Dr. Teresa Young, Ed.D.
Assistant Professor in the Department of Childhood Education and Literacy at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio
Dr. Tom Knestrict, Ed.D.
Associate Professor in the Early Childhood Education Program at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio
Preservice teachers are typically required to observe mentor teachers in authentic K-12 classrooms with the hope of collaborating and learning about teaching. They meet with cooperating teachers to plan lessons, prepare projects, and assess student knowledge. As a part of their teacher education program, preservice teachers are also required to complete courses on various topics related to education. The combination of coursework with field experience prepares preservice teachers for future teaching. In addition, since the 2001 passage of No Child Left Behind Act, preservice teachers are also expected to know about and demonstrate the capacity to collaborate at the K-12 level when they enter the teaching force (Michael & Miller, 2011, p. 29). “The ongoing culture of reform in U.S. teacher education provides a rich opportunity to explore the new levels of collaboration that will be needed to achieve the goal of preparing teachers to work effectively across the full range of students they encounter in today’s classroom – among them students who have disabilities” (Pugach & Blanton, 2009, p. 575). How do preservice teachers learn about the process of collaboration? Preservice teachers need to witness effective collaborative relationships between teachers before they enter the classroom (Michael & Miller, 2011). This can be problematic if preservice teachers do not have an opportunity to observe collaboration at the university or classroom level.
Realizing that preservice teachers may not have the opportunity to observe collaboration at the university level, two college professors worked together to change their courses in order to model the collaborative process. At a private, mid-western university, preservice teachers were required to complete a language arts/social studies methods course as well as an integrated curriculum course as part of their teacher education program. The course content was taught by two separate professors and assignments were developed and completed independently.
We determined that this approach needed to change. Reflecting on a framework for collaboration implemented by some special and general education programs (Pugach & Blanton, 2009; Kluth & Straut, 2003), we developed a final project that modeled collaboration. In the following article, we describe the changes that we incorporated in order to model and scaffold our preservice teachers in collaboration. First, we describe the courses. Second, is a description of the assignment and final projects. Next, we discuss the final assignment and our reflections of the process. Last, we identify the lessons learned and provide recommendations for improving collaboration in the future.
In the teacher preparation program at this mid-western university, preservice teachers complete their language arts and social studies methods course in the same semester as the integrated curriculum course. The Language Arts/Social Studies course is designed to prepare students to teach language arts and social studies to children in preschool through third grade from a holistic, developmentally appropriate perspective. Preservice teachers become more familiar with best practices, teaching strategies, and classroom application in regards to the disciplines of language arts and social studies instruction. The university classroom involves collaborative learning within a constructivist seminar setting and a field component for observation and strategy implementation in the early childhood classroom. By completing this course, preservice teachers have a better understanding of reading education, more specifically, the interrelationship of reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Goals and outcomes for the course incorporate the use of current, effective methods and materials for teaching preschool through primary grades language arts and social studies; the integration of the language arts/social studies objectives with other disciplines; and, the integration of technology in planning and implementing lessons within the scope and sequence of the early childhood classroom. Assignments are developed to assess preservice teachers’ understandings of the course description and goals. Preservice teachers synthesize their knowledge of the course content to complete their final assignment which is an Interactive Learning Project.
The purpose of the Integrated Curriculum course is to teach preservice teachers both the theoretical reasons and practical model for writing an integrated unit of instruction. The expectation is that by the end of the semester the university students will be able to formulate, and create an integrated unit of instruction that is both theoretically sound as well as practically useful.
It has always been a challenge to provide a coherent model or template for the university students to use in conceiving, developing and writing this unit of instruction. They typically have difficulty narrowing topics for use in the unit. These preservice teachers also have difficulties in thinking through the continuity of the project, and in many cases, the units that they write are either too long or too broad in scope. What is needed is a way to structure the process that allows the preservice teachers to follow a framework for forming their ideas that move from broad understandings of learning targets to the writing of the individual lesson plans. This structure would maintain the continuity of the unit so they are not just a collection of vaguely connected lessons but a well thought out, integrated unit of instruction.
After reviewing the course goals and outcomes, it was apparent that both courses shared similar constructs, and therefore, collaboration on the final projects would be a meaningful experience for preservice teachers. Collaborating on the final projects would also create more focused lessons and a better understanding of integrating content. The focus of the courses, by design, was already naturally integrated and thus could also be a forum to model collaboration. According to Columba, Kim & Moe (2009), in simplest terms, “integration takes place when two or more disciplines are taught together in order to make explicit the multidimensional nature of concepts and to make connections between and among the concepts” (p.16). Since developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) serves as a foundation for our teacher education program, we reviewed Piaget’s cognitive developmental theory that holds that mental growth is an integrated process (Trawick-Smith, 2010). Children’s knowledge is not just a collection of isolated bits of information; it is organized in the brain and consequently, this organization becomes integrated as their knowledge grows (Tracey & Morrow, 2006). Since assessing knowledge becomes an integrated experience, we felt the most effective way was to model this information for our 11 preservice teachers was through collaborating and integrating the two courses two the final projects.
Preservice teachers completed final projects that identified a Social Studies standard, four major ideas that explicated this content, and a developed unit incorporating the four major ideas with individual lesson plans. The sample used to describe the Interactive Learning Project final assignment is detailed in Appendix A. Similarly, Appendix B describes the course assignment and requirements for the final project for the integrated curriculum course. While completing their final projects, preservice teachers met frequently with the professors to discuss the process of developing the content and individual lesson plans for the unit. Class discussion also focused on the two final projects. The preservice teachers asked questions about the expectations for each project and how the two were integrated. Upon reflection, we realized preservice teachers were overwhelmed at first because of the inconsistent use of language to describe each project. Although we explained the expectations for each project separately, preservice teachers could not initially construct understanding of how the two projects connected without both of us being available for questions. They were unable to see how the four big ideas served as scaffolding for the writing of the individual lessons plans for the unit. The professors believed that the four big ideas would serve as a foundation for the development of the unit; however, the preservice teachers did not possess prior knowledge to construct a holistic understanding of the process. Consequently, we needed to collaborate and communicate more effectively to scaffold the preservice teachers’ through the process. The professors met weekly to discuss the preservice teachers’ progress in identifying the four major ideas and drafts of the lesson plans for the unit. In addition, consultation occurred when preservice teachers scheduled one-on-one meetings with the professors. This often times resulted in collaboration between the preservice teachers and the professors. Finally, each professor discussed the final project as an outcome of our debriefing sessions and preservice teachers’ meetings. By working through the process, clarifying expectations, answering questions and developing consistent language, the preservice teachers completed their final projects.
During finals week, preservice teachers shared their final projects with their peers and college professors. Each preservice teacher was required to present her interactive visual representation of the four major ideas, state the Social Studies standard, describe the activities that related to the four major ideas, identify the integration of another content standard, and describe the overall outcomes for the unit. The presentation was evaluated for creativity, integration of the language arts and literature, active involvement of students, and clearly identified standards for the topic. The integrated unit project was assessed using a rubric that measured four main outcomes. These outcomes included evidence of knowledge of developmentally appropriate practices, evidence of content knowledge, clearly identified standards and performance indicators and evidence of a clearly written, and explicitly described integrated unit (integrating language arts and social studies).
Preservice teachers completed units on various topics such as explorers, inventors, and United States landmarks and symbols. In Appendix C, we provide an exemplar final project that includes the brainstorming web, the four major ideas, sample lesson plans for the introductory and culminating activity, and the visual representation of the four major ideas.
Overall, we were impressed with the final projects. We, however, were more inspired by the preservice teachers’ processes than the final projects. From the oral presentations and written units, it was apparent that we needed to model the process as preservice teachers completed their final products. Their uneasiness and, at times, confusions were due to our lack of proper modeling. We asked preservice teachers for feedback so that we could identify areas of difficulty and evaluate our collaboration. The following comments delineate preservice teachers’ thoughts and suggestions for consideration. One preservice teacher stated,
When thinking about class collaboration, I think it was an excellent idea. I remembered (authors) saying at the beginning of the semester, how this project would make our brain hurt. That was so true! It made me look at what I was doing in a completely different way. Perhaps you could have the students draft a sample unit for you, briefly stating the context of each unit. This might help give students a bigger picture of the unit.
Similarly, another preservice teacher commented that we should collaborate all the way through the semester. Although we were collaborating as professors through our weekly meetings, this was not always apparent to the preservice teachers. Moreover, several preservice teachers were questioning the viability of a stand-alone, integrated course. They saw more value in learning the integrated curriculum content in the context of the language arts/social studies methods course. “I feel like the integrated curriculum class is not a needed class necessarily. We learned to integrate social studies and language arts together in the block class.”
We prepare better teachers by being better teachers! “Practitioners who are reflective and on-going learners recognize that principles are capable of adaptation and change in the light of further evidence” (Frede, 1995, p. 117). We had multiple goals for this project, not realizing that one of the outcomes would be to reflect on our own teaching. We both reflected on the course content, the instructional process, and the final outcomes. One professor noted,
"After teaching this course for so long I found myself resistant to changing it in any way, comfortable in its format and confident in its viability. However, this collaboration opened my eyes to my complacence and allowed me to see that the evidence supported a different way to present these principles. It made the class and my teaching better. That was the gift of this collaboration. It was also a wonderful example for the students to witness. Even the professor, through reflective practice, could and should reflect and change. It was very powerful."
Recommendations – Lessons Learned
In teacher education programs, preservice teachers are encouraged to collaborate and reflect on their learning about teaching. As teacher educators, we model the process and encourage preservice teachers to reflect on this practice. Given what we know about the importance of collaboration (Michael & Miller, 2011, Paguch & Blanton, 2009), we offer the following suggestions for teacher education programs engaged in preservice teacher preparation.
Preservice teachers will be expected to collaborate with their colleagues, families, and other professionals throughout their teaching careers. How better to learn about collaboration then by observing university faculty implement the process in their own courses. Kluth and Straut (2003) found that teacher educators were more likely to use collaborative models in their own practice if they experienced them in the university classroom. Therefore, we plan to collaborate again during the spring semester on the final assignments. The lessons learned will guide our partnership and hopefully model effective collaboration.
Preservice teachers hope to view collaboration in their teacher education programs so that they can create similarly successful results in their own classrooms. That requires a model that involves observation of the collaborative process. Teacher educators are responsible for scaffolding preservice teachers in the use of appropriate and effective teaching skills. class="StrikethroughA" We began this project to model collaboration in the hopes that preservice teachers would enhance their content knowledge as well as identify effective pedagogical tools. Consequently, we created class="StrikethroughA" the final projects in our courses so that preservice teachers could better understand the complexities of collaboration and utilize this approach in their future teaching. Therefore, by first describing the collaborative assignment, providing an understanding of the process and final projects, and then sharing the outcomes of these final projects, preservice teachers were able to participate and reflect on the process of collaboration. We plan to refine the components of the final assignments and model the collaborative process to promote growth and reflection in preservice teachers’ preparation program.
Columba, L., Kim, C., & Moe, A. (2009). The power of picture books in teaching math, science, and social studies. Scottsdale, AZ: Holcomb Hathaway Publishers.
Frede, E. (1995). The role of program quality in producing early childhood benefits. The Future of Teaching, 5(3), 115-132.
Kluth, P. & Straut, D. (2003). Do as we say and as we do: Teaching and modeling collaborative practice in the university classroom. Journal of Teacher Education, 54(3), 228-240.
Michael, M., & Miller, K. (2011). Co-teaching in Ohio’s teacher education programs. The Ohio Journal of Teacher Education, 24(1), 29-35.
Moore, R. (2003). Reexamining the field experiences of preservice teachers. Journal of Teacher Education, 54(1), 31-42.
Pugash, M.C., & Blanton, L.P. (2009). A framework for conducting research on collaborative teacher education. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25, 575-582.
Tracey, D.H., & Morrow, L.M. (2006). Lenses on reading. New York: Guilford Press.
Trawick-Smith, J. (2010). Early childhood development. Upper Saddle River; NJ: Merrill.
Interactive Learning Project Sample for Preservice Teachers
The following is a sample of an Interactive Learning Project that was shared with the preservice teachers and served as a model for their final project:
Topic Selection: Social Studies Academic Content Standard for Grade Two
Daily Life – 6. Identify and describe examples of how science and technology have changed the daily lives of people and compare:
a.) Forms of communication from the past and present. Specifically focusing on communication via the postal system.
The Visual Representation: Using a trifold board, the preservice teacher divided into three sections: Past, Present and Future. The past section showed pictures printed in black and white photos. The present section on the board showed a diagram representing the current mail system and how it functions today. The future section on the trifold board depicted several question marks. Students attached predictions here.
The following are four sample main ideas that supported learning the content and were interactive:
Integrated Curriculum Unit Plan
This project should reflect your understanding of the following ideas; child development, developmentally appropriate practice, content knowledge, knowledge and ability to use the state standards, assessment strategies and your ability to design and convey your ideas in a written product. Underlying the assessment of your work is your ability to link what you design to research, best practices and the state standards.
(Author) will ask you to choose a theme for your integrated unit. This unit must combine standards from social studies as well as language arts. Once you have chosen a thematic topic she will ask you to choose four main topics and represent them in a project board to be used as an instructional tool when teaching the unit.
The Integrated Unit assignment will ask you to build a unit around these four main topics. Each topic requiring 1-3 lessons to build towards the learning of each main topic. Each unit must have both formative and summative assessments for each main idea. The unit should be 5-12 days in length. Each unit must begin with a ‘WOW’ lesson that introduces the unit and engages the children in the topic and the unit. Each unit must end with a culminating activity that concludes the unit. This culminating activity must be an event, production or field trip. For example, a student wrote a unit on museums and began the unit with a visit to the local children’s museum and ended in the construction of a classroom museum and the production of an ‘opening night’.
Four Major Ideas
The standard addressed for Social Studies was geography. The four major ideas focused on three types of transportation – air, water and land. The first major idea integrated a read aloud about rivers with taking a ride on a riverboat. The second idea incorporated a vehicle day in which students would observe and explore different types of vehicles used for transportation. The third major idea involved a virtual tour of the Wright Brothers Museum. The culminating idea synthesized the information shared in the unit by having students participate in a Museum Day in which they created a replication of one of the forms of transportation they had studied.
Sample Introductory and Culminating Lesson Plans
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