Whyte, A. & Ellis, N. (2004). The power of a network organization: A model for school-university collaboration. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online serial], 4(2). Available: http://www.citejournal.org/vol4/iss2/languagearts/article1.cfm
The Power of a Network Organization: A Model for School-University Collaboration
University of Vermont
An English language arts methods course developed through
a professional teacher network offers many advantages of a professional
development school (PDS) but is easier for individual teachers and university
instructors to initiate than a PDS. This report describes a writing methods
course that an expert National Writing Project (NWP) teacher helped the
university course instructor design. It helps preservice teachers synthesize
knowledge of school practice from their prior school experience, the system
of classroom organization known as Complex Instruction, and NWP knowledge.
The designers of the course concluded, on reflection, that elements of
the NWP summer invitational institute and the nature of annual review
of NWP sites supported ongoing dialogue among the participating secondary
school teachers, preservice teachers, and course instructor. Videotaped
discussion among a participating preservice teacher, the NWP teacher consultant,
and the course instructor; written and graphic work by this preservice
teacher; and video and Internet information about Complex Instruction
and the NWP are linked to this online article.
Professional Development Schools and Professional Networks as
Avenues Toward Situated Methods Instruction
Until recently the preparation of teachers for certification
to teach in public schools has been almost entirely the domain of departments
of education in colleges and universities. Student teaching and some introductory
lab courses are situated in the field, in classrooms where preservice teachers
experience the "real life" of teachers for varying amounts of time.
Alternatives to this familiar pattern exist in an array of professional development
schools (PDSs) that provide onsite experience for preservice teachers, with
the systematic involvement of classroom teachers working with university instructors
to provide education of preservice teachers, revision of university instructors'
teaching, and professional development for the in-service mentor teachers. Setting
up a PDS is typically a complex endeavor requiring elaborate, formal, long-term
negotiations between the institution of higher education and the district or
school. Short-term ad hoc arrangements with teachers and schools for student
teacher placements and classroom lab assignments are much more common. Ad hoc
arrangements rarely include professional development opportunities for mentor
teachers and the university instructor or dialogic relationships among preservice
teachers, mentor teachers, and university instructors.
This article describes an organizational arrangement
that offered many of the advantages of a PDS but with entrée through
a professional teacher network rather than through a PDS arrangement. This model
was less formal, required fewer institutional negotiations, and was easier for
individual teachers and university instructors to initiate than a PDS.
Robinson and Darling-Hammond (1994) identified 10 characteristics
of successful collaborations, suggesting that in a PDS arrangement high-quality
collaboration among preservice teachers, mentor teachers, and university teachers
can “lead to practice that is both responsible, i.e., based on professionalized
knowledge, and responsive, i.e., sensitive to the needs and concerns of individual
students” (p. 204). Robinson and Darling-Hammond cited 10 characteristics
found in successful collaborations between schools and universities:
- Mutual self-interest and common goals.
- Mutual trust and respect (all parties recognize and utilize the talents
and perspectives of each participant).
- Shared decision making, from goal-setting to operations.
- Clear focus (strong consensus regarding the outcome, a vision of the new
organization to be created, and the mission of that organization).
- Manageable agenda (mapping activities so that all are aware of how their
efforts and the efforts of others contribute to the outcome).
- Commitment from top leadership.
- Fiscal support.
- Long-term commitment.
- Dynamic nature (members have the opportunity to revisit plans, incorporate
new understandings and ideas, and change priorities as experiences dictate
– having a map rather than an itinerary).
- Information sharing and communication.
The National Writing Project and Complex Instruction as Contributors
to Methods Course Design
The National Writing Project (NWP; http://www.nwp.org)
comprises 185 sites in the 50 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin
Islands. NWP sites are niches where practitioners from university and K-12 education
can engage in continual dialogue about school practice. At one NWP site, a university
writing methods instructor who is also the NWP site director, the site co-director,
and two of the site’s teacher consultants (TCs) worked together spring
2003 to teach an English language arts (ELA) methods course at the university
campus and the co-director and TCs’ middle school campus. The course instructor’s
purpose for the course was for preservice ELA teachers to synthesize a method
of unit design (based on applied sociological research) that was taught in their
university classroom, discipline-specific concepts and skills taught by the
NWP co-instructors at the partnership school, and the preservice teachers’
Three Knowledge Bases for English Teaching
Preservice Teachers’ Prior Knowledge
Knowledge about teaching among preservice
and early-career teachers stems from remembered images of school. Goodman (1988)
asserted that childhood school experiences have a significant impact on teachers’
professional perspectives, including affecting preservice teachers’ interpretations
of course experiences and powerfully influencing the translated knowledge and
projected practices of preservice teachers (Thomas, Pederson, & Finson,
2000). Teachers have vivid images of teaching from their experiences as students
(Calderhead & Robson, 1991), and these critical episodes become guiding
images for teachers, Goodman argued, in the form of intuitive screens through
which new information is filtered.
Thomas and his co-authors (2000) have
suggested that scoring drawings of teaching by preservice teachers as one of
three “styles” of teaching—explicit, conceptual, and exploratory—and
sharing these interpretations of the drawings with the preservice teachers can
foster reflection by preservice teachers on the norms for school practice which
their drawings represent.
Whyte and Ellis (2003) developed definitions for scoring drawings
by preservice ELA teachers as explicit, conceptual, or exploratory. To make
the drawings by ELA preservice teachers easier to score, Whyte and Ellis made
a number of changes to the definitions of explicit, conceptual, and exploratory
teaching in the Draw-a-Science-Teacher-Test Checklist (DASTT-C) scoring procedure
designed by Thomas and his colleagues (2000). They changed the DASTT-C definitions
of explicit, conceptual, and exploratory teaching to the definitions which follow:
Explicit teaching. This is a didactic model for transmitting
algorithmic or factual information. The task(s) students complete usually have
a right answer or a set of steps to be completed to reach an acceptable answer.
The teacher initiates classroom activities that provide information and/or modeling
of a routine to be learned and repeated and also provides practice of the routine
with corrective feedback. In representations of explicit teaching, typically,
the teacher is standing at center of a circle of the students or at the front
of the classroom, often at a chalkboard and/or a teaching chart. The teacher
is often telling the class about the topic and students take notes, sometimes
raising a hand. Student assignments may be written on the blackboard. Students
may be looking at texts or working with pencil/pen and paper.
Conceptual teaching. This is a model that is didactic
and at the same time constructivist. The tasks assigned to students are nonroutine
tasks that teach a concept central to an academic discipline. The teacher has
prespecified the concept that is being taught through simultaneous, conceptually
redundant activities. Tasks involve investigations, discovery, and open-ended
problem-solving. In representations of conceptual teaching, typically, the students
are carrying out hands-on, multiple-media activities in interdependent small
groups; student-to-student task-related talk may be represented through conversation
bubbles. Typically, the teacher is observing groups closely. The classroom is
usually represented with many routine duties delegated to students. The teacher
may be represented intervening briefly in a group’s work to extend students’
thinking or publicly assigning competence to students.
Exploratory teaching. This is a maieutic model for
teaching concepts. What makes exploratory teaching maieutic is that the curricular
content arises in response to students’ interests and decisions rather
than curricular coherence occurring through prespecification of what disciplinary
concepts will be taught. The task(s) students complete are nonroutine and teach
academic concepts through the coherence of the teacher’s academic knowledge
base, in response to work guided by students’ interests and decisions.
Over days, weeks, and months, classroom activities focus on two interdependent
goals: student questions and conceptual teaching of an academic discipline.
Tasks consist of exercises and investigations that engender oral and/or written
interaction which, examined in retrospect, is coherent in terms of students’
understanding of concepts that constitute an academic discipline. In representations
of exploratory teaching, the teacher may be one of a group of students seated
as a whole class in a circle or in small groups. The teacher may be represented
observing students who are working together or actively orchestrating students’
movement as students work individually, in pairs, or in small groups. Conversation
bubbles may show task-related talk (e.g., the teacher or classmates helping
a student develop a piece of writing or an interpretation of a literary text).
The teacher may be represented helping students work on individual projects,
discussing or exploring with students, or following up on student interests
or questions. Classes may be represented in informal settings outside school.
Preservice teachers during the final year of coursework in
an undergraduate ELA program drawing “an ELA teacher teaching and students
learning” most often drew explicit teaching at the beginning of a semester
methods course, but after experiencing simulation of a Complex Instruction unit,
the same teachers most often drew conceptual teaching (Whyte & Ellis, 2003).
Complex Instruction (CI; http://www.complexinstruction.org)
is a way of teaching concepts (“Big Ideas” in academic disciplines),
as well as facts, so that all students have access to this learning. CI, developed
at Stanford University by Elizabeth Cohen (1994; Cohen & Lotan, 1997), is
based on organizational theory and expectation states theory (expectations for
competence). Organizational theory predicts that uncertain tasks are performed
more productively when participants work laterally (Perrow, 1967). In classrooms,
according to this theory, provided students see tasks as being productively
uncertain, the more students talk and work together, the more they will learn.
Expectation states theory (Berger, Cohen, & Zelditch, 1966) predicts that
students with relatively lower academic and peer status will talk and work with
classmates less frequently and will not learn as much as higher status students.
(For a website that teaches preservice teachers about CI, go to http://www.uvm.edu/pt3/ComplexInstruction/index.html.
This link includes candid video of a status problem in a middle school ELA classroom.)
CI is a classroom management system through which teachers delegate authority
to students, through norms and roles, to generate student-to-student task-related
talk. The teacher intervenes indirectly to equalize students’ status in
the classroom by raising the status of those students with lower status. Theoretically,
when status is equalized, all students in the classroom will talk and work together
equitably and all will learn. Empirical evidence supports this theory in repeated
studies of frequency of task-related talk and achievement gains in classrooms
using CI (Cohen & Lotan, 1997). (See Video
1 for an overview of CI as it has been implemented in Vermont.)
Typically, CI curriculum is designed as small group work preceded
by an orientation and followed by a wrap-up, during which groups report to the
whole class on their group’s performance of the task on which they worked
that day. Units may be teacher-made or adapted by the teacher from existing
curriculum. Usually, each small group works on a different problem-based task
or activity center. Tasks are rotated from group to group every day until each
group has grappled with each task (or, with older students, until the groups’
presentations consistently show understanding of the concept central to the
unit). The group tasks in a CI unit are designed to require multiple abilities,
various media, and a variety of learning opportunities around a central concept.
CI is conceptual teaching, because CI units prespecify what
concept central to an academic discipline (and what associated facts) students
will construct understanding of as they talk and work together during the tasks
that constitute the unit. Redundancy (but not boredom) is built into the tasks
so that students develop deeper and deeper understanding of the central concept
as they move from one task to another.
National Writing Project Knowledge
NWP teachers confront the uncertain task of teaching students
to write. NWP teachers tend to encourage students to make personal choices and
to explore their own interests and styles. During invitational summer institutes
of teachers, the NWP’s keystone program at every site, NWP teachers meet
in writing groups to talk about their writing in progress and to ask one another
for help and feedback. In NWP teachers’ classrooms, students may share
their writing by reading aloud to an audience of peers and receive feedback
NWP teachers have established networks of colleagues to talk
with about the uncertain task of teaching students to write and for whom they
demonstrate practices they have found effective. NWP professional development
programs include readings chosen by NWP teachers related to their teaching methods,
which they demonstrate for colleagues, and to their professional interests (generally
these readings center on developing young writers’ literacy, but professional
readings need not be focused on that topic).
The ethos of all NWP professional development programs is exploratory
teaching: Teacher knowledge comes first, and in-service content depends on participating
teachers’ interests, needs, and questions. The demonstrations and interests
of NWP teachers range from explicit to exploratory teaching of writing. The
program is rooted in the decision of James Gray, the founder in 1974 of the
Bay Area Writing Project (which became the NWP), to shift his teaching of English
at San Leandro High School from teaching classical texts (“three poems
per poet”) to “making his classroom into a library: creating book
lists, finding books that would interest his students, and giving ‘book
talks’ to engage them” (Lieberman & Wood, 2003, p. 6).
Gray’s exploratory teaching of reading—encouraging
students to read freely and providing them time to talk with their peers—found
its way into the practices for teaching writing widely valued among the members
of the NWP. The NWP experienced rapid growth at the same time expressivist writing
was being promoted and discussed by composition theorists, such as Peter Elbow
(1973, 1981), who were also writing teachers. With important exceptions (e.g.,
Ponsot & Deen, 1981, on inductive teaching of classical rhetorical forms
and Caplan & Keech, 1980, on teaching specification), books and monographs
on teaching writing by NWP TCs have taken an exploratory more than conceptual
or explicit stance toward the teaching of writing (e.g., Claggett, 1992, on
graphic representation as a means of invention in poetic and analytic writing;
Fletcher & Portalupi, 1998, on elements of the craft of fiction writing;
Nelson, 1994, on private expressive writing and related published writing; Noden,
1999 on syntax; Portalupi & Fletcher, 2001, on elements of the craft of
discursive writing; Strong, 2001, on voice, genre, style, syntax, and usage).
Exploratory teaching of writing means that concepts central
to writing, such as specification, coherence, tone and voice, and genre/multigenre
forms are taught in a classroom organized along the lines of an art studio,
where although the teacher may assign exercises, young writers have ownership
of topic, genre, and form. Exploratory teaching of writing is commonly referred
to as “writing workshop.”
Differences Between Complex Instruction and NWP Knowledge
Complex Instruction is based on a theoretical framework from
the social sciences and empirical evidence supporting that theory. The principles
and practices that form the foundation for CI have accrued through systematic,
cumulative hypothesis testing 1979-present, reported in refereed articles (e.g.,
Cohen, Lotan, Abrams, Scarloss, & Schultz, 2002) and in books for teachers
and researchers (e.g., Cohen, 1994; Cohen & Lotan, 1997).There is a large
body of research produced by a program of applied research sustained for more
than 20 years.
The knowledge that is fundamental to the NWP is teacher knowledge,
often intuitive. Practices NWP teachers have found effective are passed from
one teacher to another in conversation and in formal demonstration sessions
where teachers have opportunities to share their experiences, model their strategies
with one another, and experience the activities as their students would. The
NWP promotes intellectual pluralism, bringing teachers who hold various perspectives
together to name their own successes and challenges, interact, and elaborate
their repertoires and understandings as writing teachers.
Some practices have become widespread through state, NWP, and
commercially published monographs and books by members of the NWP about the
teaching of writing (e.g., Caplan & Keech, 1980; Claggett, 1992; Fletcher
& Portalupi, 1998; Olson, 1997/2000). Whereas, much of the evidence supporting
NWP knowledge has been local and anecdotal, in 1999 an evaluation study of NWP
knowledge and student achievement found association between NWP teachers’
summer institute experience, these teachers’ classroom practices, and
their students’ achievement in writing (Lieberman & Wood, 2003).
Commonalities Between Complex Instruction and the NWP
Central to both approaches is fostering students’ task-related
talk and students’ concept attainment in settings where they work in groups
on open-ended tasks that call for higher level thinking and solutions to ill-structured
problems (no “right answer”). Those students who participate in
talking and working together are those who make the greatest gains in learning.
A further commonality between Complex Instruction and the NWP
is the norm across these programs’ chief executives and members that no
one is best at all abilities, and everyone is good at some abilities. As CI
researchers and now CI teachers, the authors of this article remember the norm
throughout the Program for Complex Instruction that across all levels of experience,
from first-year graduate students to the program’s director, everyone
in attendance at a staff meeting, teaching at a summer CI institute, or discussing
a doctoral student’s rehearsal of a dissertation defense or job talk was
seen and acknowledged as having important knowledge to contribute to the teaching
of CI or the presentation of CI research at hand. Similarly, at NWP invitational
summer institutes each teacher consultant (including the summer institute facilitators)
demonstrates a teaching practice, workshops his or her writing, shares professional
reading, and so on. Through this intensive foundational experience, NWP teachers
become accustomed to being seen as each having knowledge and strengths to contribute
to colleagues. That same norm pervades the review of applications for renewal
of funding by NWP sites, NWP annual meetings and specialized network meetings,
and the orientation and coaching of site directors by NWP staff.
Finally, throughout the history of the Program for Complex
Instruction, teacher knowledge has shaped the design of hypothesis tests across
elementary, middle, and secondary school settings and across academic subject
areas and various uses of Complex Instruction. As one example, Mary Male, at
California State University at San Jose, combined CI with reciprocal teaching
for young children (personal communication with Elizabeth Cohen, March 2003).
Thus, although on the surface whether teachers’ knowledge is valued might
appear to be a contrast between CI and the NWP, valuing teacher knowledge is
a characteristic common to both programs.
The Preservice Teachers' Tasks
During the 1st week of the course the authors of this article
studied, the preservice teachers worked in the university classroom on capturing
their prior knowledge about teaching ELA. From the second week through the end
of the semester, the preservice teachers worked to come to know the students
in one class at the participating middle school, interviewed and observed the
NWP teacher who taught that class, and (on teams of three to four preservice
teachers) designed and taught a weeklong Complex Instruction unit in the NWP
supervising teacher’s classroom. A conference with the university course
instructor the 13th week of the semester and a progressive final examination
– composed over the course of the entire semester, particularly the 12th
through 16th weeks of the course, and worth 60% of the semester grade –
were the main tasks encouraging synthesis of the preservice teachers’
prior knowledge, NWP knowledge, and knowledge of Complex Instruction.
Preservice Teachers’ Prior Knowledge About ELA Teaching
To illuminate prior knowledge about teaching, the preservice
teachers wrote “I am” formula poems about themselves as teachers
and read those aloud during the first class session. Then between the first
and second class sessions preservice teachers made a drawing of “an ELA
teacher teaching and students learning” or “When I think of an ELA
teacher, I think of . . .” accompanied by writing about their thinking
and work processes making the drawing. In the second class session the preservice
teachers participated in a “gallery walk,” viewing one another’s
drawings and brainstorming in response to the instructor’s request that
the preservice teachers share what they noticed during the gallery walk.
During the individual conferences with the course instructor,
which took place the 13th week of the course (see the section on Synthesizing
Knowledge Bases for ELA Teaching), the course instructor relied on a protocol
designed to create dialogic content and interaction frames (Barnes, 1992; Barnes
& Todd, 1995) from the standpoint of the preservice teacher for the course.
New Knowledge of Complex Instruction
To learn Complex Instruction, during the second through fifth
weeks of the semester the preservice teachers experienced full simulation in
their university classroom of a CI unit (on the theme of negative effects of
power in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar). Oral response to video vignettes
of CI classrooms in California and the first of a series of lectures on the
theory central to CI preceded the simulation of the CI unit, during which the
preservice teachers participated as high school or middle school students would.
During one class at the middle school, which occurred while the CI simulation
was taking place in the university classroom, the preservice teachers (as teaching
teams) made and administered a “get to know you” questionnaire that
included three sociometric items as preparation for recognizing and treating
status problems in their middle school class later during the semester (this
and many other features of the progressive final examination for the course
were adapted from Rathbone, 2002). As the university class sessions moved back
and forth between the university classroom and the mentor teachers’ middle
school classrooms, the preservice teachers wrote weekly 500-word research logs
on their learning toward teaching their own units. (For sample research logs
by a preservice teacher, see Appendix A.)
Following the simulated CI unit, the preservice teachers attended
further lectures on the sociological theory on which CI is based. These lectures
included modeling, practice, and feedback on key elements of CI, including skills
for talking and working together; reciprocal roles within small task groups;
characteristics of CI tasks; and multiple-abilities treatments for creating
a mixed set of expectations for competence within small task groups.
In teams of three to four, the preservice teachers designed
CI units centered on concepts important to the expressive English language arts.
(For a sample CI unit by three participating preservice teachers, see Appendix
B.) The 11th week of the semester, three of the six teams of preservice
teachers taught their CI units in their NWP cooperating teachers’ classrooms.
The other three of the six teams collected data on the percent of students talking
and working together, patterns of interaction within student work groups, and
key teacher behaviors for the teaching teams that taught during the 11th week.
The three teams teaching later in the semester taught their CI units during
the 14th week of the course, and the teams that had taught first collected data
on percent of students talking and working together, interaction patterns, and
teacher behaviors, while the second set of teaching teams implemented their
Section II of the progressive final examination interpreted
the results of the sociometric questionnaire the preservice teachers administered
to the middle school classes they taught. Section III of the progressive final
examination reported how the preservice teachers established cooperative norms
(for classroom management) in the class they taught at the middle school and
reported and discussed any incidences of student misbehavior as means to gain
status in the middle school class as a group. Section IV of the progressive
final exam reported how the preservice teachers taught their students to become
efficient in small group work through the use of group processing roles, how
preservice teachers wrote rich groupwork tasks redundant around a big idea or
central question, how preservice teachers managed at least two rotations of
at least four multiple-ability learning activities taught simultaneously and
rotated among groups of learners on succeeding days, how preservice teachers
used the two status treatments of the multiple-abilities treatment and assigning
competence, and how preservice teachers measured content outcomes by employing
pre/post content measures (Rathbone, 2002). (For a sample progressive final
examination, see Appendix C.)
To encourage appropriation of NWP knowledge, the university
instructor suggested that the preservice teachers sketch students of interest
and sketch their NWP teacher during a class session at the middle school the
fifth week of the course, following the initial drawing of “an ELA teacher
teaching and students learning” or “when I think of an ELA teacher,
I think of . . . .” The university instructor sketched alongside the preservice
teachers and shared her sketches in the next university class session. (For
examples of sketches and commonplace book entries by the course instructor,
see Appendix D).
By this time, the preservice teachers had drafted the first
section of their progressive final examination, characterizing their interviews
of the NWP cooperating teachers. This sketching sometimes brought NWP knowledge
that was in practice in the class the preservice teacher was observing into
competition with the prior knowledge of ELA teaching the preservice teacher
had brought to the course. For example, preservice teachers commented that the
interior of one classroom was more “cluttered” than their visions
of how an ELA classroom should be.
Shortly after sketching the supervising NWP teachers and their
students at the middle school, the preservice teachers made a second drawing
of “an ELA teacher teaching and students learning,” or “when
I think of an ELA teacher, I think of . . .” again accompanied by writing
about the preservice teacher’s thinking and work processes making the
drawing. In the 13th week of the semester, a third drawing and accompanying
writing by every preservice teacher followed the first three teaching teams’
week-long teaching of their CI units at the middle school.
After each of these drawings was made, the preservice teachers
had a “gallery walk” and then brainstormed and recorded what they
had noticed about the drawings. After the gallery walk and brainstorming about
the second drawings, the university instructor introduced the ideas of explicit,
conceptual, and exploratory teaching and asked the preservice teachers to write
about the following:
- What they noticed when looking at their first and second drawings.
- What they wanted to remember from the gallery walk toward their third drawing.
- Whether they would score each of their first two drawings explicit, conceptual,
- Which of these three kinds of teaching they saw represented by words and
images they had been recording in commonplace books (bound sketchbooks) as
resonant for them as teachers.
(For an example of this reflective in-class writing, see Appendix
E; for entries from a preservice teacher’s commonplace book, see Appendix
The 13th week of the semester, before holding a conference with each of the
preservice teachers, the university instructor interviewed each of the three
NWP teachers who supervised the preservice teachers. Interview questions included,
“What do you, as an expert NWP teacher, see that the preservice teachers
have done that approaches expertise in being an NWP teacher?” and “What
important expertise at this preservice phase is missing from these preservice
teachers’ experiences and repertoires?”
At an individual conference with each preservice teacher during
the 13th week of the semester, the university instructor laid the three drawings
together—not in a sequence but as a cluster—on the tabletop and
asked questions which included, “Tell me, what do you see these teachers
teaching here?” “What kind of interactions did you draw in this
drawing . . . in this one . . . and in this one?” and “Do you see
any development in you as a teacher in these three drawings? What do you see?”
During this conference, one of the instructor’s goals was to bring in
NWP knowledge that was represented in some way in the drawings, through comments
such as, “What you’ve drawn here, a teacher sharing her writing
with her students, is what lots of NWP teachers do,” or
The talk about writing in the conversation bubbles here is
the kind of talk NWP teachers work to foster in their classrooms: These students
in your drawings are tying their comments to specific points in one another’s
texts and letting the author make suggestions and decide on the changes. That
is what NWP teachers teach young writers to do.
Synthesizing Knowledge Bases for ELA Teaching
Stating NWP knowledge and linking NWP principles and practices
to the preservice teachers’ representations of ELA teaching was only one
goal of the conference between the university instructor and each preservice
teacher the 13th week of the semester. Another goal for the conference was to
bring the preservice teachers’ prior knowledge of ELA teaching into prominence,
together with knowledge about Complex Instruction and NWP knowledge. The instructor
Here in your first drawing you represented a teacher bringing
her students “into the story world.” Tell me some more about that.
What teachers have you had who did things like that? What do you see—and
hear—when you think back to those teachers who took young readers into
or “Your own teachers, the English teachers you had in
middle school and secondary school, have important knowledge about how ELA should
be taught. When you think back to your own ELA teachers, what can you still
see in your mind’s eye?” Negative evaluations of preservice teachers’
own school experiences were responded to by language such as “How did
you feel when that happened, can you remember? . . . What does that memory tell
us about what needs to happen in a writing class, what the students need in
the classroom?” Or the instructor sometimes would respond with something
Well, do you think there’s ever a value to that kind
of explicit teaching? . . . Something NWP teachers do is teach that kind of
lesson as a minilesson, or even sometimes assign high school students minilessons
to prepare and teach on mechanics or syntactic conventions the writers in
the class are having difficulty with. Let’s talk about what that kind
of minilesson looks and sounds like.
During the conference the university instructor shared how
she would characterize the teaching represented in each of the three drawings
the preservice teacher had made—as explicit, conceptual, or exploratory—and
asked the preservice teacher to correct or confirm that interpretation. The
university instructor invited the preservice teacher to share entries in his
or her commonplace book that seemed to reflect a commitment to explicit, conceptual,
or exploratory teaching—or to share some of the strongest resonances for
the instructor and preservice teacher to look at together through these lenses.
(For excerpts from a transcript of the conference between a preservice teacher
and the course instructor, see Appendix G.)
From there, the preservice teacher and university instructor
conferred on what the preservice teacher’s working stance toward teaching
writing seemed to be and how the preservice teacher wanted to work during the
final weeks of the semester to expand, refine, or express that stance in a private
fourth drawing. (For drawings 1-4 and accompanying reflective writings by a
preservice teacher, see Appendix H.) The instructor and
preservice teacher also brainstormed what the preservice teacher might want
to focus on in the public visual argument that was the last element of the final
exam for the course. (For a sample progressive final examination, including
scanned visual argument and accompanying writing, see Appendix
C.) This visual argument might stem from prior experience about ELA teaching,
NWP knowledge, or Complex Instruction or from some synthesis of these knowledge
bases for the teaching of ELA.
The last week of the semester, the preservice teachers created
the final sections of their progressive final examinations, which documented
and described what they knew and were able to do with respect to manipulating
the social and academic structures of the classroom to create learning situations
for young writers and which concluded with visual arguments, accompanied by
written captions, for the preservice teachers’ stances toward teaching
the expressive language arts. (For a sample progressive final exam, go to Appendix
C.) The final examination was a gallery walk of the preservice teachers’
visual arguments for how writing should be taught.
Within each of the three knowledge bases that constituted the
course, experiences tapped the senses and mental images as avenues to concept
formation. Simulation of a CI unit, sketching of the NWP supervising teachers
and of their students and teaching at the middle school, and drawings of ELA
teaching were the main ways through which the course aimed to address how tacit,
powerful memories of school (prior knowledge) might filter out new knowledge
during preservice coursework. Images from prior experience must be brought deliberately
into interaction with new sensory, emotional experience in an activity setting
where preservice teachers perceive themselves as teachers (producers of knowledge)
rather than as students (consumers of knowledge, exchanging behaviors for a
grade; Grossman, Smagorinsky, & Valencia, 1999). From the preservice teacher’s
point of view, the content of the course and the interaction between the instructor
and the preservice teacher must center on genuine negotiation of meaning between
course content and the preservice teacher’s knowledge and experience (Barnes,
1992; Barnes & Todd, 1995).
What the course required of preservice teachers was that they
synthesize pedagogical knowledge about conceptual and exploratory teaching and,
depending on the preservice teacher’s prior experience, perhaps about
explicit teaching, as well. Their synthesis of that knowledge was the production
of knowledge by the preservice teacher during the course. The course aimed to
say to these preservice teachers, “Let’s see how you’ve synthesized
your prior experience, what your NWP teacher has taught you, and Complex Instruction:
There’s no one way.” The preservice teacher had to bring theoretical
and practical approaches that are somewhat compatible into comparison and contrast
with one another—and use all three.
Reflections on the Course
Based on analysis of the course and reflection, two features
of the NWP as a network led to increasing three-way communication among preservice
teachers, mentor teachers, and the university instructor during this PDS-style
lab experience. (For a 15-minute panel discussion among a participating preservice
teacher, the NWP mentor, and the course instructor, see Video
2) The first feature of the NWP which encouraged this interaction (the authors
of this article infer) is the extended time writing together, sharing and developing
writing, responding to self-chosen readings, and demonstrating school practice
that characterizes NWP summer institutes. These practices are put in place during
onsite training of new site directors by NWP mentors before the new director’s
first summer institute. Through 4 to 5 weeks together engaging in these dialogic
practices during the summer, public school teachers who are NWP teacher consultants
and the university teacher who is the NWP site director have come to appreciate
one another. In Robinson and Darling-Hammond's (1994) terms, they enjoy mutual
self-interest and common goals and mutual trust and respect for the talents
and perspectives of each participant.
The authors of this article infer that the second feature
of the NWP aiding three-way communication is the character of the NWP's annual
review of each site within the network. This review process institutionalizes
the following six criteria Robinson and Darling-Hammond claimed characterize
successful PDSs. In the open-endedness of the NWP's specifications for length
and, implicitly, for voice and register in applications to renew site funding,
the NWP review process institutionalizes shared decision-making and goal-setting
channeling into operations. At this site, TCs write a lengthy application together
and in so doing have collaborated to shape and reshape their NWP site. Further,
in the guidelines, which are set for these applications for funding, the NWP
reinforces major premises that function as overarching objectives across all
NWP sites. Finally, in the feedback NWP reviewers of these applications provide,
the NWP institutionalizes the restraint to set a manageable agenda, and in the
NWP's requirements for local matches of federal funding – in this site's
case by the university that houses the NWP site and also by partnership school
districts – the NWP institutionalizes commitment from top public school
and university leadership, fiscal support, and long-term commitment. Video
2 describes how, in the view of members of the site, the authors of this
article studied the NWP's review process and created the first 8 of the 10 characteristics
of effective PDSs identified by Robinson and Darling-Hammond (1994). The video
also includes how the network organization underlying this course has permitted
the ninth and 10th of Robinson and Darling-Hammond's criteria to begin to happen:
"systematic ad hocism" (the dynamic nature of teacher education) and
information-sharing and communication among the participants in a PDS or, in
this case, in a PDS-style lab experience.
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Video 1 - http://www.uvm.edu/complexinstruction/video/overviewbroadband.htm
Video 2 - http://www.uvm.edu/complexinstruction/video/networkbroadband.htm
Appendix A - http://www.auburn.edu/sunbelt/res-logs.pdf
Appendix B - http://www.auburn.edu/sunbelt/c-i-unit.pdf
Appendix C - http://www.auburn.edu/sunbelt/final-exam.pdf
Appendix D - http://www.auburn.edu/sunbelt/common-univ.pdf
Appendix E - http://www.auburn.edu/sunbelt/reflective-writing.pdf
Appendix F - http://www.auburn.edu/sunbelt/common-preservice.pdf
Appendix G - http://www.auburn.edu/sunbelt/conf-trans.pdf
Appendix H - http://www.auburn.edu/sunbelt/preservice-draw-write.pdf
University of Vermont