Negotiating Pedagogy in Context

What My Learning Means

My students' experiences fall quarter alerted me to how one particular web site can provide students with an important venue from which to make sense of their emerging understandings about the learning/teaching of language and literacy. As someone whose research has tended to focus on youngsters' learning processes, this experience heightened my awareness of certain aspects of teacher education students' meaning making processes that have not been on my front burner. Through my viewing of video tapes and analyses of student work I gained some insight into the ways students' readings and discussions of the Carnegie websites helped them make sense of and better understand theoretical, practical, and political perspectives on learning and teaching. I became much more cognizant about how they relied on prior experiences and understandings as they made sense of the events and practices that they viewed on Jenn's website.

Building on this year's experience, I would like to reconsider and refine the ways I use the Carnegie websites. There were things about the assignment and the way I organized student discussion and collaboration that merit reconsideration. For instance, I wonder about my students' tendency to engage in what I term civil and consensus oriented discussions related to Jenn's website. I'd like to understand what contributes to that pattern by better understanding the dynamics and history of the group. Because I know something about what they brought to my class, I know that they had difficult and at times contentious discussions in the classes that they attended in the quarter prior to mine. Did those experiences influence the way they engaged with one another in my class? Was there something about a push to get the task done thay may have compelled students to be agreeable with one another and not to interrogate one another's ideas?

The experience also cautioned me from an over-reliance on small group work that I did not carefully scaffold, perhaps by prompting students to dig more deeply into the reasons and evidence underlying their views. Also, instead of providing students with the option of viewing the website for the first time in class with other students, I may want to make sure that each individual had carefully viewed websites prior to discussing them with others. This was something that I was able to insist upon in the case of the students enrolled in an Ed.D. class that I taught Spring of 2006.

My experiences with Ed.D. students Spring quarter also alerted me to other dimensions of my students' experiences that may have contributed to the way they negotaited their discussions and readings of the website. In the case of my Ed.D. students, they drew on many years of experience and a range of roles and identities in their discussions. In addition, over the course of the last nine months they had come to know each other well and to formally and informally establish norms of interaction that enabled them to engage in disagreements that did not appear to jeopardize feelings of safety or their relationships with one another.

Video: Ed.D. Students Sharing Diverse and at Times Conflicting Perspectives on Yvonne Hutchinson's Website 

My work involving the web sites has also contributed to my desire to expand on certain aspects of my teaching that extend beyond a consideration about how I facilitate students' reading and discussion of websites. As I've mentioned previously, I have been particularly intrigued by how my students draw on their emerging identities as teachers when making sense of the websites as well as other topics. They are very concerned about how as teachers they will negotiate the policy context that they have observed others find so challenging. At a much broader level, they worry about the political positions they will assume in becoming teachers. This is particularly apparent in the questions and issues they raised in their capstone portfolios, which they recently submitted. The following is a sampling of these questions and concerns:

  • One of the main concerns I have as I enter the teaching profession is how to address issues of inequaility in a schooling system that has developed a checks and balance system that is counter intuitive to meeting the learning objectives of students who are struggling the most, especially when considering the design and implementation of state testing.
  • I'm conflicted by what I know is the right way to teach in my heart and the more realistic way to teach. I have no idea how I will balance the two contrasting approaches, but I do know that the balance is crucial in order to offer my students an effective, yet progressive, learning environment. As an aside, my feedback for UCSC is to provide students more than just the "perfect model" of doing things in the classroom. After all, very few of us will enter school communities that fully support the progressive methodologies. And I'd go on to assert that as a result, particularly in upper grades, many students will not fully support such methods either. If possible, I would recommend that UCSC offer more ways to slowly EASE our ideals into the traditional classrooms. If a teacher goes in only with her bag of radical UCSC tricks, then she will be set up for failure and dismay. We have to learn to code-switch, after all, right?
  • I realize that I will face many challenges in trying to hold to the understandings I know to be true about how children learn and how I want to teach. In districts that have done well on high-stakes standardized testing and have not had to turn over control of the majority of their schools for restructureing under NCLB, I expect that taking the time to really get to know and meet the needs of my students will be encouraged. But in districts that have been reclaimed, I am really not sure how I would be able to use my developing understandings as an educator... For this reason I'm pursuing teaching opportuntities in districts that have been able to produce higher test scores in their students...
  • I would like to continue to involve my students in exploring the policy context and how it is intertwined in the identity formation of veteran and novice educators. To help me do this, I have enlisted the help of Ed.D. students participating in an advanced doctoral seminar entitled Theoreitcal, Practical and Policital Perpsecitves on the Learning and Teaching of Literacy. Members of this seminar include school and district administrators, veteran teachers, and teacher educators who are enrolled in our joint doctoral program. As part of their course assignments, I had them engage in discussions related to the current policy context guided by the following questions:

  • What policy initiatives are impacting the lives of the students in your districts and schools?
  • What advice do you have to offer teachers negotiating these contexts?
  • What advice do you have to offer administrators negotiating these contexts?
  • What policy changes would you like to see? Why? How?
  • What kinds of policies do you think promote youngsters' literacy/language development?
  • The following links capture excerpts from these discussions. My plan is to facilitate my teacher education students reading of these discussions in ways that will enable us to consider the political dimension of our roles and identities as teachers of language and literacy.

Video: Lessons Learned and New (?) Directions 

This clip begins with Jill, a teacher educator in charge of a professional development program in the Orchard Unified School District (where low-income students of Mexican-descent are in the majority), discussing her concerns about how Proposition 227 has affected the learning/teaching opportunities available to youngsters in schools. In the subsequent discussion about the proposition, Ron, the assistant superintendent of a nearby school district, comments on the cirumstances that led to the passage of Proposition 227 as well as the political lessons we should learn from educators' lack of action in regards to this initiative. Bob, the director of adult education in the Orchard Unified School District, provides his insights regarding the kinds of actions we now need to take given the current policy context.

Video: Carving out a Third Space 

In this clip class members continue to offer ideas about how to negotiate the current political terrain that they are facing in their schools and distrcits. They discuss the strategies and approaches teachers, administrators and others need to assume as they negotiate spaces where diverse and alternative perspectives can be heard and enacted. In addition to Jill, Ron and Bob, a high school Spanish teacher, Ruth, and a new teacher advisor, Pam, offer their perspectives.

Video: Advice to New Teachers: How to Negotiate the Policy Milieu 

Class members share a diversity of views and opinions. John, a long time administrator, states that new teachers shouldn't worry about negotiating NCLB or other policies. They should focus on learning their craft. Pam suggests that new teachers become politically aware at the local level because they need to know about issues in order to function in their professional communities. Jill's and Ron's advice to new teachers is to build relationships with students, parents and colleagues. Bill also endorses this view, saying that those relationships will change you forever . . . they make you who you are as a teacher.

Video: Advice From and To Principals: How to Negotiate the Policy Milieu 

After offering some advice to new teachers about how to negotiate the worlds of educational policy and politics, principals describe what they do to support their new teachers, highlighting the need for fostering a working environment where teachers collaborate with one another and have a voice in what and how they teach and learn. Juanita, a veteran teacher with a long history of working with Mexican-descent children, makes the important point that some principals are constrained in terms of the kinds of autonomy they can publically help to foster among their faculty. Bob ends the discussion by offering the following advice to principals: "Find teachers with good ideas and protect 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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