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Panel Promotes Teacher Preparation for Deeper Learning

Cindy Gutierrez of the University of Colorado Denver listens as fellow panelist Steve Wojcikiewicz of the University of Portland (OR) discusses institutional supports for “deeper learning” teacher preparation.

A “Deeper Dive” session held March 3 at the 70th AACTE Annual Meeting shared lessons on how to engage preservice teacher candidates in the kinds of meaningful learning experiences they are expected to create later for their own students. Organized by the Learning Policy Institute (LPI), “Walking the Talk: Teacher Preparation for Deeper Learning” highlighted findings from a national study of seven teacher preparation programs that are organized in ways that align with deeper learning approaches – meaning less emphasis on rote learning and more on experiential, innovative, collaborative, and equity-focused pedagogy.

LPI researcher Maria Hyler opened the session by describing the primary features of successful programs identified in the study, details of which will be published by Harvard Education Press in a book later this year. These features include opportunities for candidates to experience learning that is applied and transferred, developmental and personalized, collaborative and social, contextualized, and socially just. Hyler then invited panelists representing several programs in the study to outline one of the key domains.

Tamara Lucas of Montclair State University (NJ) began by discussing examples of “learning that is applied and transferred,” emphasizing the importance of organizing all learning with a coherent overarching vision or framework. She said strong clinical partnerships are key as well as embedding candidate learning in schools. At Montclair, she said, this focus has included hiring an induction director whose job it is to specifically support the application and transfer of learning.

Next, Randa Suleiman of Alverno College (WI) offered strategies for ensuring that learning is social and collaborative. She highlighted the value of assuming nothing about candidates’ existing knowledge and skills, but rather introducing and teaching skills explicitly with structured opportunities for candidates to practice them with feedback. Alverno’s scaffolded approach defines six levels for each key skill, outlining the expected positive behaviors as well as ones that are problematic. Candidates also have opportunities to do self-assessments, making them a critical agent in their own learning.

Peter Williamson of Stanford University (CA) discussed the importance of understanding context. “Places are profoundly pedagogical,” he said, playing a significant role in how we come to understand the world. To help candidates understand this truth, faculty might take them on “clinical instructional rounds” to familiarize them with the whole district and visit schools of all kinds – even in detention centers and other alternative settings – to develop a deeper understanding of the whole system and how the candidate’s current placement school fits in.

Cindy Gutierrez of the University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver) discussed the role of equity and social justice in deeper learning, again stressing the importance of having a coherent approach throughout a program. A positive conceptual framework places students at the center of an asset-oriented lens; everything else is built as a web of support around that center. At CU Denver, teacher candidates start their program studying identity development, social justice, and foundations; then they move on to how to co-construct culturally responsive classrooms.

Finally, Steven Wojcikiewicz of the University of Portland (OR) opened by noting that a developmentally grounded and personalized orientation is an important component of deeper learning, but there wasn’t time to discuss it during this overview session. Instead he focused briefly on useful institutional supports for teacher preparation for deeper learning, especially in the form of financial and other resources, leadership support, and strong partnerships.

An audience member asked how faculty can effectively model deeper learning pedagogy across a program so the approach is coherent rather than fragmented. Panelists pointed to the need for a unified vision, institutional supports, and specific structures such as setting aside class-free times for faculty to collaborate each week. Such times can also be useful for program-wide professional development around identified weakness areas, helping all faculty improve as a cohesive group, the panelists noted.

A recording of this session, as well as selected other content from the 70th AACTE Annual Meeting, is now available in the Learning Center to all AACTE members and conference registrants.

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