Engaging Students in Literature - Christine Cziko - UC Berkeley

Developing My Practice

Becoming a Teacher Educator

I think that one of the key difficulties for me as a new teacher educator was that I wasn't seeing my student teachers as actual students and I wasn´┐Ż€™t seeing myself as their teacher. As a result of the high standards that Berkeley holds for admission to any of its programs, the students who were admitted into the Multicultural Urban Secondary English (MUSE) Program came with intelligence, commitment and idealism. I believed that they knew more than they did and that it was my job to show them ways to do things in the classroom (I taught the methods course) and give them tips, advice and encouragement when they ran into difficulty.

For the first two years as a teacher educator, it was activities, activities, activities. My students didn't complain - in fact, that's what they wanted. "What should I do tomorrow?" But I was getting more and more dissatisfied when I visited my student teachers' classes. There were a lot of activities going on - but I wasn't sure if there was a lot of learning going on.

Learning How to Use QUEST Websites

Two years ago I was invited to joint the Carnegie Quest Project. As a teacher educator I would now have available a new kind of text to work with, These experienced teachers' websites offered me an opportunity to show my student teachers what effective classrooms looked like and how effective teachers taught. I decided to work with Marcia Pincus' website around the theme of teaching Shakespeare. I knew that most of my student teachers would teach Shakespeare at some point and I knew from personal experience how difficult students find these texts. After an introduction to both the website and to Marcia's class, my students watched the video sections of her website. When we were finished there was an uncharacteristic silence. I asked for responses. One after another my students told me that they could never do what they saw Marcia doing - that their classes didn't look like Marcia's and was this some kind of special school.

Well, yes. It was a special school - an honors school in Philadelphia and an honors 11th/12th/ grade class. Although my students were interested in what Marcia was doing - it wasn't because they wanted to try out her strategies but because they wondered what it would be like to teach in a school where students were working at this level.

Making Changes

Ironically, this was not the way I had taught my own middle and high school students for so many years. And it was not the way that I believed people learned. Over time, I understood that I had to teach them "how to learn to be a teacher" not just "things that teachers do in the classroom". As a result my goal became to create a learning community within the program and involve them in activities that supported their learning and collaboration. I planned to use writing workshop, literature circles, sustained silent reading with metacognitive logs, inquiry projects etc. These were learning strategies that my student teachers could experience for themselves. Students discussed these first hand experiences as learners. What did they learn? Was it of value? Could this kind of learning take place in their own classrooms? What would they have to do in order for students to be successful?

The class of MUSE 07
The class of MUSE 07

On-going Challenges

Among the many challenges that my students face (lack of materials, scripted curriculum, classroom management) - two seem most urgent. For the student teachers, the lack of engagement and student motivation is most difficult for them to deal with. Their students often don't do homework, come to class late, leave their books home. For me, the difficulty is for student teachers to think through their learning goals and objectives in order to figure out what they want students to learn and why. I think these challenges are related. When a teacher can't communicate a clear and powerful purpose for what he or she is asking students to get involved in, the student is unlikely to get interested. I don't want to be simplistic and say that all issues around motivation can be solved with a strong curriculum, especially in urban schools, but it is, I believe, the place to start.

Moving Ahead

In my third year I started working more explicitly on building a community of learners with the students in my group. I had an orientation at my home with lots of food, introductions and questions answered. I also gave them a "Community Events" assignment. They had to go to two community events and write up what they learned from the community and what resources might be available to them or their students. A key part of this assignment was that they had to go with at least two other MUSE students. Meeting, talking and "hanging out" outside of their classes added a social layer to the academic community that they were beginning to form. I also had new students report to campus one week early. We spent that first week working on personal writing in the form of a writing workshop. From Monday to Friday, from 9am to 4pm we wrote, shared, talked and wrote some more with a final read-around on the last day. Over this week not only did students learn the struggles and rewards of writing, they also learned about each other. In between writing time and writing groups, I would bring in the kinds of scaffolding their students would need to do this writing as well as student samples. These soon-to-be teachers had a deep personal experience writing and knew that this is what they wanted their students to have.

In addition I began to have my students explore their reading process. Using the work of the Strategic Literacy Initiative, I taught them how to explore their own reading process, share the strategies they used and show them ways to help their own students become metacognitive about their own reading processes. Yes, I exposed them to strategies that they could teach directly - but they were strategies that these future teachers could experience authentically themselves. We could then work together to figure out how these strategies could be used in the classroom.

I have seen my students use writing workshops and a reading process approach in a number of their classrooms with varying success. But even though they didn't always reach their goals for these activities, they know what and why they were doing them - and most important they have experienced these learning processes themselves and believe in them.

This electronic portfolio was created using the KEEP Toolkit™, developed at the
Knowledge Media Lab of The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
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