmed to be quiet, listen, and replicate the information the professor has on exams, in projects, or in lesson plans (they will theoretically use to teach children in student teaching).

Students (which we refer to as ‘teacher candidates’) do have experience and prior knowledge about being in the classroom. By the time they work on their teaching credential, they usually have 17 years of observation of different teachers teaching (i.e. K-12 plus 4 years of college). Dan Lortie (in School Teacher, 2002) calls this the “apprenticeship of observation” and it’s hard for teacher candidates to ignore. Basically, teacher candidates learn about new methods based on new and updated education scholarship in class, but then when they get in with the classroom and with the socialization of their mentor teachers, they often unthinkingly revert to how they were taught. They don’t take up with new strategies taught to them in the university classroom. They simply replicate the old methods of teaching. So teacher candidates have a kind of schizophrenic existence having to please their professors at the university with these new methods the university professors espouse, and then pleasing their teacher mentors in actual field placements and doing what they have seen done for 17 years in the kindergarten through twelfth grade classroom (K-12). In that case, teacher education has little effect on transforming K-12 education.

The conceptual change model taken from science education is helpful here. To change a teacher candidate’s misconceptions of what good teaching is, first the teacher candidate needs to tell the teacher education professor their prior experience with the teaching topic to be addressed. The teacher educator has to know what the teacher candidate’s ideas are about teaching, for example teaching reading to young children. This is hard because their ideas might be in their own subconscious understanding. It’s like fish seeing water. It’s there but you don’t really think about it. So first, the university teacher educator needs to know the teacher candidates understanding of how to teach young children to read. In many cases, their understanding of teaching reading to young children is not consistent with the best models of teaching reading. To actually make a change in the teacher candidates behavior, two things are necessary. First, the university professor has to find out what the student’s understanding of teaching reading is, then help the student see why that method is less effective. That disequilibrium allows the student to be open to a new method. Second, the new method of more effective teaching is introduced. Theoretically then, the student has to try that new method several times before they can shake their misconceptions about effective teaching for good. Unfortunately, in teacher education there are other variables to contend with such as the social context and the curriculum (materials in the classroom and goals of instruction). More on this later.

In Teaching to Transgress bell hook advocates the idea of praxis which is learning WITH others (i.e. not TO others or FOR others) includes the need for others (teacher candidates in this instance) to be conscious of their own misconceptions, problems in teaching, and the social context. When learners know their own problem, they have conscientization or consciousness about their need and the social context. When the professor asks them about their understanding and clarifies their understanding and the social context, then the teacher candidate can work WITH the professor to develop next steps to address the problems they face or conscientization.

OK, so while I write this I recognize that there are still some differences in the way Paulo Freire thought about praxis, but I will have to get to that in another post. The upshot for my own teaching is that I need to do a better job at finding out: 1) what teacher candidates’ understanding of teaching is based mostly on their 17 years of observation, 2) address their understanding by showing ineffectiveness, 3) understanding what their social context and the curriculum is (more later on that also), and 4) work WITH the teacher candidate to come up with the most effective method of teaching reading.

OK, there are still tons of issues to work out. Be patient. This is a blog, not a book.