University Teaching: Theory and Practice – Reflection

The next few blog posts may be a bit different from my past posts about the ECEC sector. I am currently enrolled in an MSc program at the University of Guelph and I am taking a course called University Teaching: Theory and Practice. As both an academic and an educator, I will be documenting some of my learning and development here.

What I Wish to Accomplish This Course

As a Registered Early Childhood Educator (RECE), I have been reimagining my image of “learners”, how learning happens, what inclusive learning environments look/feel/sound like, how best to document learning, and my role as a co-learner/”educator” for the past few years. The ways in which I think about learners has stretched (shattered, even,) my ideas and definitions of what successful learners look like. I already know that my aim as a current and future educator is to be relationship-based, responsive, and student-centered while I foster engaging and inclusive learning environments. In early learning settings I have gained confidence in facilitating active learning activities, but due to the play-based emergent curriculum in early childhood education and care, there will be some differences between my skillset for learning with young children and learning with adults. So, what does active learning look like at the University level and how can I facilitate it? My first idea for what I hope to accomplish in this course is to be able to translate what I have learned about early learning pedagogy into adult learning strategies. Thus, my first SMART goal is:

By the end of this semester, I will be able to facilitate a 20-minute interaction lesson with students through zoom. To achieve this, I will implement activities in my micro-teaching session, including menti, jamboard or kahoot, which ask the learners to contribute collaboratively to answering questions or reflect upon the information that is being discussed. If I can implement these tools, receive student engagement through their use of these tools, and if I am able to respond to my peers’ answers, I will feel I have achieved this goal.

Additionally, through previous reflections I have identified that I would like my teaching approaches to be rooted in decolonization and equity. This stems from reflecting on “all my relations,” including that with land, and how this intersects with being an educator. Indigenous pedagogy is area in which I have a lot to learn and I can now recognize my contribution to the harm perpetuated by the institutions I participate in. As such, I also hope that in this course I can learn about how to implement Indigenous pedagogical approaches, and how to do so appropriately and with an ethic of care. Thus, my second SMART goal is:

By the end of this semester, I will be able to implement one teaching strategy for online seminars that is culturally responsive to Indigenous students’ needs and that is aligned with Indigenous pedagogical practices. To do this, I will review four to five peer-reviewed articles on Indigenous pedagogy and teaching approaches and create short summaries (much like the ones in the SOTL snapshots) for my own learning and reflection. I may decide to post them on my blog. While I would like to gauge this goal by getting feedback from an Indigenous student, I also feel that asking such a thing may be inappropriate at this time. If this is not possible, instead, when I create my teaching philosophy statement, I will integrate my new knowledge about an Indigenous pedagogical approach into my statement. I will feel successful in this goal if by the end of the semester I can describe, in detail, one teaching strategy that I can use virtually that is rooted in Indigenous pedagogy and that is appropriate for me, a white settler, to implement in a University class setting.

Similarly, I have personal experience, as a student, with student topic choice, late banks, student presentation choice (hence I am currently using a blog that I created in my undergraduate courses since that was an option for some of my previous assignments). As someone who lives with multiple mental illnesses this flexibility and responsiveness allowed me to thrive in my degree program – yet I know first-hand how many students struggle with the elite culture within academia. As someone with a sister who lives with Down Syndrome, I am constantly thinking about how I have learned to repeat instructions multiple ways and to give scaffolded guidance and reminders where appropriate (something that often does not happen with assignments at the undergraduate level). Additionally, as someone who has many peers with families, the benefits of reasonably flexible assignment deadlines are something that is of interest to me. Therefore, I would like to gain confidence in creating some new “norms” in academia that are more equitable, anti-bias, anti-racist, inclusive, and flexible. One area I see myself doing this is through assignments. Thus, my final SMART goal is:

By the end of the semester, I will be able to create assignment instructions that are rooted in inclusion and equity, such that the grading criteria is as universally accessible as possible to students from diverse cultural backgrounds, lived experiences, disabilities, and identities. I hope to learn more about universally accessible learning strategies through this course (such as the “late back” article from SOTL snapshot). My aim is to take what I learn in moments like these and keep a list of ways that these can be incorporated into an assignment I make. In order for an assignment to be accessible, so far, my list of universally accessible criteria is as follows:

  • repeat the instructions several times in several ways,
  • offer some structure but indicate where there is flexibility and student choice,
  • allow students to choose the topic,
  • offer formative feedback from either peers or a TA,  
  • offer a multi-step scaffolded assignment.
  • regarding the grading criteria: I do not want students to be graded on spelling or writing style on the first draft, but I still want there to be feedback provided. The final draft will be graded loosely for spelling and grammar in order to not penalize English language learners, folks who express themselves in a nuanced dialect, or individuals with learning disabilities.
  • offering non-academic avenues of creating the assignment, if they wish (such as a blog, reflection, poetry, or podcast) and if appropriate. I will not have a “hard” deadline that takes marks off for lateness after the initial deadline.

I will measure my success of this goal by creating a mock assignment (about anything I want, the content isn’t important to me right now). I will feel that I have met this goal if I can write the course assignment, as well as a plan for discussing and reviewing the assignment over the semester, that implements the aforementioned components. I hope to get feedback on this assignment from either an instructor, TA, or peer in this course.

Importance of Articulating Learning Goals

Personally, I felt the value in writing out those learning goals because I was able to find meaning in this learning journey and it gives me something to look forward to. During that process I felt attachment to my learning outcomes and felt a sense of responsibility for my learning build. I recognize that in creating my own goals I was able to establish some skills that I may be able to “market’ in the future, and the practice of articulating the goals now provided a clear sense of how to get from where I currently am to where I want to be. Finally, sharing these goals with instructors gave me some sense of “going public” with my learning journey, my intentions, and my interests. Making these things clear to my instructors will help them to be responsive to my interests, but also helped me to feel committed my goals since I shared them with others.  

Strategies and Checkpoints for Progress Towards Goals

In previous courses and in my research work I have created a table or excel file to keep track of items on my to-do list. While achieving these goals may not be a linear process, I believe still documenting steps towards my progress will help me understand, tangibly, where I am at in terms of my journey to “achieving” my goal. I will have to break down my goals into much smaller steps to create items that I can “check” off in my table. I have some ideas about how I can do this, but I also realize that I might have to be flexible in terms of what is attainable over the course of this semester since some of my goals require me to do additional work outside the course. What will be easiest for me is to reflect on my progress weekly, but then have three main check points during the semester where I ask myself “What is working? What is not working? What is unclear?”. Finally, I hope to use this blog to track my progress and reflect upon these learning goals throughout the semester. I will likely end up writing a post outside of the class reflections about one of these goals, because written reflection is a powerful processing tool in my toolkit. If I am to be truly successful in achieving these goals and implementing them in the future as an educator, these will be things that I have to think deeply about and integrate into my Ways of Being as an educator. Essentially, I want to “think” with these goals 6 months from now, not just vaguely recall them once I am a sessional instructor. Finally, I plan to discuss what I learned from these goals with the instructors I currently work with as a TA because they are both responsive to learning how to be better educators (they are both RECEs and Ontario Certified Teachers). So discussing what I learn with them to see if they are willing to implement any of these strategies will be another way that I can integrate these goals into my thinking and Ways of Being.

Instructor and Peer Support

What I need most from instructors and peers is to be able to “linger in generative space”. My learning process is very embodied, and I am typically a very engaged student, so I tend to like to talk things out – but sometimes can dominate the class conversation with my specific interests (i.e., in this case, information about my goals). That being said, I think that I thrive when given this choice, independence, and space to grapple with new concepts like the ones presented in my goals. For me, this looks like having discussions where my peers and I can make connections and even, at times, respectfully debating new concepts. More specifically, opportunities to discuss what I am learning about my goals during the 3-hr seminars will support and validate my feelings of being invested in my goals. I already sense that I may struggle to sit back and listen, because I feel passionate about the practice of pedagogy and I truly want to learn from this course. It will be helpful for me to be given cues from my peers or instructor about when I maybe should stop talking and let others “grapple”. In previous courses where I have been passionate about the topic I have responded well when instructors have directed me towards specific additional readings or resources that are aligned with whatever I may personally be “grappling” with (in this case it will likely be concerns about how, when, and why I can implement Indigenous pedagogical approaches as a settler). In essence, casual conversations with my peers where I can make connections about my goals to other concepts in the course will be helpful, and I ask that both instructors and peers are willing to indulge and support each other as we try this. Additionally, if I am to feel like I have achieved my goals, I will require the opportunities to implement my first goal into my micro teaching session, to write my philosophy statement where I can include what I have learned about an Indigenous pedagogical strategy (and, hopefully, be given feedback about it from the grader), and to create and discuss a mock assignment (I won’t ask for direct feedback on it from a grading perspective but perhaps it is something I can chat with Christie about in her office hours). While not all of these tasks may fall within the course parameters, I would like the opportunity to still try to do them, and to be given some feedback where appropriate, because these are the things that feel most meaningful to me, and I am opening to downsizing my goals if it I realize they are not attainable during this semester.

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