Irregular Vowel Movements

A distance education teacher making her way in the microcosm of Barrhead.

Excite[ing] Homework (i.e. How to Blog Like a Total Bore)

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It’s going to be dull, I’m not kidding… These are the questions that the lead on the Excite project is asking participating parties to answer. I think it’s a way of probably screening people, or making sure they’re up for the task of …awesome…. when it comes to planning how Excite is going to be executed.

1. What theories guide your thinking and doing in your face-to-face or online classroom? 

I seldom have stood or spoken to students and suddenly thought, “oh hey, I just used constructivism right there. Nifty.”  Theories of learning or education are ideas that I am definitely cognizant of as I continue to grow as a teacher. What has stood out in my mind  for the longest time, is that the most comfortable teaching role for me is that of a facilitator — there is already enough knowledge in the world (growing exponentially and all that) but students need facilitation in their own personal development and exploration of the world around them– this facilitation includes teaching necessary skills, strategies, coping mechanisms, and other “tools” for navigation and life-long learning. Now, the thing is,  I don’t know if this is a theory, or if it even “counts”. When I was in University, this is something I came to on my own when I was thinking about the necessity of critical thinking skills for all subjects and noticed how it can be an incredibly sound underlying structure or theory for instruction. I’ve talked about this with several people, but the only thing I’ve ever come close to when it comes to explaining the how behind my own teaching is something like the Socratic method, which honestly just sounds ridiculously pompous when I say it out loud. “Ohhh hermmm… well I personally prescribe specifically to the Socratic Method of educational theory. So, la-di-freakin’- da, dudes…”  

I’m certain as well, that I wouldn’t say I stick to strictly one theory– at the end of the day, I will always drift to ideas I find have a practical and more holistic [1] bent to them (no, I can’t think of any names right now, lol) and fit my description of what it feels like to be a 21st century teacher teaching 21st century kids. Yay for buzzwords (kidding)!   

 Understanding by Design is another “theory” I suppose I should mention– generally, the concept of beginning with the end in mind is very prescriptive for teaching that is basically guided exploration with the emphasis being on teaching understandings. At the beginning of my course development, I thought it was quite profound to be able to put theories of critical thinking and questioning together with UbD and come out with very kid-friendly and exciting content that basically is facilitating kids in an exploration of English at a distance. Couple this marriage with the ease of integrating universal design for learning, and voila– great! Takes a lot of thinking though, lol. 

2. Do you ‘pay attention’ to your theories when you design and teach? 

I doubt I did in the classroom as much as I do now. It’s a necessity now, because while writing all this course content, consistency and quality of instruction is absolutely imperative. Therefore, the theory has to be sound and “embedded” lol, because I don’t want to keep on having to check on it. It stinks though, because having to concrete that theory in the beginning to prevent that issue of material unraveling midstream or later, was time consuming. When I started, I knew nothing, and had to learn everything. I do pay attention though– the utilization of any theory is only possible if there is the required amount of reflection and re-assessment of practices. I’m lucky, because I don’t find this hard to do. 

When actually teaching– it is also imperative for any “theories” I use to be second-nature, simply because DL is very unforgiving. Every moment must be a teaching moment, or you might never speak to that student again, because they felt it wasn’t useful or meaningful for them. Socratic method, for instance, is an incredibly engaging way to keep a student intrigued and engaged in what you are talking about — there is a level of give-and-take with this practice that is very personable for students in whatever medium used for instruction. 

a. Is there some incongruity between your theories and your practice that you need to work on? 

I’m positive there are always going to be incongruities, but it’s not for my lack of trying, and more because I still have growing into these theories to do. It might sound bizarre, but I think all teaching theories have a maturation point for learners to attain when attempting to apply them. I know I’ve hit it with Socratic method– this is second nature to me, and annoyingly embedded in my personality anyways, but Understanding by Design, and critical thinking models– these I’m sure are still riddled with little gaps and pockmarks. UbD is a funny thing because it initially presents itself to be so intuitive, and just deafeningly logical, but when sitting down to let it all sink in and simultaneously apply it– it can be brain-breaking. I am at the point where I can explain it with no issue, but it is still a challenge to sit down and re-order my thinking (it’s the inverse of what I was taught in school, which is terrible–Uni’s should make teaching UbD their top priority in curricular design instruction) to make an assignment work better, or create new ways of teaching new understandings.  

3. What do you ‘push back on’ in your system? Does your ‘push back’ align with your theories of learning, assessment and/or teaching? 

I tend to push back on the things that crop up while I teach that I deem to be lacking meaning or practical importance. I will always champion the most enduring approach, tool or piece of knowledge. It’s a little thing our department has started calling “trimming the fat”. It doesn’t affect our assessment in a detrimental way, but it does go a long way when providing meaningful assessment, as well as content that is engaging and easy  to learn. I suppose in a way, I end up pushing back on the English Language Arts curriculum too somewhat– not in a way that would get me into trouble or omit learning from students, but in a way that the POS is written to accommodate– to make things flexible, meaningful and accessible. Maybe I’m out to lunch on this one, but a good way of looking at “push back” for me, is seeing if something can be used with Universal Design Principals in mind. If it can’t be constructed to be accessible to many, I will “push back” and try to make it work. Another way of pushing back on the POS, is to prioritize learning outcomes– this is an incredibly awesome process to undergo when approaching any kind of UbD work. 

[1] I don’t mean anything resembling hippie-fication, just things that are kid-friendly, and sensitive to the social and educational needs of students . Hippies are great though, don’t get me wrong. Had I been born in the right time, I would have been the hippiest hippest happiest darn hippy of them all.

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Author: Kyla Coulman

English teacher at ADLC.

One thought on “Excite[ing] Homework (i.e. How to Blog Like a Total Bore)

  1. Hi Kyla,

    What a great doorway into your ‘brain’:)) Thank you for making your rich thinking so visible.

    A few things:

    * your ‘conclusion’ regarding ubd is ‘beyond correct’. It is intuitive at first glance but incredibly complex and ‘brain bending’ – be prepared to bend some more where ubd is concerned.

    * if a teacher is teaching from one theory, that is a HUGE problem – there is no such thing as a comprehensive learning theory – again, you ‘nailed it’.

    * the ‘role of theory’ is critical in any one’s life – our theories are the mental models we operate from and one of the thorny issues we face in education is the unwillingness of educators to be mindful of their mental models – “I do it this way because…” – gets us into the ‘kack’. But theories are not ‘set in stone’, they have to be able to ‘travel’ because everything in a teacher’s life in a classroom or on line is fluid and requires flexability. (you will quickly discover I am a flexible speller)

    * yes, we will prioritize learning outcomes and then redesign them into statements of understanding and essential questions – EXCITE is focused on designing a concept-based model, not a doing/skills-based model. The skills are the tools students will use (which includes critical thinking) to explore and uncover concepts, big ones and small ones that are embedded in the big ones and find their personal meaning – this is personalized learning at its best.

    I will stop here, you will have a more ‘formal’ version of all of this in the coming weeks.

    I am looking forward to meeting you in person to learn from you and work with you as we design a framework for designing learning, assessment and teaching for understanding.

    Susan Clayton

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