Much has been written--and much said--about the need for teachers to model their thinking and learning processes for their students. In virtually every case, the teachers being referred to are classroom teachers at the elementary or secondary school level. While teaching at the university level is not the same as teaching elementary, middle, or high school level, the need to model thinking and learning processes is present in all. The purpose of this article is to explore the notion of teacher educators modeling their thinking and learning processes (and products) for their students by completing the same assignments as they ask their students to do.
There are both philosophical and pragmatic reasons for teacher educators to complete their own assignments. These include, but are not limited to the following: the college classroom becomes a community of learners, it adds to the college professor's credibility, doing so gives the professor a sense of what is expected, adds to the mutual respect between students and professor, actions speak louder than words, students can't say, "Well, I didn't know what to do," it lets professors know we "can still do it," gives us something to talk from, we can speak with more conviction.
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Community of Learners
Whenever teacher educators "do" the assignments that they ask of their students, they are learning and experiencing through the process just as they intend their students to do. And, if they do not, then the assignment may need to be re-designed. When they share their experiences with completing the assignment--the thinking, learning, struggling, the realizations, and so on--with their students as the students share their experiences with each other and the instructor, everyone has the opportunity to share from a common experiential base. If the teacher has not completed the assignment, then s/he is unable to participate on the same level as the students--and whether the level is perceived by students as being "higher" or "lower" than the one on which they are operating is irrelevant; it is different--they are not all members of the same community.
The current literature reflects the need for teachers and students to create communities of learners. For many pre-service and in-service teachers, this concept is one that sounds good in theory, but the practice part is troublesome--because it is not a model that they have seen. Teacher educators who espouse this notion of a community of learners offer their students an opportunity to witness its implementation and to be a part of it--from the students' perspective. When they experience the difference of being part of a community of learners and realize the difference in learning that emanates from such a classroom, they are more likely to strive for this in their own classrooms.
Incorrect as the perception may be, college professors, are perceived as lacking credibility with their students. The pejorative adage, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach; those who can't teach, teach in a college of education," is one of the most painful statements I ever hear thrown around. And, it is something I attempt to disprove each and every time I enter a classroom. Since many of the pre-service courses I have taught have a practicum component, some of my students' assignments involve planning and teaching lessons and mini-lessons.
In an attempt to offer demonstrations to my students, I planned and taught lessons and mini-lessons to my adult students, but also, to children of the age level that they will be working within their practicum settings. These are videotaped for viewing in the college classroom. My stock goes up a bit with my students when they see me in front of a classroom of children--and my credibility is enhanced when they see me effectively implement the ideas that I am asking them to try, as well as when the lesson does not go "perfectly" (whatever that is). Of course, I always admit the trouble I had and take suggestions about how it might have been more successful.
The Professor Gains a Sense of the Expectations
As college teachers, most of us have favorite assignments for the different courses we teach, as well as new ways of helping students learn what it is we are trying to teach them. Often, we are quite creative in the ways we ask students to display their knowledge, just as we hope they will be in the classroom. Unfortunately, until we try to do our own assignments, we may not realize that there are a few "bugs" in it: the explanation, the order, the practicality, the expense, and so on. Several times after I began to work on an assignment, I discovered something that I had not thought of before, or a clearer way of transmitting what I was looking for, etc.
Enhanced Mutual Respect
Even though many students think that college professors teach nine hours a week--and then wonder just what we do with the rest of our time (argh!) many others realize that we are extremely busy, as they are. When I choose to spend some of my precious time to do an assignment as I am asking them to do, they know that I value the assignment and the understanding that should come from it. Likewise, after I have completed an assignment and have experienced the time and effort required to do an adequate to excellent job, I value the effort and time that they expend to do an adequate to excellent job. Mutual respect is fostered.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Several concepts that I try very hard to convey to my students is that they should be active learners in their classrooms, they should participate in assignments with their students, including journal writing and sustained silent reading, and that they should model their thinking and learning processes for their students. I can stand up in front of the room and tell my students these three things every single day for an entire semester--and some of them will buy into the notion. Or, I can live those ideals in my college classroom--and a much higher percentage will buy into the notion and practice what I have preached--and practiced.
Students Are Less Able to Say, "Well, She Didn't Really Explain the Assignment."
Some of the other reasons that I have given for teacher educators to model their own assignments are rather "lofty." Frankly, this one is not, but rather, is quite pragmatic. Teachers can spend a great deal of time dealing with students who are not happy with their grade. An oft-heard refrain is "Well, I didn't understand what we were supposed to do." As professors, we all have at least a bit of insecurity and if we hear that from one or more (especially more) students, then we begin to question ourselves, "Did I explain that as I should have?" "Maybe I really did not let them know what I wanted." and so on. Pretty soon, we find ourselves giving people another chance, when really, it's unwarranted. If we have done the assignment, refined our explanation, and offered the appropriate support, then we can rest assured that some students (the complainers) did not do well because they started on the major assignment the night before it was due (or some other common practice).
I am not suggesting that teacher educators need to do every assignment that they ask of their students, just as when elementary and secondary classroom teachers write with their students, it is not necessary that they write every time with their students. When I taught high school English and History, I wrote often when my students wrote, whether it was poetry, introductory paragraphs, precis, and so on. However, when they work working on research papers, I did not write with them. I was in graduate school at the time and would bring in papers and articles that I was working on for my university courses so that I could show them how I created my notes, how I organized my writing, and how I revised--but I did not write a term paper along with them that had to do with the 1920s (or whatever we were studying). Likewise, college professors do not need to do every assignment in order for the points made in this article to come to fruition.
Give it a try next semester and see what a difference it makes. If you just start with one assignment each semester in each class, soon, you will be writing articles about its value, too!