VI. Learn About and Utilize Pedagogies that Give all Learners Opportunities to Learn

Prepared by Rachel Malchow Lloyd

          Review of course syllabi and licensure program documentation will confirm that the unit's faculty conscientiously use and teach a broad array of pedagogies intended to provide all students with opportunities to learn. In March 2011, pedagogy instructors reviewed their courses, and reflected on the embedded pedagogies for working with diverse students.  Data was collected via electronic survey, and instructors met subsequently for reflective dialogue regarding the current strengths of the program and goals for future improvement in preparing teachers to teach in Minnesota's increasingly diverse schools. 

Pedagogical Strategies for Working with Diverse Students

          Tier Two teaching methods courses offer candidates guidance in the selection and use of a broad range of pedagogies suited to different learners.  Using the diversity standards articulated by NCATE and INTASC-based Minnesota Standards of Effective Practice (MSEP) as a guide, pedagogy faculty reviewed their courses, indicated the way in which a standard guided their teaching in their courses (know, practice, or assess), and briefly described specific examples of course activities or assessments which exemplified the standard.  A summary and analysis of the data is provided below and organized by the following seven standards. 

1.  Candidates are aware of and practice strategies that develop a classroom environment where individual differences are valued. 

          Eighty-three percent of unit pedagogy faculty reported that students had the opportunity to practice strategies for developing a classroom environment in which individual differences were valued during their methods class experiences.  Faculty reported that most of the opportunities were embedded as part of practicum experiences working with a diverse range of students including English Language Learners, struggling readers, and gifted and talented students.  In other cases, practice opportunities came through the lesson planning and unit planning activities in which students would plan for accommodations given the parameters of a particular hypothetical classroom cases.  Given parameters of most practicum experiences for method students, only forty-three percent of faculty reported that students in methods classes were assessed on developing supportive whole classroom environments, deferring the assessment until student teaching when candidates would have more responsibility for creating and maintaining a positive overall atmosphere for students from all types of diverse backgrounds.

2.  Candidates are aware of learning strategies suited to and can differentiate instruction for linguistically diverse students.

          As the population of St. Cloud schools has changed dramatically to include more English Language Learners, CSB/SJU candidates have increasing opportunities to work with students from linguistically diverse backgrounds.  Subsequently, seventy-eight percent of the unit's pedagogy courses have opportunities for candidates to know, practice, and to be assessed on their knowledge of working with linguistically diverse students.  Most courses embedded ELL accommodations within lesson and unit planning.  In addition, the practicum experiences for Elementary Reading and Language Arts, Middle Level Literacy and Language Arts, Middle Level Literacy and Social Studies and Methods for English as a Second Language, all include opportunities for candidates to work directly with ELL students in area schools. 

          Reader Case Studies embedded in Elementary Reading and Language Arts, Secondary English Language Arts, and Secondary Social Studies practica, require that candidates complete diagnostic assessments, analyze these results, plan differentiated instruction, and reflect on the results of that instruction. All students are working with struggling readers, and many of these students are ELL or special education students. 

          As one candidate reflected in the conclusion of her case study, "My overall experience [in an ESL classroom] was eye opening. I learned a great deal by working with an individual student and have a better understanding of what it's like to work with someone who cannot read. Getting to know a student's strengths and weaknesses will help me develop plans for each of my students. Every student learns differently and it is crucial that I meet the needs of all my students in order for them to be successful. Working [in ESL] showed me that what you see on the surface isn't necessarily what is inside of the student. Middle school students want to come across confident and smart, but a lot of the times they are just young adults who are trying to figure out the best way to learn." 

3.  Candidates are aware of learning strategies suited to and can differentiate instruction for culturally diverse students.

          Unit pedagogy faculty reported that seventy-five percent of their courses included knowledge of and practice in the development of culturally relevant pedagogical practices.  Instructors described a variety of readings, discussions, and lesson planning activities which help candidates develop their clinical reasoning skills in this area. In Elementary Social Studies Methods, candidates evaluate texts "for evidence of potentially damaging biases" (Professor Terry Johnson), particularly in regards to portrayals of American Indians in the American History curriculum.  In the Secondary English Language Arts program, students explore culturally relevant literary texts, and engage in discussions about the pros and cons of using canonical literature with increasingly diverse adolescent readers.  All middle level pedagogy students (Math, Science, Social Studies, and Language Arts) plan lessons for a microteaching teaching experience called Culture Fair. Culture Fair asks all candidates to teach content area skills to local middle school students through the lens of simultaneously exploring of a diverse culture.  While only thirty-eight percent of methods courses reported assessing candidates in this area, it is evident that the coursework in methodology lays the foundation for formal assessment of this standard once students are in their student teaching placements. 

4. Candidates are aware of learning strategies suited to and can differentiate instruction for students with exceptionalities.

          Unit faculty reported that sixty-four percent of pedagogy courses included opportunities to know about and practice designing accommodations for exceptional students in their content area, including special education students with physical or cognitive exceptionalities, as well as gifted and talented students. In particular, both art and science pedagogy attend to the importance of physical exceptionalities in their respective fields.  In science methods, students specifically design physical accommodations for laboratory work; in art pedagogy, students work with their host teachers to pre-plan accommodations for the students they work with in practicum.  Candidates often have the opportunity to work with and observe special education students during their middle level practicum at South Junior High School; and planning for Culture Day includes anticipating a range of learners including gifted and talented students as well as special education.  Unit faculty noted that of the areas of diversity represented in the standards, this was the area least represented in our self-reporting, and while we strive to improve in all facets of diversity, these diverse areas of exceptionalities might need particular attention as we set our goals for improvement. 

5. Candidates are aware of learning strategies suited to and can differentiate instruction for diverse learning styles.

          "Candidates are required to keep in mind ALL the diverse learning style preferences present in the classrooms in which they teach.  Special attention is given to how visual and kinesthetic learners value from teacher candidates using visuals to explain the steps required in completing a visual arts lesson plan, and how actually modeling certain of the steps greatly increases the success that their students will achieve." -- Sandy Bot-Miller, Art Pedagogy

          Across the unit's pedagogy courses, eighty percent embed practical experiences, particularly through lesson planning, unit planning, and microteaching, during which candidates are expected to demonstrate their ability to differentiate instruction for students with diverse learning styles and preferences.  In addition to the art methods coursework described above, science methods students design interactive bulletin boards that must incorporate multiple intelligences.  Secondary English Language Arts pedagogy courses include increasing focus on visual and media literacy, as well as embedding diverse assessment practices.  In Elementary Math Pedagogy, candidates study the integration of technology, constructivist teaching perspectives, and the use of manipulative objects for teaching of mathematics. 

6.  Candidates are aware of and practice strategies that bring multiple perspectives to the discussion of subject matter, including attention to students' personal, family, and community experiences and cultural norms.

          Seventy-eight percent of unit pedagogy courses include attention to multiple perspectives on subject matter.  These aspect are particular prevalent in the Social Studies and English Language Arts programs.  For example, in Elementary Social Studies Methods, Prof. Terry Johnson reported that "Students explore the role of multiple perspectives--particularly in history and discussion of current issues--through class readings and in-class activities. As part of the development of a historical inquiry, students identify and integrate a variety of resources designed to help K-6 recognize that people experienced historical events in unique ways. We also explore ways to encourage recognition of and respect for diverse perspectives when exploring strategies for addressing controversial issues."  In English Methods, grades 9-12, Professor Rachel Lloyd described this standard as "a major focus of this course . . . as literature study should be heavily focused on critical literacy and multiple perspectives as theory and practice." 

7.  Candidates use knowledge of students' families, cultures, and communities as a basis for designing culturally relevant learning experiences and connecting instruction to students' experiences. 

          Sixty-three percent of unit pedagogy faculty reported that they selected readings and designed course activities to help candidates learn about methods for and practice implementation of culturally relevant learning.  This was true in most subjects areas, including art, English language arts, social studies, and math.  For example, as Professor Bot-Miller explained, "Candidates study a variety of artists and art from a variety of cultures to understand the contributions and lifestyles of the various racial, cultural, and economic groups in our society.  Candidates observe the classrooms in which they eventually teach a visual arts lesson plan in order to consider ways to better create culturally relevant lesson plans that connect visual arts instruction to students' personal, cultural and other academic interests and experiences." 

          This is a particularly key component of the department's newest methods class, English as a Second Language.  As Professor Allison Spenader described, "Practicum unit plan and experience require students to develop lessons that incorporate student ideas and value differences in knowledge and abilities. Stress is put on understanding one's own culture and other cultures, as well as meaningful connections to student experiences.  Lesson plans are evaluated in terms of their appropriateness for meeting the needs of all learners by teaching language that is relevant and motivating to all learners."  The question of cultural relevance was evident in most facets of the program, while instructors also suggested that the most meaningful place for the assessment of this skill would be within the student teaching context, where candidates have more time to get to know students, communities, and families as part of their extended clinical time.  

Major Accomplishments:  Pedagogies for Working with Diverse Learners.

          The unit pedagogy faculty welcomed the opportunity to review and share the work we were already accomplishing in the area of pedagogy for diverse learners.  Our reflection and analysis of this information confirmed that we had made significant improvements in these areas over the last five years. 

          In particular, the new Minnesota Reading and Literacy Standards embedded as of September 2010 helped faculty clarify for students in all content areas the goals for and needs of diverse learners related to the key literacy. These new standards are an important move forward in providing candidates with a vision of how to differentiate and design instruction for diverse learners, particularly given that literacy strengths and needs are so often connected to linguistic and cultural diversity. As a result of these standards, practica experiences in three methods courses have been refocused on working with diverse students:  Elementary Reading and Language Arts, Middle Level English Language Arts, And Middle Level Social Studies.  Each of these practica culminates in a Reader Case Study which includes assessment of diverse leaner needs, design of differentiated instruction, and candidate reflection.  

          Simultaneously, the addition of a new elective methods course in English as a Second Language launched in Spring 2011, offers all candidates the opportunity to have a focused in- depth opportunity to learn about and practice pedagogies that address the particular learning needs of students from linguistically diverse backgrounds.  Pedagogy faculty encourages all candidates, and particularly those in English Language Arts, to include this course as part of their academic planning.  Such experience should provide invaluable as candidates move into school settings in St. Cloud, the Twin Cities, and across the country, where more and more students will come to school from families and communities where English is not the first language. 

          Finally, the pedagogy faculty has been highly enthusiastic about the addition of an elective practicum experience offered in an international context through the new Externship Program offered for the first time in 2010-2011.  Unit pedagogy faculty acknowledges that the most important means for practice and assessment of candidate knowledge in working with diverse students must come in the context of clinical experiences.  Our hope is that as this program expands, our candidates will have a rich opportunity to develop their clinical reasoning skills about working with diverse students, at the same time as the candidates themselves are embedded within a new culture. 

Improvement Goals:  Pedagogies for Working with Diverse Learners

          Effective teaching in all areas demands continuous improvement.  Our reflection and analysis of this data also prompted the consideration of several areas in which the unit's pedagogy faculty believe we should improve in order to better address the needs of candidates as they prepare to teach in today's increasing diverse classrooms.   One goal is indicated for each of the following levels of preparation in diverse pedagogies:  know, practice, and assess. 

Goal 1: (Knowledge) Explore revision of existing course sequence or the addition of a general pedagogy course, one which includes a significant or exclusive focus on teaching students with exceptionalities in the mainstream classroom. 

          We believe that the current knowledge base about students with exceptionalities as embedded within Tier One/Foundations courses is strong.  However, pedagogy faculty members were concerned that the theoretical knowledge about exceptionalities might be too distant from candidates' practical application of that knowledge in methods practica or student teaching.  Additionally, the ever-increasing amount of state content and number of pedagogy standards have encouraged all pedagogy faculty members, but particularly those in the secondary programs, to feel like we are trying to accomplish too much in too little time. That this standard had the lowest reported percentage of inclusion within existing pedagogy course suggests empirical support for faculty's concern. Whether this course would be an elective in the manner of the current ESL methods course or a requirement would be determined.  However, we believe that a significant number of students would be interested in an elective format, particularly as a two credit option. 

Goal 2: (Practice) Improve the coherence within and across practicum assignments.

          Unit pedagogy faculty felt strongly that meaningful practice in pedagogical methods for working with diverse learners depends largely on the quality and context of practicum assignments. In this area there are important differences between the Elementary and Secondary programs, although both could benefit from improvement in the practicum experiences. 

          The primary concern with Elementary practica is in the sheer volume of placements.  Each pedagogy course instructor organizes the practicum independently of all others. This results in several concerns. For faculty, there is a bottleneck in area classrooms providing practica sites for all candidates.  For candidates, managing the time and financial resources needed to participate in multiple practica in multiple locations within the same semester is potentially problematic.  From the perspective of diversity goals, our Elementary candidates have a large number of placements, but that volume means that they may not have the opportunity to develop rich contextual knowledge of any one particular site, nor develop the requisite relationships with students in these sites that would facilitate meaningful differentiation of curriculum. Likewise, given the current practica placement system, there is little opportunity to strategically plan what types of diverse student populations with which candidates have experience. 

          For all of these reasons, the Elementary pedagogy faculty suggested that it would be beneficial to explore blocking for courses, or at least practica, for students during their pedagogy coursework. For example, students might enroll in two blocked pedagogy courses (i.e. science/math or ELA/social studies) during a semester which share one practicum placement.  Even in the absence of blocked course work, students could register for a semester-long practicum experience at one particular school, in the tradition of a lab class in the sciences.  Students could be required to have at least one semester of practicum be embedded in one of the more diverse schools in the local community. 

          As secondary students in general have only two pedagogy courses, secondary faculty have fewer student placements to organize but are often competing with Tier 3/Student Teaching placements from our own program or with nearby Saint Cloud State University. As a result, most of the middle level courses have maintained and expanded their ongoing relationship with South Junior High. We are fortunate in this ongoing partnership, and in the fact that this is a diverse school site with increasing numbers of English Language Learners and students of color.  Students in middle level English Language Arts, Social Studies, and Science all attend practica at this site. Additionally, the use of the reading standards as a focus for the combined ELA and Social Studies practicum has resulted in an intense focus on working with at-risk populations in the area of literacy during their time at South. 

          At the same time, secondary candidates, like their elementary compatriots, would benefit from a longer and richer opportunity to become part of a school culture, and develop the relationships with their students that facilitates meaningful differentiation as part of the instructional planning process. We have already begun to implement a stronger coordination between the practicum placements in the high school method classes and Tier 3/Student Teaching placements.  Our goal is to work toward a model in which candidates are paired with a student teaching placement site at the start of their high school methods course. This would allow students to be embedded within the school and classroom community, and to begin developing a deeper understanding of the diverse needs of the students they will teach during student teaching. 

Goal 3: (Assess) Unit pedagogy faculty also saw a data pattern which indicated that to the extent it is possible, as a program we need to improve assessment of candidates in the areas of working with diverse students and pedagogies

          In particular, we advocate greater consistency among all candidates in planning for differentiated instruction from the beginning of unit or lesson plan design, rather than designing accommodations afterwards. In particular, the Minnesota Board of Teaching's adoption of the Stanford/Pearson Teacher Performance for use by all licensure programs and candidates in the fall of 2012 includes significant attention to differentiation. The recommended changes in course work and practica recommended would support the preparation of candidates for the TPA, in particular by allowing them access to richer contextual and student information prior to their student teaching. 

Limitations/Considerations for revision in this report

  • This data only reflects Tier Two/Pedagogy courses. The addition of the courses from Tier One/Foundations, and for this particular goal, Tier 3/Student Teaching, should demonstrate a more complete picture of how this goal is addressed within the program overall.   
  • Adjunct instructors were not included in this survey or reflective discussion. Thus music, secondary math and secondary social studies pedagogy courses offered by adjunct instructors during the 2010-11 academic year were not included in deliberations. However, as social studies pedagogy will be taught by full time faculty beginning with the 2011-12 academic year, and as a search for a full-time faculty member teaching music methods will occur next year as well, we might wish to add that data in the fall after the transition in instructors has occurred.