AUGURIES OF INNOCENCE
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wildflower:
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour
—William Blake, 1863
What we see is often determined by what we want to see or are prepared to see. Have you ever noticed that when you look closely at something, you discover details never seen before? When your observation is focused, even the slightest variations take shape. With this chapter we begin our journey of learning to observe—to notice grains of sand in the span of a single lesson, and to see eternity in an hour
Playing in the park, 3-year-old Jake looks up to see his mother approaching. He runs down the sidewalk to greet her. In his haste, he trips on an uneven stone and lands, unceremoniously, at his mother’s feet.
Laughing, Jake’s mother scoops him into her arms. “Hi, honey!” she chuckles. “What fun to have you so excited to see me!”
The imminent clouds on Jake’s face clear, and the toddler smiles.
How often have you observed a similar event, noting that split second when a child seems to decide how to respond to a given situation? Like Jake, each of us experiences many interactions with the world every day. As we try to make sense of these events, we create a personal framework or set of expectations about the nature of the world and our appropriate responses to events within it. This set of expectations influences what we see in a particular setting, as well as what we choose to ignore.
Many psychologists believe that professionals create frames for understanding within their chosen fields, just as individuals construct frames for interpreting the events of daily life. Experts know what to look for and rapidly learn from what they see, thereby rising to the top of their profession long before others who do not have a structure for sorting out the least relevant from the most relevant details. Sternberg (2007) believes that intelligent behavior may be marked more by the structure or frame one brings to a problem or task than by what one knows about the problem or task beforehand. Thus, developing a professional frame*
from which to evaluate and act objectively on events is a critical skill for becoming an expert.
From observing the actions and interactions of professionals, less experienced individuals gain a sense of what is valued in a particular discipline and how professionals working in that field typically respond to events. But, although observation seems as simple and commonplace as dressing, eating, or driving a car, it is important to remember that, like Jake, each of us interprets the world and responds to it according to our personal frame (Fosnot, 2005; Walqui, 2000a). Without some outside direction, it is possible that our classroom observations may serve only to validate much of what we already “expect” to see—leading us to overemphasize some things and overlook others. As a result, observations need to be focused if they are to be helpful in our professional life.
The focused observation techniques described in this book come from years of research on effective teaching and from current national, state, and Common Core standards for the teaching profession, representing how students and teachers best learn.
For decades, U.S. teaching reflected a direct-instruction model, by which teachers were expected to present or “transmit” knowledge to students—who were expected to receive, store, and return information on request (Szymanski & Haas, 2007; Williams, 2003). Many researchers and educators have challenged this view, suggesting that learners do not simply “receive” knowledge; rather, they actively construct knowledge through interacting with the social, cultural, and linguistic context in which an experience occurs (Chaille, 2007). Effective teachers function as able facilitators, coaches, and guides for students’ knowledge-building processes.
Interested in learning more about the concept of constructivist learning? See Box 1.1
for a summary.
How Children Learn: A Constructivist Approach to Children
What is the difference between knowledge, as taught in the traditional curriculum, and understanding, as taught with a constructivist approach? In a constructivist context, a child’s understandings naturally evolve and exceed themselves. Understandings acquired at one level, if properly connected to life events, provide the dynamic energy that moves the child to an increasingly higher state of understanding. In a constructivist model of learning, education is not rungs of a ladder that can be climbed in only one direction, but a series of nests of knowledge, with each wider nest enveloping or enfolding those below. Each movement in knowledge and understanding is an envelopment of its predecessors—creating nests of increasing expanse. These integrative learning experiences are the means by which parts become related to wholes and meaning ensues.
An integrative learning activity requires that the child spend time thinking about ideas and playing an active role in the process of learning. A lot that occurs during an integrated learning activity may be “re-invented learning”—the child rediscovering by constructing in his own words and with her own interests the existence of some universal truth or understanding. Re-invented learning opportunities invite learners to make up their own procedures and construct their own meaning, demonstrating that there is not just one way of coming to understand a phenomenon. It is a creative process involving an original and often very personal path to discovering a universal and known truth.
Key elements of an integrative learning activity include the role of the teacher-child relationship, especially the role of mutual trust and confidence in this relationship, its influence on the unconditional acceptance and valuing of the child, and the importance of these elements in awakening the forces of exploration and discovery. These fundamental ideas come together in the form of integrative learning experiences. Integrative learning experiences can be emotional, social, or subject-matter (cognitive) related—and often include all three.
There are four principles of a constructivist curriculum that can invoke integrative learning experiences:
1. The social, emotional, and cognitive development of the child are treated simultaneously.
2. Every subject is related to every other subject. There is no artificial decomposition of subjects; subjects are integrated around real-world problems.
3. Doing is related to learning. Learning occurs in authentic, real life learning experiences. The child learns through projects, investigations, performances, and the creation of his or her own products.
4. Students not only learn from teachers, but students are expected to learn from one another and teachers are expected to learn from students.
These four principles can be fostered in the classroom in the following ways:
• The child is accepted unconditionally. Regardless of outcome, the teacher-child relationship remains unharmed. This is intended to promote risk-taking and exploration.
• The child is encouraged to pursue personally relevant goals, with teacher as resource. This is intended to promote intrinsic motivation and ownership in and enjoyment of the learning experience.
• The child is expected to go beyond the teacher without limits. This is intended to promote a continuous cycle of exploration and discovery.
Source: G. Borich (2014). How children learn: A constructivist approach to children. http://ows.edb.utexas.edu/node/3612.
Reflecting this more interactive view of teaching, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS)
was formed in 1987 with three major goals:
1. To establish high and rigorous standards for what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do
2. To develop and operate a national, voluntary system to assess and certify teachers who meet these standards
3. To advance related education reforms for the purpose of improving student learning in U.S. schools
Governed by a board of 63 directors, the majority of whom are classroom teachers, the NBPTS (2001) has listed five propositions essential to effective teaching:
1. Teachers are committed to students and their learning.
2. Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students.
3. Teachers are responsible for managing and mentoring student learning.
4. Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.
5. Teachers are members of learning communities.
During the same year (1987), the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC) was formed to create “board-compatible” standards that could be reviewed by professional organizations and state agencies as a basis for licensing beginning teachers. The InTASC standards (Miller, 1992) are written as 10 principles, which are then further explained in terms of teacher knowledge, dispositions, and performance. In other words, they describe what a beginning teacher should know and be able to do. The 10 InTASC standards, listed below, can be accessed along with example lesson plans and a description of the mission and accomplishments of the InTASC at www.ccsso.org/Resources/Publications/InTASC_Model_Core_Teaching_Standards_and_Learning_Progressions_for_Teachers_10.html.
The Learner and Learning
• Standard 1: Learner Development. The teacher understands how learners grow and develop, recognizing that patterns of learning and development vary individually within and across the cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional, and physical areas, and designs and implements developmentally appropriate and challenging learning experiences.
• Standard 2: Learning Differences. The teacher uses understanding of individual differences and diverse cultures and communities to ensure inclusive learning environments that enable each learner to meet high standards.
• Standard 3: Learning Environments. The teacher works with others to create environments that support individual and collaborative learning, and that encourage positive social interaction, active engagement in learning, and self-motivation.
• Standard 4: Content Knowledge. The teacher understands the central concepts, tools of inquiry, and structures of the disciplines(s) he or she teaches and creates learning experiences that make the discipline accessible and meaningful for learners to assure mastery of the content.
• Standard 5: Application of Content. The teacher understands how to connect concepts and use differing perspectives to engage learners in critical thinking, creativity, and collaborative problem solving related to authentic local and global issues.
• Standard 6: Assessment. The teacher understands and uses multiple methods of assessment to engage learners in their own growth, to monitor learner progress, and to guide the teacher’s and learner’s decision making.
• Standard 7: Planning for Instruction
. The teacher plans instruction that supports every student in meeting rigorous learning goals by drawing upon knowledge of content areas, curriculum, cross-disciplinary skills, and pedagogy, as well as knowledge of learners and the community context.
• Standard 8: Instructional Strategies. The teacher understands and uses a variety of instructional strategies to encourage learners to develop deep understanding of content areas and their connections, and to build skills to apply knowledge in meaningful ways.
• Standard 9: Professional Learning and Ethical Practice. The teacher engages in ongoing professional learning and uses evidence to continually evaluate his or her practice, particularly the effects of his or her choices and actions on others (learners, families, other professionals, and the community) and adapts practice to meet the needs of each learner.
• Standard 10: Leadership and Collaboration. The teacher seeks appropriate leadership roles and opportunities to take responsibility for student learning; to collaborate with learners, families, colleagues, other school professionals, and community members to ensure learner growth; and to advance the profession.
To complement these standards for professional practice, in 2010 the Council of Chief State School Officers, together with the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, presented the Common Core State Standards, which represent expectations for student knowledge and skills for grades K–12. Criteria for developing college and career readiness were added in 2012. Together, these standards s...