Praxis, Connections to Reflections of my Teaching

June 3, 2019

I recently finished reading the first section, Praxis, of An Urgency of Teachers: The Work of Critical Digital Pedagogy. As I turned the pages and read the words of Morris and Stommel, there were many times I found myself saying, “Yes, yes! This is something that I am working on in my teaching practice.”

It is very amazing to me that sometimes you can read just the right book at just the right time. In the last five years, I have spent more time on reflection and my teaching practice than any other time in my twenty year career in education. I have focused on several different aspects of my practice and many of these elements relate to the words of Morris and Stommel.

Something I have been thinking about recently relates to the content of the course. This idea started to emerge for me when I began my work with First Year Seminar, now Tackling a Wicked Problem. Teaching this course allowed me the opportunity to think about my teaching in a different way. Because the goal of FYS or TWP is to support student learning of specific skills or processes instead of specific content, this really helped me to question my practice. Morris & Stommel write,

“We are made deeply skeptical when we hear the word ‘content’ in discussions about education, particularly when it is accompanied by the word ‘packaged.’ It is not that education is without content altogether, but that its content is co-constructed as part of and not in advance of the learning” (p. 4).

An Urgency of Teachers: The Work of Critical Digital Pedagogy

As I think about these words, much comes to mind. First, I think about the word “packaged” and my associations with these ideas related to my experiences in PK-12 classrooms. To me, curriculum that provides such specific guidance to teachers as what to say, what to ask, when to teach what, and much more, can take away the role of the teacher and student in the learning process. This structure can be a tool for teachers, but sometimes when it is used as prescribed, both the teacher and children are lost in the process. There is much I could say about this idea, but instead I would like to focus on an element more directly related to my current experience as a teacher.

Something else that comes to mind relates to co-construction. This element is something that I have considered in my courses in a variety of ways. For this discussion, I want to focus on co-construction of content. There are two places that I feel that I have provided students with the most opportunities for this type of content creation: FYS and ER 4250.

The foundation of FYS provides many opportunities to construct knowledge as the content is not predetermined. The students make decisions about what aspects of the wicked problem they want to learn more about or which elements they need to learn about to do the work. I see my role in this process as a facilitator and questioner. Because the class focuses on students developing the Habits of Mind and other process orientated skills, teaching this course gives me permission to release myself from the content push of a typical course. I feel open to support student inquiry and facilitate this process.

I find this more challenging in major courses. This is were I am working on my practice to consider more opportunities for co-construction of content. One course where students are part of this process is a senior level class where students learn how to support young children’s science, social studies, and technology learning (ER 4250). When taking ER 4250, the students spend two and half days each week in a K-3 classroom. This opportunity provides many connections to the course and many links to our work on campus. We use this experience to help consider the focus of much of the work of the class. As I consider these two classes, I am wonder how I might include more of these opportunities in other classes I teach. I struggle with the balance of what I think students “need to know” and what they might co-construct. What if we don’t get there? (There…where is that? ๐Ÿ™‚ )

Another aspect of my reflection on my teaching relates to the assessment of student learning. This is something that challenges me to think about my practice often and consider why I am asking students to complete a particular activity. What is the purpose? What knowledge will I gain about their thinking? Morris and Stommel write,

“Can we imagine assessment mechanisms even that encourage discovery, ones designed for assessing learning but designed for learning through assessment” (p. 34).

An Urgency of Teachers: The Work of Critical Digital Pedagogy

This quote resonated with me as I consider my teaching and how I can include more authentic opportunities for students to share their thinking and understanding. I am trying to wrap my head around this idea of “learning through assessment” and what this might look like in some of my courses. I think something that I am grappling with currently is the relationship between assessment and grading. I am wondering about this within the changing context of PK-12 learning environments in the state and the move to competency based models in many schools. I am wondering about this relationship and the possibility of providing more opportunities for student ownership in this assessment process. I get both excited and nervous thinking about these possibilities. Particularly, thinking about my comfort level and my willingness to let go of control.

The last connection that I would like to write about links to Morris and Stommel’s words related to their concerns of using Learning Management Systems (LMS). They write,

“I am worried because these things make education increasingly about obedience, not learning” (p. 48).

An Urgency of Teachers: The Work of Critical Digital Pedagogy

I appreciate the ideas that Morris and Stommel present as they discuss the data collected in LMS and how this reflects in the idea outlined in the quote. I however, thought immediately to something that I have been considering in my practice. I wonder often about the structures and processes that I have in my place in my courses. Why did I decide on these particular parameters? Do these help the students or is this for me? When should I push myself out of my comfort zone? Are these structures interfering with the learning? How do we move beyond a checklist approach? These are just some of the questions that come to mind. I know there are more and I am constantly revisiting this idea of learning and the implicit and explicit messages we give to students in everything that we do in our classes.

There is much more to say, but I think I will stop here for now. I am looking forward to continue my reflection of my practice as I read more of Morris and Stommel’s ideas.