Week 5 & 6 - GNA GNA Jul 8, 2009

Going Meta on Mutual Enhancement

The concept of mutual enhancement, when applied to classroom culture, is defined as "a spirit of shared social responsibilities [that] allows for inclusion and equality" (Goodman, 2008, p. 156). Qualities of a "mutually enhanced classroom culture" are: openness to diversity and explorations of other identities; personal growth and acceptance of others; both teacher and students grow towards possessing greater agency (in the Maslowian sense).

What did this look like throughout the six week of Learning Theories? How was I enhanced in ways the students were not? How were the students enhanced in ways I was not? What specific actions did we take with, and directed towards, each other that increased feelings of mutual enhancement? How do we identify behaviors, practices, and ways of being which promote mutual enhancement so we can reproduce them in future teaching and learning endeavors? What ways, if any, did we behave that deteriorated feelings of greater agency? And finally, at what point, in our critical reflection as learners will we fully grasp the ways we have enhanced each others' pursuit towards of greater agency, and even transcendence?


WEEK 3 & 4 - GNA GNA Jun 23, 2009

Going Meta on Instructional Design

During weeks three and four I found myself designing instruction to meet students' pre-scribed goals and interests and in direct response to the quality and content of weekly artifacts submitted by the students. In addition, due to students' various and varying levels of engagement with the weekly curriculum, I had to adapt and make radical changes to my original lesson plan "on the fly" during both sessions during week three, and the Monday Group during week four (so far).

In general, there are benefits and costs to leading students' through a day of instruction (6 hours per session) with a minute-to-minute detailed lesson plan; equally present are benefits and costs of being 100% willing to abandon the lesson plan in an effort to stay afloat the ebb and flow of students' and instructor's intellectual, emotional, and physiological needs and goals throughout the teaching and learning encounter.

At the recent AERA conference in San Diego I heard Nel Noddings (one of her excellent pieces on pedagogical care). Relevant to instructional design she stated, "You make a lesson plan and if worse comes to worse, you follow it. Hopefully, something marvelous will happen instead." Can you appreciate her somewhat cavalier attitude? I can. What she addressed was the responsiveness of a teacher to be attuned to what are called "teachable moments" in the classroom. According to about.com a "teachable moment" is:

not something that you can plan for; rather, it is a fleeting opportunity that must be sensed and seized by the teacher. Often it will require a brief digression that temporarily sidetracks the original lesson plan so that the teacher can explain a concept that has inadvertently captured the students' collective interest. Taking this tangent is worthwhile because it is organically timed to maximize impact on the students. Ultimately, the teachable moment could evolve into a full-blown lesson plan or unit of instruction.

This makes sense to me. We certainly have many teachable moments in our class each week, however the type of on the fly adaptations and adjustments we make are arguably more radical than a "brief digression that temporarily sidetracks the original lesson plan." They vary at times between complete reworking, spawned by renegotiation between instructor and students, of goals (desired outcomes) to minor tweaks in the timing of the lunch break.

--to be continued--

WEEK 2 [- GNA GNA Jun 14, 2009]

Going Meta on Group Work

For the second week in a row we spent the majority of our class time in working in groups. Student feedback indicated an obvious difference in quality of domain-specific and social-emotional learning that took place in class dependent upon the ability of their groups to come together: FORM, STORM, NORM, AND PREFORM. tuckman-model-pic.pngThe Tuckman Model of small group development is the most popular presented in leadership training. I used it all the time when training student leaders (in my past life as a College Student Affairs Professional). I've never spent any time training this model with the preservice teachers because within a couple of weeks just about everyone is on board with team work. Yet I know how learning can suffer when you are not part of a healthy, productive team. I'm asking myself two questions: (1) What can I do to facilitate healthy, productive group work learning without dedicating a significant block of time teaching adult students how to work in teams? (2) What can I add to the group work process that would enable participants to glean something beneficial not co-dependent upon their group?

According to Ted Panitz (1996) the difference between cooperative learning and collaborative learning is philosophical. Collaborative learning incorporates concensus building as the main factor guiding the work of group members. Panitz contrasts this against cooperative learning which has all team members working towards a shared goal regardless if they've agreed how to get there, or if they collectively constructed a new understanding of the domain/concept/task. A Constructivist pedagogy (like the one I enact in class) would dictate the facilitation of collaborative learning groups.

According to Reid et al. (1989), Collaborative Learning Model has five phases: engagement, exploration, transformation, presentation, and reflection. The "engagement" and "exploration" phase parallel those of "forming" and "storming" in the Tuckman Model (1965). The "transformation" phase speaks to the learners coming together to reform/transform and construct new knowledge. [On Monday the task was to "define" a learner difference and put it down on paper. On Thursday the task (which evolved after Monday feedback) was to construct a concept map of a learner difference and put it down on paper. Clearly Thursday's task was more in alignment with the "transformation" phase.] Karen Yeok-Hwa Ngeow (1998) presented a series of recommendations about attending to the "reflection" phase of the collaborative learning model. (see Enhancing Student Thinking Through Collaborative Learning). She wrote:
The last phase of the group learning activity is "reflection." Here, students analyze what they have learned, identify strengths and weaknesses in the learning processes they went through, and offer constructive ideas on how their learning can be improved. Student reflection should be done both individually and collaboratively, and they need to analyze individual as well as group learning processes. For that purpose, teachers may construct individual and group guidelines. Some questions for reflection are:
  • To prepare for this activity, I ...
  • I think I contributed to the group's work quality by ...
  • Something that would help us work better next time is ...
  • One thing that was not useful to our group work was ...
  • Some ways in which the thinking of the group could have been better are ...

Intentional, guided reflection on group learning activites is what we've been missing. Incorporating this type of activity with greater intention would respond to students' needs to have healthy, productive learning groups through PRAXIS. Also, this type of reflection is easy to incorporate into a lesson without spending tremendous amounts of time (responding to my questions #1) and models reflective pedagogy not dependent upon the actual group assignment (question #2). Facilitating preservice teachers' exploration into their own strengths and weaknesses of collaborative work/learning will hopefully get them thinking about how they might do the same with their future students. And the web of learning grows and grows!

- GNA GNA Jun 10, 2009 I recently contributed a comment to The Edurati Review blog regarding feedback. The original post offers additional perspectives. Check it out here.

WEEK 1 - GNA GNA Jun 6, 2009

- GNA GNA Jun 23, 2009 Another perspective on feedback. "Giving and Receiving Criticism" by an English professor via her blog.

I've been reflecting critically on the first week of class in conjunction with the artifacts you submitted. I believe a theme worth going meta on is feedback.

As you experienced in class this week, my pedagogy incorporates feedback that is both affirming and critical (defining critical as "characterized by careful evaluation and judgment; 'a critical reading'; 'a critical dissertation'; versus critical defined as "a tendency to find and call attention to errors and flaws") {definitions taken from http://tiny.cc/critical}.

Many times my feedback happens "on the fly." Other times it comes after the fact (the Week 1 follow up email, or questions I might pose related to your responses to the week's scholarly tasks, for example). In my best moments the feedback I provide (to you about your own performance, and to you about your performance of providing feedback to your peers and/or while you are "teachering") models feedback that is parsimonious, thoughtful, and guiding (forward looking, as in helping students who desire to modify their course for future opportunities).

Some among you raised concerns asking, "How applicable/possible is this type of teacher-student interaction (and peer to peer interaction) in a high school environment?" Incredibly applicable and totally possible; and, completely dependent upon Your pedagogical values and definition of how people learn.

In my pedagogical practice, encouraging and modeling affirming and critical feedback manifests my pedagogical values of authenticity and honesty, whereby I value giving myself and the learners in my community the benefit of the doubt that we are mature enough to give and receive authentic and honest feedback, and that we have each others' best interest in mind. In other words, we are all teaching and learning together, and we all want to become the greatest teachers and learners possible. Thus I operate, and encourage the entire community of learners to operate, under the assumption that receiving productive feedback, whether it be affirming or critical, will help us toward our shared goal.

Similarly, my mode of feedback evidences my definition of how people learn in that feedback happens mostly "on the fly," and it is an act of creation (the giver and receiver are creating a forward looking understanding of how to alter beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors if we choose) with the goal of liberation from "common sense ways of knowing" (believing what we've always believed about how we perceive ourselves and the world around us). [My philosophy of education can be found here, for those so inclined. ]

Others among you, in your T2P essays or face to face, wondered, "Isn't this type of on the fly approach a bit "harsh"?" I can only use the data presented by your T2P essays and those of cohorts prior (along with their end of the semester evaluations) to respond. Yes, about 10% of the students who come into this type of pedagogical practice assert it to be a bit "harsh". Over the years I have recognized among some students a strong, negative affective response to receiving critical feedback on the fly. What I perceive as their aversion to the practice calls me to action in two ways.

First it motivates me to constantly (re)interrogate my choice to incorporate this habit into my practice. I ask myself, "How many students getting their feelings hurt would it take for me to shed this practice? Do I adopt/modify pedagogical practices based on the needs and desires of 10% or 90%?" "What is going on with the 10% that is within my domain of influence, and how much of what is going on with them is really all about them and their past experience?"

Second, I now incorporate an ongoing dialog (subtext) surrounding cognitive dissonance and learning and continue to actively interrogate its role in formal learning environments. Recently, I found this text which uses a case study of college students living together on an island as part of their study in group dynamics as a site for examining Leon Festinger's Theory of Cognitive Dissonance.

On the hypothesis of selective exposure, the author wrote: Festinger claimed that people avoid information that is likely to increase dissonance. Not only do we tend to select reading material and television programs that are consistent with our existing beliefs, we usually choose to be with people who are like us. By taking care to 'stick with our own kind,' we can maintain the relative comfort of the status quo. Like-minded people buffer us from ideas that could cause discomfort (Griffin, 1997, p. 207).


I am completely comfortable with cognitive dissonance, as a matter of fact, I've had RATS as pets (hence the pic above). I know others are not only uncomfortable with cognitive dissonance, but actually "shut down" in response to it. I endeavor to become attuned to the learners in any community I lead and re-situate myself in response to their direct feedback about my pedagogical practices. Hence this episode of "going meta" to provide those of you interested some analysis of, and resources supporting, this particular way of providing feedback.

A final thought on feedback: How would it be for teacher-learner-teachers to rename feedback? What if we called it "feed forward"? Or something similarly forward looking? Because isn't the goal of feedback to provide information to the recipient so they can, if they elect, modify their future course (decisions)?


Lee Schulman and Pat Hutchings (1999) speak to the phenomenon of "going meta" as it relates to the scholarship of teaching i.e., studying and researching the act of teaching. They wrote: A scholarship of teaching is not synonymous with excellent teaching. It requires a kind of "going meta," in which faculty frame and systematically investigate questions related to student learning—the conditions under which it occurs, what it looks like, how to deepen it, and so forth—and do so with an eye not only to improving their own classroom but to advancing practice beyond it. This conception of the scholarship of teaching is not something we presume all faculty (even the most excellent and scholarly teachers among them) will or should do— though it would be good to see that more of them have the opportunity to do so if they wish. But the scholarship of teaching is a condition—as yet a mostly absent condition for excellent teaching. It is the mechanism through which the profession of teaching itself advances, through which teaching can be something other than a seat-of-the-pants operation, with each of us out there making it up as we go. As such, the scholarship of teaching has the potential to serve all teachers—and students.
See the entire piece at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

To me, GOING META means that I "out" my thinking; I bring my cognition out-of-the-closet with the goal of interrogating my take on the art and science of teaching and learning about teaching and learning.

In the day-to-day practice of our classroom, and in my planning of our days together, going meta will take on a variety of forms. It may look like a "freeze frame" moment in class when we stop and take stock of pedagogical values, curricular goals, or activities as they unfold by asking questions and making speculations; by asking ourselves "What's the goal?" Or it may look like me providing the resources I use to make curricular decisions, for example my adopting an anthropological approach to teacher training.¹ Or it could be you asking me specific questions about why I elected to use "letters to teachers" as anchors in our exploration of major theorists.

In another type of class, horticulture for example, this type of going meta is typically done by the professor alone (or perhaps with her community of practice). In the case of our class, the content (learning theories), and habits of mind and behaviors (teachering), invite us all to engage in the act of going meta. - GNA GNA May 30, 2009

¹Eisikovits, Rivka A. (1995). An Anthropological Action Model for Training Teachers to Work with Culturally Diverse Student Populations. Educational Action Research, 3 (3), 263-277. Retrieved May 30, 2009, from http://www.informaworld.com/10.1080/0965079950030302
This article presents an anthropological model for training educators to work with culturally diverse student populations. The program is described and compared with some of the other training models available. Its potential for cross-cultural and cross-training level applicability is explored.

For an alternative perspective, equally informative (great links about participant observation), check out Becky Conway's blog post on Everyday Sociology entitled "Studying Subcultures using Participant Observation." I appreciate her courage, thoroughness, and sense of humor.