To complete the cycle of critical literacy, one has to act in some way to transform the world to a better place seeking justice and equity for marginalized populations. Most of my recent posts have kept in mind the ideas in Teaching to Transform by bel hooks and my own studies about teaching literacy instruction and teacher education. Below, I offer some conclusions about actions I have taken or want to take as a result of this intellectual journey mostly focusing on praixis.In critical pedagogy, praxis is a tool used to transform society into a more just and equitable world.
Praxis in Teacher Education
A person with expertise from outside the community must collaborate with local clients to find out what their problems are before the group decides on actions to resolve problems.
Following the action is a praxis cycle of reflection, and then plans to continue, scrap, or modify the action taken. This cycle has been adopted by many colleges of teacher education and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. So the expert learns or studies the problem ‘with’ instead of coming in with a bag of expert tricks to teach ‘to’ or ‘for’ the clients/students. The nomenclature is challenging here, but in a college of education, the expert would be the professor and the student would be the client.
Student teachers do praxis. There are a number of ways professors can approach this theoretical praxis model in teacher education classes. Obviously, when a student teacher teaches children, they should flow through the cycle of praxis finding out what each K-12 student’s needs are and addressing planning action to address the needs. It is super important that the child knows about the results of the assessment and how the teacher is addressing the need so the child feels like they are a part of the learning process. The student teacher then examines strengths & weaknesses of the lesson reflecting and then setting goals for the future lessons.
Professor leading praxis. As a professor, I follow a similar praxis cycle somewhat modified because I have 130 students in my four classes. Based on decades of praxis cycling on specific assignments, I can prevent predictable shortcomings with models, structures, and strategy discussions about the assignments. I give specific feedback when necessary and allow students to revise the assignment to mastery. I also give whole group feedback with whole class emails and announcements in Blackboard. All that is normal college teaching.
The silent student. Over the previous 17 years of school, students have learned to sit down and be quiet waiting for the teacher to give wisdom. Almost two decades of school has taught
them that their input is not desired. They are depressed. So I have to do things to to break out of that lift the mood, get students active, and questioning. The first two minutes of class, I start with some fun upbeat music asking the students to identify the song in the chat box or aloud. Online, I require students contribute to the chat at least 6 times in a typical 3 hour online class and give participation points on an irregular schedule for in class participation. I also try to have a fun bouncy tone of voice and choice of comments modeling after late night television talk shows or podcasts. I try to do some seat dancing to the music, over-the-top gestures for surprise, pointing directly at the camera, dramatizing stories, using different voices, and moving my face or hands closer to the screen to emphasize a statement I am making. The goal is to be interesting, fun, and upbeat giving the students permission to engage and have fun themselves. Finally, I also keep in mind to switch activities and to keep things moving so as not waste anyone’s time.
Modeling the thinking of a professional teacher asking questions. In praxis, the expert/professor is supposed to address student concerns as a starting point for the work they will do together; however, many of my students don’t know how to identify problems they are having, will have as a teacher, or how to categorize the problems. So I model asking the student teachers a general question that a teacher would normally have such as, ‘how do you teach a child to read who doesn’t understand the meaning of the words?’ or ‘What do you do when you are reading and don’t know a word.’ Then I give students a minute to contemplate their answer, post in the chat box, and then put students in breakout groups where they are much more willing to talk. Students go into breakout groups and are allowed to talk about anything, but they must also answer the question. I listen to the students and ask questions in breakout groups for the next 5 minutes and when they come back to whole group ask them for to post their expanded questions in the chat room. I comment and give praise to individual students who talk or post thoughtful comments.
I also encourage students to interrupt me at any time to ask questions and since I do move through the class with different activities, I realize that the student question may appear to be abrupt or not well thought out. Mostly, I cherish those comments, questions, and praise the student for engaging.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Equity in the Ways to Learn. Students benefit from: 1. receiving, 2. representing, and 3. engaging in information in several different forms through the visual arts, music, comedy, stories, statistics, graphic novels, charts, drama, oral and written language. I enact UDL in three main ways in my class. Students receive most of the information through reading, but also lecture, drama, visual images on presentations and in books, stories I tell about my own K-9 teaching, YouTube videos of classroom teaching, websites, and charts. In representing on assignments and engaging during class for information, they do have a choice about what format they will use to represent their knowledge. They may and do represent information in any of the above forms (see the opera response from a student below). Undoubtedly, there is a greater focus on reading and writing which is the format most students use when they submit for the state assessments (CBEST, CSET, RICA, and CalTPA-that’s right, there are 4 required assessments), but I am working to develop more diverse ways to allow students to receive, represent, and engage in the classroom.
Preparing for a Profession Requires Student Teachers Know and Perform to Professional Standards – It’s Not About You. Preparing for a profession, in some ways, is unlike educating yourself in general during your free time. Ta-Nehisi Coates says, “I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests.” That is a good quote when a person is exploring ideas in history, art, or literature in the university or K-12 classroom; however, in teacher education, a teacher’s plans and problems must prioritize student needs, the agreed upon curriculum (state & local standards), and the community (Schwab, 1982), over the teacher’s other logistical and personal issues. Similarly, in praxis when the expert/professor applies their knowledge to problems in education, professional pedagogy must be prioritized. When you teach, mostly, it’s about the kids, the pedagogy, and the content. Hence, while teacher education does require a range of the student teachers freedom to be professional, teacher education requires the teacher has a grasp of professional standards to receive a credential from the state.