Sunday, May 01, 2011

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Proposition 2: Teachers Know the Subjects They Teach and How to Teach Those Subjects to Students.

How do literacy coaches think about and perform their jobs?

Years ago, I was introduced to the concept of Teaching for Understanding (TfU), which has been the cornerstone of my classroom instruction. In using a TfU framework, I ask four major questions 1) What topics are worth understanding? (Generative Topic) 2)What about these topics needs to be understood? (Understanding goals) 3) How can I foster understanding in my students? (Performances of understanding) 4) How can I tell what students understand? (Ongoing assessment)

As I moved into higher education, I found that the framework continued to apply to adult learners. In building my curriculum for the master level course Supervision of Instruction, I began with a generative topic of – How do literacy coaches think about and perform their work? In other words, I wanted my students to think and act like a literacy coach during the class.

To accomplish this, I needed to create authentic experiences for the student that embodied the major tasks of a literacy coach. In brief, a literacy coach's job is to help support teaching and learning in a school through finding solutions to problems or needs. For the culminating project of the course, each student created a needs assessment for their school and identified an area of need. After identifying the need, the student conducted a literature review to identify possible solutions and the positive and negatives of each solution. Formulating an action plan, they wrote a position paper, written as the literacy coach, and presented it to class as if it were a presentation to a school board. This is a realistic simulation of the work of actual literacy coaches. Therefore, the major understanding goals were:
  1. How do literacy coaches identify needs within their schools?
  2. How do literacy coaches critically read and use research?
  1. How do literacy coaches create a plan of action?
  2. How do literacy coaches cultivate support?
Throughout the semester, each understanding goal was addressed through different activities. The first weeks I provided models of needs assessments and students worked together to create and implement a needs assessment for their own school. Students then generate a list of needs, prioritized the importance of each and made both short term and long term plans for improvement. From this list, the students chose one topic to advocate for in a position paper. Having been accustomed to just summarizing research articles, I provided models and activities to support more critical reading of published research, which were incorporated into the position paper. Each performance of understanding (activity) helped students gain the skills and thinking processes needed to complete the full project and provided for ongoing assessment.

In summary, I would describe my approach to curriculum planning in a two short phrases – “begin with the end in mind” and “set students up for success”.

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