Teacher as Designer and Guide

In an earlier blog on inquiry I posted my thoughts on the struggle that teachers often find themselves in as they focus on Teaching and Learning.

Several pieces that I read this week provide ways to look at the teacher’s role in facilitating learning.

I was back into Phil Schelechty’s book, Leading for Learning: How to Transform Schools into Learning Organizations.

He writes (page 126):
In learning organizations, the attention of the teacher moves from planning to designing…teachers see themselves as persons who design tasks that are so engaging that students seek instruction.

The role of the teacher as guide imposes on teachers the expectations that they will be able to make available to students the most effective and efficient means of instruction that can be found….they will need to know a great deal about alternative ways for students to learn and assist students in accessing those alternatives.

Consider the concept of teacher as designer as it aligns with the students views of most engaging classroom activities found in Charting the Path from Engagement to Achievement: A Report on the 2009 High School Survey of Student Engagement.

Students rated discussion and debate, group projects, projects involving technology, role plays, and art and drama activities among the most engaging… all requiring the teacher role of designer and guide.

Consider how Schelechty’s thoughts are found in the work of the four professors honored as U.S. Professors of the Year for excellence in teaching by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education as reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education: Professors of the Year: They Put Students in Charge.

Ping-Tung Chang, Professor of Mathematics, Matanuska-Susitna College, uses what he calls the “grow your own problem-solving approach. “If you let three different students solve the same problem, you see different ways they approach solving it,” Mr. Chang says. “If I let the student do it their own way, they really think about what they’re doing. By also letting students continue the debate for 20 minutes afterward, it helps them understand the ways they got to the answer and learn from each other.”

John Zubizarreta, Professor of English, Columbia College (S.C.), calls his style of teaching “the reflective learning moment”—he wants students not only to think about class material, but also to monitor their own learning. He requires them to keep in a portfolio all of their class assignments, whether a short quiz or a draft of a lengthy essay. Each week the students are required to turn in a 300-word reflection about the work they are producing.

Teresa C. Balser, Associate Professor of Soil Science, University of Wisconsin at Madison says “If you ask a question, students take more ownership in their learning. It’s representative of the process of science. If you don’t know the answer, you have to ask questions and be creative. “Framing her classes around questions is her go-to teaching style, she says. That includes bringing in guest lecturers, like environmentalists to windmill builders, when questions arise that she can’t answer. “It’s amazing what happens when you invite in others to come to the table,” she says. “They bring a wide range of real-world experiences that extends far beyond the classroom. It’s important to realize that it doesn’t have to just be me standing in front of a class to create learning.”

Russell O. Colson, Professor of Geology, Minnesota State University at Moorhead, goes beyond teaching basic scientific rules. He teaches how the rules can be applied on a practical level, he says. This is why he works alongside his students when they are in the field conducting scientific research. In fact, he has helped write reports and peer-reviewed journal articles with his students .”For me, graduate school was where the light bulb went on,” he says. “But I don’t want my students to have to wait. Solving puzzles is simply what real scientific thinking is all about.”

While the strategies that these professors use differ, in each case they are guiding the student who is the worker and creator.

Writing in the Washington Post ,Yvette Jackson, chief executive officer of the National Urban Alliance and former executive director of instruction and professional development for the New York City public schools describes how the school success of African American males could be increased by approaching learning in ways that look more like our approaches with gifted students. You’ll find a match in her descriptions with the concept of teacher as designer. She stresses the need to KNOW students in order to design appropriately.

What kind of professional development do we provide to support teachers as designers and guides? What is the role of instructional coaches as they work with designers and guides? How do we support administrators who support these teaching roles? How do professional learning communities work on designing learning that causes students to seek instruction?
More questions to ponder…

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…

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