My entire time in the Curriculum and Instruction program has been new learning for me. My journey to becoming a teacher has been largely self-taught (NOT the words anyone wants to hear from a teacher, I’m sure.) Yet, the provisional license path allows this kind of teacher education to be a reality. Therefore, everything I’ve learned has included new material, new ideas, that perhaps I had heard of or come across, but never had the time or know how to dive into or develop independently. So, there I am. Beginning the first class in the program, tied to a computer screen and once again, blazing my own path. The irony of the situation was not lost on me. A largely self taught teacher, beginning an education masters and excited about the opportunity to be back in the classroom as a student, finds her first class is an online, self paced, self taught class. Womp womp.
The class was Action Research. We were wading through methodology, statistics, research. While the research side was not new to me, as an English major, the math side was a bit of a, well, of a nightmare. Self teaching yourself math that you haven’t done since middle school proves for some long nights and strong coffee. Yet, I was learning. It was helpful. Interesting, not on its own, but in relation to my work.
I’ve since been able to apply the learning in my classroom in authentic ways. For instance, I recently saw my students struggling with a concept. I had given a pretest and a post test and saw that their scores were dismal. They had not grasped the concept what I was trying to help them understand. No growth. So, in the moment, I made the decision to change my strategy for my next block. It worked slightly better, but this was a General Education class, while my previous had been an Advanced section, and I wasn’t able to grasp from the data if the instruction had improved since their scores are historically lower, for a variety of reasons. My third class of the day was another Advanced section, but the time of day greatly varied from the first class in the morning. This was a post lunch section and it was a third bigger than my first section. I tried some more tweaks and they seemed to be getting it, but I still wasn’t happy with the lesson. I went home and reflected on what I had done, looked up some ideas, and completely flipped what I had done for my next days classes. Same thing – pretest and posttest but entirely new delivery and activities for them to recreate, analyze and use their learning. I then ran some statistical tests on the data, statistical significance in the growth between their pre and post. Compared post test scores to see if they were statistically significant and I was able to determine from the data that the new strategy was far more effective. What??? I had NEVER done this before. You mean, a hunch wasn’t enough? I had real data to support what I was doing. It felt good.
While the topic was interesting and the class relatable to my practice, the presentation of the material was not engaging. My only interaction with the professor or others in my class was via email, Blackboard posts or an occasional Skype session. The vast majority of the class was completed independently and relied on a great deal of motivation and drive on my part. While it wasn’t inherently engaging, it did require active learning. The only way for me to wade through a lot of the material was to read about it then put it into action through the creation of my own action research project. Learning by doing. I didn’t actually conduct the action research in the first part of the class, but I learned about the design process through create a mock study. This was done with a small group of other students. Together, we were forced to make sense of the material and apply what we were learning. We had to rely on one another when a question came up as a first line of defense, and the professor served a facilitator when we couldn’t solve the problem together or needed clarification. With the end product of the second part of the class being our own authentic action research that we saw through to the end, the class and process of learning was universally designed. The professor knew that we would be more or less on our own in the second part of the class to create and execute an action research process, the first half of the class had that end in mind, and allowed to problem solve and work through the learning in a collaborative setting so that our learning could then be applied to our independent work. There were a variety of activities in both sections of the class, that allowed me to show my understanding of the class material. That said, choices were not offered in the way the instruction was delivered or in the way I showed mastery. Those were prescribed from the beginning. Classes met online, through Skype or email. Paper was assigned for this assignment, excel sheet for that one, and so on and so forth.
Through this process though, I was able to explore interesting topics in my classroom, specifically grouping of students and the effect on engagement and achievement. Previously, I would have just gone on a hunch about whether or not the grouping affected students, but now I had something to go on, even if the results did not support my original hypothesis. This exploration of my practice in a meaningful way has challenged me to think more critically about what I do in my classroom and the effects it has on my students. It has, in my opinion, critically changed the way I teach, reflect and interact with my classes. It forced me to not accept the decisions I made based on personal experiences, other teachers, or tradition. I wasn’t intentionally making “bad” choices and not all of what I was doing was off base, I just didn’t have the skills necessary to make the right ones or explain why what I was doing was effective (or ineffective, as it is.) The class allowed me to challenge what had “always been done” and begin making decisions based on the research that supported what I am trying to do.