Optimistic Teacher … despite the odds

My husband has told me that I am a pessimist.  For the most part I would have to agree.  However, there is one place where I am a definite optimist – teaching (and leading – which I consider almost synonymous but is not the focus of today’s post).

I have consistently had great hope and confidence in my students.  I set high expectations and watched my students succeed.  I have comforted them when they struggle and rejoiced as they have soared.  I believe in the human race.  In its capacity to create, dream, explore and innovate.  This is something that I believe belongs in the classroom.  (I believe it belongs in our leaders – but that is another road I will not take today.)

So when I read about Fear and Self-Loathing In the Classroom by William Johnson, I am disheartened.  I am not surprised, but it does make me sad.  While I do believe there is room for improvement in education, constantly hearing that you are failing does not engender even hope for change.

There are so many places students, children, teenagers are told they are not good enough.  Advertisers, the number of friends on Facebook, what they wear, what phone they have, grades etc.  Presidents and other “education experts” have been declaring for many years “Our schools are failing”.  We don’t need to add to the bucket of “fear and self-loathing”.

Some of the vignettes William Johnson shares in his article – a student becoming physically ill during high-stakes testing, another shaking uncontrollably while trying to recite a 14-line poem, the tears of not feeling smart enough for high school.  These are not isolated events.  With each cry of “Our schools are failing!”, do we not realize the impact on the individual students.

At the end of his article he cites the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher and teacher Dan Brown’s summary of the report in stating that our schools of full of fear.  This is not the ideal environment in which to grow our future.

I uncomfortably feel the weight of that fear.  My teaching has taken me out of the classroom.  I am one of those numbers who has left the K-12 classroom.  I taught for 10 years.  My last group of students will be forever ingrained in my heart.  I went back for their graduation.  The first graduation in their family for many of them.  I grieved for those who were not there.  I rejoiced with the family of the valedictorian with a full ride scholarship to Brown and all the other first time college bound students.  And I cried with each one who looked at me in complete astonishment that I had kept my promise to be there.  I had come because I believed in each on of them.  I still do.

The (K-5) Teacher side of ‘Design’: in Teaching vs. Instructional Design

This is a continuation of  looking at ADDIE from instructional design through the lens of a K-5 teacher, we are looking at Design.  For previous posts on this subject check out the Teaching vs. Instructional Design category.

Design

According to Gagné (2004), the Design step of ADDIE includes the following:

  1. Translate course goals into performance outcomes, and major course objectives (unit objectives).
  2. Determine the instructional topics or units to be covered, and how much time will be spent on each.
  3. Sequence the units with regard to the course objectives.
  4. Flesh out the units of instruction, identifying the major objectives to be achieved during each unit.
  5. Define lessons and learning activities for each unit.
  6. Develop specifications for assessment of what students have learned.

1) Translate course goals into performance outcomes, and major course objectives (unit objectives).

In the K-5 setting, the course goals are determined by the state standards.  How those standards translate into the unit objectives in the classroom, is something the K-5 teacher determines, often in coordination with the grade level teachers.

2) Determine the instructional topics or units to be covered, and how much time will be spent on each.

The K-5 teacher, often in coordination with the grade level team divides up the content into the designated school year.

3) Sequence the units with regard to the course objectives.

Along with the school calendar is the timeline for the state testing, often well before the end of the year.  Not only do the teachers have to meet the objectives, but they must decide which objectives will be taught after the state testing.

4) Flesh out the units of instruction, identifying the major objectives to be achieved during each unit.

At the K-5 level, this is often done in coordination with the grade level team.

5) Define lessons and learning activities for each unit.

I think this is the part that most people understand that teachers do.  Teachers have been sharing lesson plans for a long time.  I’m not sure how a teacher could only do this one step.  Well, a good teacher definitely does more than just this step.

6) Develop specifications for assessment of what students have learned.

There are a number of different ways to assess what students have learned.  I think most people think all assessment is multiple choice tests.  (High stakes testing ends up being like this, not that it is the best way to assess students.)  Especially when you think about the K-5 setting, there are many things that can only be assessed by doing.

Summary

Design is the step where content and context come together.  Regardless of which role you have (instructional designer or teacher) there is much work that must be done in coordination with the other role.  One could argue that there are a number of designers who do all this and the teachers simply implement.  But having evaluated pre-service teachers in CA – watching video of them teaching and scouring their very detailed lesson plans with modifications, the teachers that simply taught the script (because the school required it), did not teach well.  However, that same script taught by a teacher who has done analysis and worked out a design that will work for that specific classroom, were incredible teachers.

Remember, I was only looking at the second step in ADDIE and only looking at K-5 teachers. I will continue this thinking going through the various levels of teaching and looking at each of the ADDIE steps.

Gagne, R., Briggs, L., Wager, W., & Keller, J. (2004) Principles of Instructional Design (Fifth Edition). Belmont CA: Wadsworth/Thompson Learning.

Are Teachers Instructional Designers?

In my original post about teaching and instructional design I ended with a question on why instructional designers don’t see themselves as teachers.  Perhaps I was asking the wrong question. Perhaps I should ask: Are teachers instructional designers?

See one person’s thoughts on this question – Are Teachers Instructional Designers?

The (K-5) Teacher side of ‘Analyze’: in Teaching vs. Instructional Design

As I am working on my PhD in Instructional Design I am constantly comparing my previous experiences with what I am learning.  One of my struggles has been this whole idea of Teacher vs. Instructional Designer.  There appears to be others in a similar journey or exploration so I have created a “Teaching vs. Instructional Design” category to collect my thoughts in my own journey.  Perhaps this journey will enlighten others in their own explorations.

Teaching

As noted in the title of my blog, I love teaching.  I have taken a round about path to acknowledging my own love,  prompted (or hindered) in part by many well intentioned influences pointing out that I should be “doing” rather than “teaching”.  I even had a professor in my teacher preparation program begin his class with “There is a saying,  ‘Those that can DO.  Those that can’t TEACH.’  I need to add, ‘Those that can’t teach, teach teachers.'” I still do not understand why he would say this to us aspiring teachers, but I can say I don’t remember much of anything else he tried to teach us.  (And I later bought a t-shirt which declared, “Those that can Do.  Those that can Do MORE, Teach!”)

There are a number of different concepts of a ‘Teacher’ and a number of different pathways into teaching.  In higher education they are called professors.  In the K-12 setting they are teachers.  And in the corporate arena they can be trainers or instructors.  To begin this ‘dialogue’, I am going to focus on teachers in the K-5 setting.

I have run across statements lately like “Instructional designers understand how people learn.” “Instructional designers follow a systematic, iterative process.” “Trainers deliver what the ID writes.”

So, let’s look through the general lens of ID (ADDIE) at a K-5 teacher, beginning with analyze…

Analysis

This is where the ID 1) determines the need for instruction, 2)conducts an instructional analysis to determine the cognitive, affective and motor skill goals for the course, 3) determines what skills the students are expected to have and how they will impact the learning and 4) analyzes the available time and how much can be accomplished in that time and possibly doing a context or resourcs analysis as well (Gagné, 2004).

1) Determining the Need for Instruction

In a K-5 setting, this is often mandated by the government.  Students are to be taught, period. State standards have been created and decided and handed down.  Some states have included teachers in the process of creating standards.  But this is actually looking a problem and deciding if instruction is the needed solution.  If you have not talked with a 4th grade teacher lately, perhaps you should ask about what they ‘teach’.  Yes, they teach the curriculum as mandated by government, state boards of education and school boards.  But they also teach, problem resolution and communication.

On any given school day, a class of 4th graders will pile into the classroom after recess.  As the teacher looks at faces and listens to the chatter, it is clear – something happened.  Now the teacher must decide if ‘teaching’ needs to be done.  The events that transpired on the playground are often an obstacle that must be surmounted before any work can be done on math problems.  Some teachers will address the issue, make judgments and decisions for resolving the ‘problem’ and move into math.  But the good teachers know that taking 5-10 minutes to teach about communicating and resolving problems will, after a fashion allow the class to transition more quickly from recess to math.  The students will gain the skills to communicate better and resolve their own issues.

Communication and problem resolution are not in any state standards for the 4th grade.  And yet, a good 4th grade teacher will teach these things in a very conscious way.  Analyzing the problem and then determining if instruction is the best solution to the problem.

2) Conducting an Instructional Analysis to Determine the Cognitive, Affective and Motor Skill Goals for the Course

Within the K-5 setting, teachers are certified to teach all the grade levels.  It is possible for a teacher to be switched from teaching 5th grade one year to 1st grade the next.  Teaching 1st grade is very different that 5th grade.  Each grade level will have specific standards mandated by the state.  While a K-5 teacher does not make the decisions at the standards level, the teacher does make the decisions at the unit level and below.  The granularity of the analysis is up to the teacher.

3) Determining What Skills the Students are Expected to Have and How They Will Impact the Learning

When I worked as a site technology coordinator at a K-8 school, I was impressed with the coordination demanded of a K-5 teacher.  Not only did the grade-level teachers meet often to make sure that they were equally preparing students for the next grade-level, but they also met with the grade-level teachers above and below.  Not only are these teachers “determining the expected skills of their students” but they are working with others to help prepare student who have the necessary skills to progress.

4) Analyzing the Available Time and How Much Can be Accomplished in That Time and Context and Resource Analyses

Any teacher will tell you that there is not enough time in the academic year to cover all the expected standards, and especially not before the administration of the standardized tests.  So, a K-5 teacher does analyze the time constraints and plan instruction based on the standards, the expected skills for the next grade level and available resources.

Summary

Looking at the four components of the Analyze step of the ADDIE instructional design process as described by Gagné (2004).  A K-5 teacher does participate in a large portion of the analyze steps.  Due to the state standards and other mandates, a K-5 teacher does not participate in some of the goal setting and determining the need for the instruction.  However, the process should include at least a representative from each grade level as those standards are being reviewed, discussed and modified.

Remember, I was only looking at the first step in ADDIE and only looking at K-5 teachers. I will continue this thinking going through the various levels of teaching and looking at each of the ADDIE steps.

Gagne, R., Briggs, L., Wager, W., & Keller, J. (2004) Principles of Instructional Design (Fifth Edition). Belmont CA: Wadsworth/Thompson Learning.

Teachers and Instructional Design

I am currently working on a PhD in Instructional Design.  I waited to find a program that fit into where I have come and where I am going.  But even now, in the middle of this choice I often wonder why this new fangled term “Instructional Design” is so “new”.  Isn’t this just another word for teaching?

And then I read We Are Not That Different by Elliott Masie, and I couldn’t agree more.

Teaching and Learning is generally the same at all levels.  It is as you focus on the content and the learners that the differences start occurring.  And isn’t that the way it should be?  I would not expect the lessons of a third grade classroom in south central Los Angeles to look identical to the third grade classroom in rural Idaho.  Each teacher will take the content and work with it to create lessons that will connect to their specific classroom.

I loved the connection of social learning using a jig-saw activity as an example in an elementary school classroom. Divide up the content between a small group of learners. Each becomes the “expert” in their section which they then teach to the others.

Mr. Masie wishes that “every college professor and high school teacher had the opportunity to spend time in a corporate learning department.”  I wish the corporate learning folks could spend time in the K-16 setting. There is amazing things happening in classrooms all across the nation.

Teaching vs. Instructional Design

I came to a realization today that Instructional Designers do not seem to see themselves as teachers.  I say this because whenever I see ID it is more about the structure of content.   And much of the reading does not mention an instructor at all.  Now I do understand that the majority of those claiming the title of Instructional Designer are in corporate settings, but why is teaching demoted, relegated to the K-16 setting?  (The article that prompted these thoughts.)

I am reminded of my search for a job, after making the decision to leave teaching high school (long story, right decision, but I miss it terribly most days).  Because all my experience had been in schools I was not seen as “fit” to work in an office.  I honestly could not believe what I was hearing.  I had to defend my experience in organization (managing 200+ students – as people, in grading, in work assignments, planning lessons, working with the office staff); in interacting with a variety of people in a professional manner (parent teacher conferences with so many different types of parents, negotiating with publishers and vendors, fundraising, open houses, school psychologists, special ed teachers, district support people); and office machines.  (Ok, that last one – I don’t know a successful teacher out there that does not learn quickly how to fix just about any duplexer, copier or fax machine.  And when I finally did get an office job – I seemed to be the only one not afraid of the copier!)

So back to Instructional Design…I’m not understanding why the teacher is eliminated from the equation.  I understand that there are situations that demand a self-paced, individualized learning environment.  However, successful life-long learners seek out experts, colleagues and mentors.  This is the feedback loop in the Systems model.

I love the “Granny-cloud” in the research done by Sugata Mitra.  His research shows that children will naturally learn (Hole-in-the-Wall Education).   The “granny-cloud” is added in and the children get to practice their English accent, show off their work, be encouraged, pointed in better directions, made to answer questions about their work.  In other words they get feedback.

Feedback can be “programmed” in to any type of learning instrument.   My school currently uses Moodle and between creating questions and setting up the quiz there are 4-5 different types of feedback that can be made available to the students within Moodle.  But the real feedback comes from a person analyzing and adjusting the upcoming coursework based on the performance of the students.  A teacher’s compliment in a forum encouraging students in the right direction.  Feedback must be real if the system is going to effectively maintain itself and grow.

I suppose the root is I just don’t understand how an Instructional Designer does not see himself as a teacher.

Update: For more thoughts and explorations on Teaching vs. Instructional Design see the Teaching vs. Instructional Design Category.

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