What am I doing? A reflection on my CPLC goals

February 12, 2020

Next week, I attend the 100th Annual Meeting of the Association of Teacher Educators where I will share my perspective about being a member of the CPLC and how this learning community shapes my work with preservice teachers. As I prepare for this presentation, I think about the work that I engaged in during the fall semester and the goals that I set for myself. I revisited all of my posts but one in particular felt important to look at more carefully.

At the end of the summer, I wrote a A Year in Practice: Synthesis & Vision to outline my plan. I think that it would be helpful to consider where I am with each of these goals not only to prepare for this conference but also to reflect on my journey at this point. Below, you will find each of my goals with my thoughts about my process so far.

I plan to continue to engage in the CPLC by writing my blog and participating in reflective practice. These opportunities will provide me the space and time to think about my teaching in midst of the busy semester.

Well…writing for my blog didn’t happen last semester. I know that during the fall semester, I thought about writing, but it never seemed to make it to the top of my to do list. There are several reasons why this might have happened. For this semester, I will recommit to writing more about my work.

In terms of reflecting on my teaching, instead of participating in a traditional reflective practice group, I reflected in two other spaces. First, I am part of the Tackling a Wicked Problem (TWP) steering committee. This group of five faculty members all teach TWP and we meet twice a month to discuss the course. This group works on helping faculty implement this new course and talks about key issues that emerge from doing this student-centered project-based work. I find that often during these conversations, we also have opportunities to consider our teaching and these other perspectives help me to consider other ways to engage students in this course.

The other place I had many opportunities to reflect on TWP was with my collaboration with another colleague, Cathie LeBlanc. We each taught a section of TWP focused on the wicked problem climate change. Our sections met once a week for an hour to provide the students with another venue for feedback as they engaged in the work. To prepare for these sessions, we met weekly and discussed not only what we planned to do but also about the course in general. I can’t begin to tell you how these conversations shaped my thinking about teaching this course as well as my teaching in general. Cathie writes often about teaching and learning in her blog. I felt that this opportunity to reflect with a colleague that focuses much on how to improve her practice by focusing on students was key to my learning in the fall. One thing that I realized at the start of spring semester is that I missed having these weekly conversations. I know that one of my goals is to find other opportunities to reflect on my teaching this semester.

I am going to use ungrading in two of my classes in the hopes that this will give my students the opportunity to focus on the learning of the course.

Well…I decided to jump completely into ungrading during the fall semester. As I finalized my courses, I found it difficult to try to balance in both the graded and ungraded worlds. I would say that this was pretty challenging and maybe not the best choice. There was much to process and think about as I proceeded through ungrading and what this looks like in my different courses. In the fall, I taught three early childhood courses and TWP to first year students. Two courses most of the students were new to me and this made the transition to ungrading slightly easier since they did not have prior knowledge about my style as a professor. The other two courses were with seniors in the major that I knew very well since I had them for two different courses during their junior year. I think that this dynamic did make it more challenging. But there was so much more that made this work difficult.

Here are some of my key take aways.

  • New ideas, no matter how important, exciting, imperative, take time to implement. Doing everything at once makes it challenging to know what is viable and what needs to be revisited. I really took this to heart and decided for the spring to focus on one course for my work related to ungrading. I have 16 students that experienced ungrading in one of my fall courses that are taking a course with me this spring. I decided to use the feedback from the students and what I learned form my experience in the fall, to guide changes to my approach that I hope will support them.
  • Taking grades out of the feedback equation did help students to focus on the learning of the course. This was a significant piece that I noticed in all four course student evaluations. The students saw my feedback as being valuable and I particularly appreciated seeing this element from the student perspective because I have tried to focus on providing effective feedback to the students over the course of the last several semesters.
  • Shifting from grading to ungrading is challenging for students (and for me). They come with years of experience with grades and they use grades to help them understand how they are doing. Although they see the flaws in this system, this is what they know. It takes many conversations with students and even then students might feel uncertain about this shift. I realized that part of the problem was that I needed to scaffold the student experience more. I have tried to implement this support this spring to see if this helps students understand their development of the course content and to provide the support they need without the feedback of grades on assignments.

I am revising my syllabi to make them more student friendly.

Although the task of rethinking my syllabus took time, I feel that the products from these revisions were successful. Student comments in class indicated that they noticed the difference and they seemed to receive these changes positively. From my perspective, I actually enjoyed the process of creating my syllabi. I guess prior to my work with the CPLC, I didn’t realize that I “could” change the format. That sounds silly as I type it, but I guess, just like my students, I had so many experiences with one type of syllabus that I made the assumption that this was what I had to do. Something as simple as adding pictures relating to the course content made my syllabi more inviting and easier to read. I used the same process to revise my syllabi for this spring, but I look forward to considering other ways to continue to make by syllabi more friendly. One idea that I was unable to implement that I would like to try is having a one page version of the syllabus that conveys key ideas of the course in addition to the longer one with more details.

I am considering ways to provide more voice and choice to my students in my classes as it connects to both open pedagogy and project-based learning.

For the fall semester, I believe that I was able to embed more opportunities for choice within my courses. The way I approached this element varied among my classes but I did try to use this lens as I considered how to support student learning.

I want to talk about one particular example for now. In my assessment class for early childhood majors, I decided to provide them choice on what they wanted to learn about individually. We had readings and a schedule of topics that I typically used to guide in-class activities, but then I left it up to them to decide what they wanted to learn about more deeply.

I guided them through this process by using Check-In assignments. These reflections provided the students the opportunity to share the questions they were exploring in this individual work and how they were trying to find out answers. I used these reflections to guide the students by asking questions for them to consider in this individual research. I believe the results were mixed from the student perspective. Some students really enjoyed this approached. They were glad to have the chance to decide what they wanted to learn more deeply about and then could choose how they wanted to do this learning. Did they want to interview an early childhood professional about her assessment practice? Did they want to try different methods of observation? Did they want to read teachers’ blogs about assessment? The possibilities were endless. And this is what made it challenging for other students. Some students were unsure how to approach the uncertainty of this work. Some students wanted more structure and guidance with this work. Just like ungrading, having so much voice in the learning process was unfamiliar to the students.

Although, I saw these two sides as well and I know that some students did not have the same depth of learning as others, overall I think it was beneficial. I noticed this most in the individual conferences that I did with students twice during the semester. This particular course is one that I have found challenging to engage the students. Assessment does not have the same enticement as other courses in the major. And although the content is critical to the students’ career goals, it is sometimes challenging for them to see this importance as they are taking the course. This semester I saw a shift. As I spoke to students about their work, I saw them light up about what they were learning and sharing connections to what we discussed in class. I could see that they were pulling in the ideas from our shared readings and using this to help them consider what they wanted to learn more about. I saw them take ownership of the learning and focus on what interested them or what would be helpful to them as early childhood professionals. As I listened, in my head, I was saying, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

I am left with this question as I consider what might be best in continuing this approach and supporting the various needs of the students in my courses. How do I help students that feel uncomfortable with the lack of structure about having more of voice in learning without taking over their learning?

I am going to be patient with myself as I try to grow as a professor and implement these new ideas.

This is challenging for me. I know that changing your practice is a process and that I need to allow myself to make mistakes. I am not good at being patient. I think that it is interesting that I encourage my students to make mistakes and to see these experiences as opportunities for learning, yet I have difficult time allowing the same for myself. I continue to reflect on this goal and work on providing myself the space to learn and grow as a teacher.

I am going to be patient with my students as I implement these new ideas.

I think I accomplished this goal. I tried to use the feedback the students provided to consider what could I do to help them understand our work, the structure of the course (or lack of it), the content, the feedback, or anything better. What I need to make sure is that I keep vigilant this semester. That I continue to listen. Really listen to my students. To what they say or don’t say. To what they do or don’t do. This listening will help me stay on track to what is most important…the students.

Going through these goals will help me refocus on my work with the CPLC and not lose sight of what I learned with my colleagues this summer. However, I don’t think I am closer to knowing…What am I doing?