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Being and Becoming a Teacher Educator— The Journey from Content Knowledge to Pedagogical Content Knowledge—M'Balia Thomas (2019)

Overview

A School of Education professor revamps an established undergraduate Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages methods course, shifting from a heavily theoretical to a practice-oriented approach to instruction that draws upon real-world pedagogical scenarios.

Background

This portfolio documents my journey to track, identify, gather, and measure student learning in relationship to the execution and development of my pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). My journey is reflective of the process of developing PCK in the area of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), and I do so via C&T 331: Instructional Approaches for English Speakers of Other Languages in the Middle/Secondary Classroom (i.e., TESOL Methods). Though different pedagogical challenges have surfaced over the course of my teaching this class, the challenges I face in learning to effectively teach this course so that I positively impact student learning has remained the same. Given the limited prior knowledge and direct experience preservice teachers have in the field of TESOL and in working with English Language Learners (ELLs), what instructional approaches and in-class pedagogical activities allow me to access students’ pre-existing knowledge in a way that increases preservice teachers’ content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, and empathetic response to ELLs (disposition)?

Implementation

In my work with the Center for Teaching Excellence, I documented my journey of being and becoming a TESOL teacher educator across three semesters:

  1. Spring 2015—Establishing a baseline. My first semester teaching C&T 331 served as the baseline. Across all three semesters, I utilized the same textbook, “high stakes” or project-based assignments, and short textbook reading quizzes.
  2. Spring 2016—Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. Following participation in CTE’s Best Practices Institute and receiving Spring 2015 course evaluations, I re-organized the major course assignments—the high stakes assignments. Students requested clearer expectations out of the class, especially the core assignments. In response, I redesigned two key assignments using the principles of Backward Design, incorporated S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely) learning goals into the description of each task, and created grading rubrics to accompany the assignments.
  3. Spring 2018—Enacting “Smart Teaching.” Drawing upon key ideas present in How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching (Ambrose et al, 2010)—the text that served as the principle reading during my participation in the CTE Faculty Seminar—I reexamined the impact of my classroom lectures and my attempt to communicate in effective ways the complex ideas of TESOL. I worked to deepen my understanding of the psychological and cognitive aspects of learning, and I began to think more about my instructional approach to communicating complex ideas and ways to scaffold how students could demonstrate their understanding by applying what they understood.
Student Work

I examined my student work for the impact that pedagogical changes such as setting SMART goals and enacting Smart Teaching have made on student learning. Though there are a number of ways in which content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, and disposition can be assessed, my disciplinary training as an Applied Linguist leads me to linguistic ways of analyzing learning. Thus, I used methods of discourse analysis and corpus-based approaches to empirically and systematically assess students’ language-in-use (how students write about a particular topic) as it is reflected in their submitted homework assignments as a reflection of their learning.

Reflections

This final section addresses key areas of learning and discovery for me over the three semesters of discursively and linguistically documenting student learning. The primary reflections can be summed up as follows: the importance of providing students with concrete, nameable skills, and the importance of recognizing the borders students are preparing to cross in their teacher education training to provide the language skills and concepts that help them feel they are being prepared to meet these challenges.


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BACKGROUND

A recurring area of inquiry in teacher education—the field tasked with training future and current K-12 educators—addresses the knowledge base preservice teachers (undergraduate students enrolled in a teacher-education program) need to develop in order to be effective in their practice. Research in this area has been shaped by educational psychologist Lee Shulman (1986; 1987; 2000; Hutchings & Shulman, 1999), who describes this knowledge base across several categories:

  • content knowledge (knowledge of one’s subject area, whether it be mathematics, science, history, or composition);
  • general pedagogical knowledge or classroom management and organization;
  • curriculum knowledge; and
  • pedagogical content knowledge or the knowledge specific to the teaching and assessment of that subject area.

Shulman argues it is this last category of knowledge—pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) —that distinguishes the “content specialist” from the “pedagogue” (1987, p. 8).

Like preservice teachers, new faculty in higher educational settings are also confronted with the need to acquire specific knowledge bases as they transition from graduate student to faculty. Yet, graduate programs do not often emphasize or help graduate students develop the professional skills to make this transition smoothly. Instead, emphasis is placed on developing expertise in content knowledge, often at the expense of developing pedagogical content knowledge and the neglect of learning to assess and evaluate the effectiveness of pedagogical strategies and approaches. Therefore, when the opportunity to teach C&T 331: TESOL Methods—a required preservice TESOL methods course within the School of Education’s Teacher Education Program—was presented to me during my first year at KU, I was nervous. Though I possessed the TESOL content knowledge to teach this course, I was thoroughly unfamiliar with the skills, practices, and dispositions preservice teachers were expected to acquire in this course and, more importantly, how to help students develop and implement these skills, practices, and dispositions with their future students.

The course. C&T 331: Instructional Approaches for English Speakers of Other Language Learners in the Middle/Secondary Classroom is a required methods course for undergraduate students in the School of Education’s teacher preparation program. It is designed to introduce preservice teachers across the middle/secondary content areas—language arts, government, math, science, foreign languages—to TESOL pedagogical practices used by classroom teachers to support the English language development and academic English proficiency of English learners. These goals, outlined in the course syllabus, identify the acquisition of content and pedagogical content knowledge as primary goals. Goals related to the acquisition of content knowledge typically focus on four areas of knowledge: academic English proficiency (the linguistic and generic knowledge); age, innateness, ability; socio-political; and family, presence and absence.

These topics are drawn from themes presented in the course textbook (Diaz-Rico, 2009), and they represent knowledge drawn from a variety of fields that inform studies in second language acquisition, such as linguistics, anthropology, sociology and education. The pedagogical goals are also pretty straightforward; they are drawn from the two main pedagogical approaches in preK-12 TESOL: the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) model and an approach known as Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English (SDAIE). Yet, knowing what topics I needed to teach my preservice teachers and possessing the pedagogical skills to help them understand and implement TESOL content and pedagogical practices are what distinguish pedagogical content knowledge from content knowledge.

Pedagogical Content Knowledge. Pedagogical content knowledge encompasses “knowing ways to unpack, represent, and make … content learnable” (Ball, Thames, and Phelps, 2008) by applying specific and nameable pedagogical strategies. Specific to the area of preK-12 TESOL methods, pedagogical content knowledge includes applying instructional practices such as scaffolding, drawing upon background knowledge, and highlighting and attending to content and language objectives. It also includes knowing how to transform content into meaningful ways of knowing through effective “instructional forms or methods” (Shulman, 1987: 16) – i.e., knowing “how to select analogies, examples, metaphors, and explanations in order to make subject matter meaningful and relevant to their students” (Fradd & Lee, 1998: 762 referencing Shulman 1986, 1987). Developing pedagogical content knowledge is intimately tied to being well-grounded in a “knowledge of learners” and a “knowledge of educational ends, purposes, and values” (Shulman, 1987: 8). This requires understanding what content and skills preservice teachers have acquired in previous classes before arriving to my course, what they have yet to learn about the science and art of teaching, and who they are as individuals—their predispositions, their attitudes and beliefs, their background knowledge and life experiences. All of these factors affect student learning and acquisition of new knowledge.

The challenge. The challenges in teaching this course have been previously identified. In meeting these challenges, I made several changes and explored several different approaches to supporting student learning and academic success, each inspired by my participation in two different CTE programs: the Best Practices Institute (BPI) and Faculty Seminar. Though what follows is a summary of my attempts to develop student knowledge and put into practice techniques to formally evaluate student learning, also reflected is the gradual development of my pedagogical content knowledge in the area of K-12 TESOL teacher education at the undergraduate or preservice-teacher level.


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IMPLEMENTATION

Spring 2015

Benchmark assessments. The course adopted three primary forms of assessment of student learning: discussion posts and reading quizzes were incorporated into the course, mini-teaching demonstrations were included to give students an opportunity to practice their teaching skills, and the following four high-stakes assignments were created:

  1. Teaching the prologue to Romeo & Juliet, adopted for an ELL
  2. Wikis, interviews, and material design
  3. Create a 90-minute abbreviated (shortened) SDAIE lesson plan
  4. Culture and inclusion with SDAIE
Spring 2016

Several changes were made to the core assignments for this course. I redesigned the high-stakes assignments, moved from four assignments to three, and organized the tasks around real-life professional writings tasks. In addition, I developed specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely (S.M.A.R.T) objectives for both tasks. I also created detailed analytic grading rubrics and made them accessible online through Blackboard. The rubrics were specific and highlighted important aspects of the task and the levels of achievement (points awarded) that corresponded with meeting specific criteria of the assignment. The rubrics also made expectations clear and, in the case of the teaching demonstration rubric, provided examples of specific knowledge desired at four different point levels. Finally, I drew from principles of backward design to identify the expectations for outcomes I could expect and my students could expect from the course.

High-stakes assignments. Drawing from CTE’s position that students should engage in “situated or authentic or professionalization assignments” (Teaching Matters Fall 2015), I redesigned my Spring 2015 high-stakes assignments (HSAs) so that Spring 2016 HSAs incorporated writing tasks students could encounter as professional classroom teachers, such as:

  1. HW 1: Diagnosis and Remediation of a Learner
  2. HW 2: Cover Letter to the Principal
  3. HW 3: Preparing for the Sub

Mini-teaching demonstrations. In Spring 2015, students were given the opportunity to construct and deliver a five- to seven-minute micro- or mini-teaching demonstration (Allen and Eve, 1968). As a pedagogical activity, microteachings provide students an excellent opportunity to practice and implement their lesson delivery skills. In particular, planning for mini-teaching helps students recognize the challenges of lesson planning—explaining content, building interest, addressing questions—all within a fixed time period. Preparing for this simple lesson is deceptively complex and multi-leveled as a task, yet it mirrors the complexity of planning curriculum and instruction in a safe classroom space surrounded by peers.

In Spring 2016, I added a reflective component to this task. Students were required to submit a mini-teach reflection paper following their presentation. The objective of the reflection paper is two-fold and reflected in the rubric:

  1. Does the student’s reflection draw upon theoretical or pedagogical concepts discussed in class, and
  2. Does the student’s reflection address the five to six key reflective questions posed in the assignment’s instructions? The first question was designed to see if students could talk about theory and practice in a meaningful way, while the second question was designed to challenge preservice teachers to be reflective about the rigors of planning a lesson.
Spring 2018

The course adopted three primary forms of assessment of student learning: I continued using discussion posts and reading quizzes as strategies to encourage reading of the textbook; I moved back to four high-stakes assignments; and I dropped the micro-teaching demonstration. I found the micro-teaching demonstrations to be an effective, interactive, and practical exercise; however, it consumed a good deal of instructional time.

High-stakes assignments. The four high-stakes assessments included the following activities:

  1. HW 1—Teaching Philosophy
  2. HW 2—Diagnosis and Remediation of a Learner
  3. HW 3—Cover Letter to the Principal
  4. HW 4—Writing a Content-Based Lesson Plan

Smart Teaching. Following my participation as a CTE Faculty Seminar Fellow, I reexamined my classroom lectures and my attempt to communicate in effective ways the complex ideas of TESOL. As a Faculty Seminar Fellow, I worked to deepen my understanding of the psychological and cognitive aspects of learning through the reading and discussion of Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett & Norman’s (2010) How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. Three principles from this text informed my teaching of this course:

  • Principle 1: “Students’ prior knowledge can help or hinder learning” (p. 13);
  • Principle 2: “How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know” (p. 44); and
  • Principle 3: “Students’ motivation generates, directs, and sustains what they do to learn” (p. 69).

With these principles, I began to think more about my instructional approach to communicating complex ideas and looking for ways to scaffold how students could demonstrate their understanding by applying what they understood.

The Harry Potter Border Crossing Analogy (HPBCA). In an attempt to connect with the prior knowledge of my students, I adopted a pedagogical analogy that became the basis for how I thought about, planned, and executed my teaching in this course. I call this analogy “The Harry Potter Border Crossings Analogy.”

The analogy takes J. K. Rowling’s fantastical division of humans into magical (wizards and witches) and non- magical (Muggles) beings and reframes the internal tensions of the Harry Potter texts as an analogy of ''border crossings.” As a critical, alternative framing, the HPBCA foregrounds analogical similarities between the educational, social, and personal experiences of several of the novels’ fictional characters and our real-world ELLs.

I first introduced this analogy to my students in Spring 2016 (Thomas, 2018c). I introduced the analogy with the goal of contextualizing the kind of experiences and gaps in knowledges that English learners encountered on their journey to develop academic English proficiency and with the hope of drawing on and extending some of the already established empathy students had with the Harry Potter characters to the ELLs we were discussing in class. In Spring 2018, I attempted to develop this analogy further by drawing upon video clips from the Harry Potter movies in such a way as to connect with and expand on the theoretical and pedagogical TESOL topics studied in class. My hope was that the analogy and clips would make the content knowledge more accessible, memorable, and motivating for students to learn and apply to their homework assignments.


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STUDENT WORK

To assess the impact of my formal assessments and newly adopted instructional practice on student learning, I decided to focus on the language that appears in my students’ writing assignments. I have adopted two approaches to mining and empirically assessing and evaluating this data. In Spring 2015/2016, I adopted a Discourse Analysis of student learning. The analysis examined the textual data provided by student responses to HW 2: Diagnosis and Remediation of an ELL and the Mini-teaching Demonstration for both semesters. In Spring 2018, given my concern for the impact of my lectures (the analogies) on student knowledge, I adopted a Corpus-Based Analysis of Student Learning. This approach allowed me to empirically examine the dialogic interaction between my instructional practices, the texts/videos used in class, and the learning that students were able to communicate on HW 2: Diagnosis and Remediation of an ELL and HW 4: Writing a Content-Based Instructional Lesson Plan. Their first in-class assignment, HW 1: A Statement of Teaching Philosophy, was used as a benchmark measure of TESOL learning against HW 2 and HW 4.

Discourse analysis of student learning (Spring 2015, 2016)

HW 2: Diagnosis and Remediation of an ELL. I had mixed feelings about the responses provided by students on this assignment. The responses clearly addressed the various components of the task, and it was clear that students attended to the requirements of the rubric provided. Yet, many of the students’ responses were problematic on an ideological level; students were not very careful in providing factual or evidence-based support on the context of learning around which they based their observations and proposed interventions.

For example, the assignment required students to view “Immersion” (2009). This 12-minute video features a Spanish-speaking upper elementary age boy who is having a difficult time transitioning to an English-language instructional setting. The film shares scenes from the home and school environment of the student, Moises, and his attempts to navigate his English-only school environment in the face of an upcoming standardized test. Though the film does not directly state it, many of my students make the assumption that the family speaks ONLY Spanish. Dozens of indigenous languages are spoken in Mexico, and thus it is possible the family also speaks one of these. Moreover, the audience does not see the family use language outside the context of the family environment, and thus, it cannot be assumed they do not speak other languages (including English) in other settings. A truly evidenced-based paper would not make such assumptions (excerpts 1 and 2); such a paper would only report evidence of what has been seen and observed, as shown below in excerpt 3 and especially, excerpt 4. The italicized text is based on faulty inferences and assumptions.

Excerpt 1

“Moises’s comes [sic] from a fluent Spanish speaking family that does not speak English at all. Moises is the only family member who can barely speak English.”

Excerpt 2

“Moises’ first language is Spanish and he is fluent in that. At home, his parents speak Spanish as well. He lives with several family members and they all want him to succeed. His family supports Moises and his dedication to receive an education, but cannot provide any additional help since they do not speak English either.

Excerpt 3

“Moises is a very promising student and from my observation of him and his work in class, has the appropriate amount of content (math) knowledge to perform very high on the test. This [sic] issue however is Moises is very limited in his English Language Proficiency….Moises comes from a Spanish-speaking country and his time spent in the classroom has been the first time for him being immersed in the English language.”

Excerpt 4

“When it comes to Spanish, Moises speaks it with excellence. He effectively communicates with his Spanish-speaking peers and often uses them as resources. He also uses a Spanish-English dictionary as a resource. His ability to quickly find words and translate them is another indicator of his Spanish literacy. Research shows that the more literate someone is in their first language, the easier it is for them to acquire a second language, meaning Moises has a high potential to quickly acquire English (Diaz-[Rico], 2012)”.

Despite the assumptions and the fact that the rubric expressly mentioned that responses should be based on specific information provided by the film, each of these papers received passing grades. That is because I realized there was illusory understanding by students. The preservice teachers needed explicit instruction in the art of providing comments and reflections on student progress, behavior, and needs that are evidence-based. This involves taking those specific research methodological skills of evidence-based practice and extending them across multiple aspects of student-engaged tasks (Scheeler et al., 2009). Statements must be supported by concrete evidence. The realization that I needed to be explicit in teaching students about evidence versus inference is incredibly important to informing the background knowledge support I provide my students.

Micro-teaching reflection paper. Though the actual quality of the teaching demonstration and lesson plans varied, I scored all positive attempts to meet the assignment requirements with an “A.” I was looking to see how/if students applied or reflected on theory or pedagogy in their paper and if they reflected on what they learned, what they had known beforehand, or what they did beforehand that was helpful in preparing their teaching demonstration. In assigning this reflection paper, I wanted students to think about the complexity of having to teach—engage, inform, and assess, teach content, and adapt teaching content to the unknown knowledge base of their classmates and an imaginary ELL. I hoped to see the kinds of questions my students used in in planning their teaching, what they did not think about in relation to these topics in advance, and where there were challenges in relation to adapting content or their teaching. Some students did this, and did it fairly well.

Excerpt 1

“Preparing for the Mini Teaching Demonstration was the most stressful part of the assignment for me. I struggled to come up with a topic that would fulfill all of the requirements while remaining interesting and engaging for my peers. Constructing specific content and language objectives and figuring out how to accommodate for the English language learners present were the biggest challenges I faced in preparing for my lesson. I relied on the theories and pedagogical strategies we discussed in class to meet these challenges. The “Content and Language Objectives” lecture from March 9th was a huge help in constructing my lesson. The slides stressed the importance of communicating objectives to students orally and visually, so I incorporated this into my teaching by voicing the objectives and also posting them on the board. Bloom’s taxonomy and calling students to a higher level of thinking was also stressed in this lecture. With “create” being the verb at the peak of the pyramid, I required students to create their own example of a hypothesis in my lesson. When it came to accommodating for the English language learners present, I relied on a variety of resources ranging from stories told in class, to personal surveys of English language learners, to other academic resources I found online. My appreciation for teachers greatly grew when I realized this lesson had relatively minimal requirements. For example, we were only required to teach for ten minutes and consider one ELL in our teaching, whereas teachers have to teach for hours and consider every single learner in their classroom.”

Yet, in the course of reading the reflection papers these preservice teachers wrote, I came to realize that the rubric failed to accurately capture aspects of the task my students felt were the significant “teachable moments” of this task:

“Just from watching other mini-teaches, I found that the ones that had us moving around and doing something were a lot more engaging.”

Excerpt 2

“The most important thing that I learned from my mini-teach is to get to know your students. … Since I did not know all of their backgrounds with mathematics I did not know how advanced they would be…I would suggest to just quickly ask the students at the beginning of the lesson how much of the information they already know.”

Excerpt 3

“The mini-teaching demonstration taught me that time is important when planning to achieve an objective. In the past, I have written multiple lesson plans and had to guess the time frame that it would take to complete the lesson. I have never been tested on putting the lesson into action and being timed. It provided a new rush, because I knew there was so much that I wanted to talk about, but I only had ten minutes. I am glad that I practiced multiple times….”

Excerpt 4

“While I am not sure that the Mini Teach changed my view on teaching as a whole, it did give me some insight into how planning and implementing a lesson can be a process of sorts. I have lesson planned before and done presentations, but planning and then teaching a lesson is a different experience. I really enjoyed it overall, so that makes me think I have chosen the right field. I think the Mini Teach helped me realize how important it is to do more than just lecture and instead involve the students, with activities, pair-and-share (having the students sign their name to their partners), and other ways to keep them focused.”

Adopting a discourse analytical approach to assessing students provided incredible insight into student learning and teaching practice.

A corpus-based analysis of student learning (Spring 2018)

In the field of TESOL, researchers have drawn upon learner corpora (electronic collections of language data produced by second-language learners) to provide language-/genre-related information that student oral and written speech can communicate about their knowledge and output. In this case, I am interested in the knowledge my students’ writings express through their high-stakes homework assignments related to writing language objectives, as well as discussing academic English proficiency in four key areas: the receptive skills of listening and reading and the productive skills of speaking and writing.

Students’ first major assignment, HW 1: Writing a Teaching Philosophy, served as a benchmark or reference corpus. HW 2: Diagnosis & Remediation of an ELL and HW 4: Writing a Content-Based Instructional Lesson Plan served to assess student progress over the semester. The assignments were converted into text files, run through the corpus software WordSmith Tools, and examined according to two categories of data—WordLists and Key Words.

WordLists reveals the frequency with which words appear across a corpus of texts. Often the first several most frequently occurring words in a text are grammatical or function words (prepositions, pronouns, determiners, conjunctions, such as to, him, the, and), followed by lexical or content words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs). The WordLists results provided should not be compared across the three assignments. Rather, they should be explored as a reflection of a single assignment’s relative rank order reflective of the frequency with which the words appeared across the 23 student papers submitted for that particular homework assignment.

KeyWords reveals what words are statistically over-/under-represented in a text compared to a reference text (HW 1). In this case, a KeyWords list should reveal not only those words specific to a particular assignment, but also those words that reflect new or assignment-specific knowledge relevant to that homework task—that is, the TESOL-specific content, pedagogical and dispositional knowledges required to successfully complete a task. If this information is missing, then it suggests learning in this area is lacking or incomplete.

WordLists results
HW 1: Teaching Philosophy

This assignment reflects the language students bring to the classroom. Following the familiar function words (“to, and, the”), “I” is the fourth most common word that appears in the Teaching Philosophy. This word is followed by more possessive adjectives, such as my, them, their—function words reflective of an assignment that requests students to write about themselves and their beliefs or stances about teaching and learning. Lower in frequency, and thus reflecting lesser attention given to these words across the 23 student documents, are words specific to my course: classroom, teaching, learner/learn, language… and English.

HW 2: Diagnosis & Remediation of an ELL

This assignment reflects the language students should have acquired through instruction and classroom discussion surrounding the video, “Immersion” (2009). As discussed previously, this video chronicles the day in the life of a young English language learner who, though fluent in math concepts, demonstrated difficulty in communicating his knowledge in English. His classroom teacher struggles to figure out how to help him. The task my students faced was to determine what pedagogical actions the teacher could have adopted—i.e., scaffold and differentiate instruction—to help Moises demonstrate the academic English proficiency skills needed to respond to the teacher’s question, “Moises, how did you get that answer?”

Of course, high-frequency words include words related to the task: Moises, math, problem, test, answer. Students should talk about key information like his level of proficiency, mention strategies of scaffolding, etc. Instead, students are focused on what Moises can do or the mentally passive activities that can foster immediate knowledge—use a dictionary, look up words, translate—rather than the pedagogical actions a teacher should understand to help students negotiate meaning.

HW 4: Writing a Content-Based Instructional Lesson Plan

This should represent further development of the language students acquired through instruction and textbook readings. Again, there are key words that I would use in class that I would expect students to notice and adopt. We discussed approaches to thinking about the texts and what aspects of language should be addressed, but again, did students have access to the labels and language needed to talk about those skills? Are they able to talk about these skills in terms of the four major skills related to language objectives—speak, write, listen, and read?

KeyWords results

Given the nature of this assignment, Keyness focuses on the language specific to writing a lesson plan: you, what, teacher, lesson, specifically. However, the primary focus should have been communicated in terms of language objectives and verbs related to the four key skills: speaking, reading, writing, listening, or skills related to oracy (the ability to express oneself fluently and grammatically in speech). The only one of the skills listed is “write” followed by the ambiguous “use”. Gauge is also included but how is that used? It is probably related to the key words associated with the lesson plans—disobedience, stride, etc. This suggests the primacy of the subject-area content objectives and content knowledge, but not the language objective focus. I would hope to see more TESOL content words, more pedagogical terms, and more words related to empathy.


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Reflections

Professor M'Balia

M'Balia Thomas

What I have come to learn through this process is that actively and empirically studying student learning is important. Such a process allows for reflection. This process has challenged me to document the redesign of C&T 331 and better understand the nature of my students, the effectiveness of my teaching, areas where my teaching can be improved, and the kind of knowledge I value and want to foster in my classroom.

Specifically, the textual evidence provided by my students on their homework assignments provided me with a wealth of insight into the kinds of discourses and ideologies students can hold onto that are not necessarily in line with the explicit/implicit instructional objectives. This information provided me with insight into student learning/thinking that I could more directly address through instruction and classroom activities.

Based on my assessment of student learning given the redesign of the major course assessments, moving forward I will make changes to course instruction in the following areas:

  • Highlight and focus on key words—verbs and phrases—that mark the field and practice of working with English language learners—Receptive Skills, Productive Skills, Listen, Read, Write, Speak, Assess, and the academic vocabulary along various levels of proficiency and across the disciplines. This means I would treat these key words like “lite verbs” and help students delve deeply into the nature of “Speak.” For example, what are the underlying processes that are activated and needed in order for Moises to answer a question in English?—First Comprehension (we must make sure he understands the question), Process (figure out the answer), and then Write/Speak (formulate the response).
  • Present strategies and techniques from the perspective of these key words—Differentiate, Scaffold, Set language objectives, etc. In the past, students would regularly ask me for “strategies and techniques,” and I hesitated to present the knowledge in this way. It feels medicinal. However, I realize they are also asking for and/or would benefit from practices that have specific names, tasks, functions. These action verbs are also highly measurable.
  • Investigate ways to develop and participate in engaged and engaging learning practices. Now that I know what needs to be taught (especially in terms of helping students to provide evidence-based knowledge and support for pedagogical decisions), I need to create in-class or flipped-classroom types of activities that allow students to engage more deeply with knowledge among their peers and on their own.
Engaging deeply through self-study methodology

Though the scholarship of teaching and learning encourages educators to study and quantify student learning, the field of education likewise encourages such study. Specifically within the field of education scholarship, teachers actively study their practice in relationship to the process and quality of student learning. With this scholarship and attendance at the Castle Conference on Self-Study, “Pushing boundaries and crossing borders: Self-study as a means for researching pedagogy,” I have come to value the process of both studying my practice and the things that inhibit and constrain teaching practice and in the end interrupt/disrupt learning; these factors represent a key component of understanding and evaluating student learning.

Through the combination of this work, I have come to understand my challenges in teaching a subject in a way that really did not resonate with my experience. I needed to find my voice with my teaching (Thomas, 2018a). I searched for this voice through the “Harry Potter Border Crossing Analogy” (Thomas, 2018c), as well as through scholarship that worked to illuminate topics in teacher education through Rowling’s Harry Potter novels (Thomas, Russel & Warren, 2018). I looked also to my own experiences (Thomas, 2018b). Yet, I realize that Harry Potter was not really the draw; rather it was engagement with the notion of crossing borders. It is this theme that I will be moving forward with in my classes.

Border crossing. This border crossing analogy aligns with the work of critical and popular culture pedagogue, Henry Giroux (2005). Though Giroux’s focus is more political in its concern with the democratic aspects of education, my concern is with the broader applicability of the analogy to the cycles, rhythms, and routines of teachers. I have come to recognize the various borders that we as educators regularly cross in our profession and the need to prepare preservice and in-service teachers to encounter, engage, and successfully and authentically cross these spaces.

Extending the border-crossing analogy beyond its Harry Potter connections truly makes this a more inclusive pedagogical analogy. This extension reconceptualizes teaching and teacher education, not only as knowledges gained, but also as cycles, rhythms, landscapes, relationships, and stories encountered and crossed within the field (Clandinin & Connelly, 1995). These are the crossings or “critical moments of teaching” (Hamilton & Pinnegar, 2015, p. xii) our profession requires of us—moving from preservice teacher, to student teacher, to professional educator (Wanzare, 2007) and classroom teacher, to teacher educator and researcher (Dinkelman, Margolis & Sikkenga, 2006; Williams, Ritter & Bullock, 2012; Wilson, 2015). Plus, extending this analogy beyond its association with Harry Potter disentangles the analogy from the various ideologically problematic aspects of Rowling’s series (see Anatol, 2009; Bell, 2012).

Contact CTE with comments on this portfolio: cte@ku.edu.


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