Reflection 2: Evaluating a Syllabus
What I learned from the evaluation of the syllabus
The syllabus evaluation exercise prompted me to think about communicating expectations and to students. I chose this course outline because I know that it includes scaffolding assignments and trains students on designing program plans for young children. The course is called Program Design for Children and is a second year course with in the Child Studies program here at Guelph, in FRHD. There is a lot of cross over with this content and lesson planning for adults. But the interesting thing that I noticed is that these scaffolded assignments which include summative feedback are not well described to students who read the syllabus. A student likely just sees the 3 assignments with different grades attached, but there isn’t a clear description that these assignments all build on each other (in reality I know they do, since I’ve taken the course and TA the course and spoken at length with the department about this). Further, only one assignment is thoroughly explained, and no grading breakdown was provided within this document. A light-bulb moment for me and inference I made from this is that by these standards, a course outline must stand on its own without needing to make these connections for students through verbal instructions. I wonder whether University instructors are aware that this is best practice in SoTL. Syllabi are often explained in the first week of class with a break down of major assignments, so I wonder how many instructors rely on this clarification process to discuss the nuances of the syllabus with the learners.
Additionally, while I really liked the learning outcomes, realizing that they did not cover the full range of Fink’s dimensions was interesting. I initially thought that this was an oversight for the course, and that the instructor should consider adding some higher-level skills from the list. Since I know the placement of this course within the larger program curricula, I was able to realize, though, that this might actually not be what the course needs. This course is the first of three courses that scaffold students learning wile they get trained as educators. There are good reasons that some of the higher-level skills are not included here, because students are learning the basic applied skills for observing behaviour, analyzing behaviour from a developmental perspective, and beginning to understand how they might scaffold children’s development using their interests and current abilities. Upon even further reflection, however, I realized that this course also does include some of those higher-level skills such as application (by applying developmental knowledge so that a program plan is developmentally appropriate), and integration (by connecting observations to developmental theory and next-steps in the program plans as an educator), and additional skills such as: collaborating to create a group project, responding to children’s developmental needs, identifying developmental skills from observations, and creating a plan (the students literally create 3 versions of a program plan). These skills are demonstrated by students in a very applied way that we do not typically consider within academia, but they are skills present in these assignments (which I only know from taking and TA’ing the course). After looking back on the learning objectives for this reflection, I see that they do in fact include some of these examples I mentioned, so perhaps I didn’t realize at the time that these covered more of Fink’s dimensions than I originally documented. Regardless I believe the learning outcomes could be adjusted slightly to reflect how students are in fact engaging in the continuum of Fink’s dimensions, even if in different ways that was is typical for academic undergraduate training.
Challenges: One main challenge for choosing a syllabus that I have familiarity with is that I could have been a bit biased in my analysis, such that I was rating it harsher than one of my peers might. In the future it would be interesting for me to do this again with a syllabus that I am not familiar with, to see if I would have interpreted it differently.
Future Implications: I have seen Blooms taxonomy used when developing programs with young children so I know that it is possible to take Fink’s dimensions and align then with the a course’s goals for students. I think that we need to learn about Fink’s dimensions in a way that allows us as future instructors to be flexible with how we apply these verbs in order to fit the expectations of the course. Additionally, I liked learning that sometimes courses intentionally don’t include all dimensions if they are part of a larger scaffolded experience for students. I am wondering if there is away to clearly communicate that to students within the syllabi so that students understand the connections that the learning outcomes have for their future and past courses within a particular program.
Focus of the syllabus
The syllabus is mostly content-focused, and I was “let down” by this because of the irony of a course for educators not including learning-focused elements. Although the learning outcomes provide clear descriptions of some of the learning, there is not a description about what students will learn each week or through each assignment or assessment. Like we discussed in class, having a learning-focused syllabi coveys a warm and welcoming tone, non-hierarchical, student-centred approach to the structure of the class. I feel like it is a hugely missed opportunity to not include at least a few sentences about what students will have the opportunity to learn about each week. This could easily be modified by adding in sentences to the schedule under the content covered each week. Additionally, including more about what learning the students are engaging in within the descriptions in each of the assessments would be an easy way to add in additional information.
Challenge: As noted from the article we read about learning-focused syllabi, there was not a resounding appreciation for the learning-focused syllabi from the individuals in the study. One of the things participants talked about was the syllabus being confusing and long. I also worry about this when learning-centred syllabi. From an accessibility stand point, a long and wordy document may be less helpful in ensuring students can have success in the course, even if it does create a welcoming tone to the document. I hope in the future that I can consider including elements of learning and a warm tone without making the document inaccessible to my students.
Reflection 3: Reflecting on my design of, and feedback from, my lesson plan
Difficult parts of creating a lesson plan
I had a lot of difficulty understanding what we could make the lesson plan about. I ended up not being able to get a lot of feedback on my lesson plan because my partner and I were figuring out what to teach about versus what strategies we could use during the feedback session. I found the most challenging part filling in all the components of the BOPPS model into a 10 minute activity. This was an excellent learning opportunity for me because I tend to plan really long guest lectures so I have a lot to learn in predicting how long each part of the lesson plan will take.
Since I am running a “work shop” on emergent curriculum as a TA in a few weeks, I initially wanted to plan my lesson around this topic as some practice ahead of time. But once I realized I had to use an Indigenous pedagogical strategy, this topic no longer felt aligned with the strategy that I wanted to demonstrate or practice. I brought this up during my feedback session with my peer and they agreed. In response to this realization, I changed my topic to be about epistemology, or Ways of Knowing, since this can clearly be taught using Indigenous pedagogical strategies, at least as I know them to be. Again, fitting this topic and my strategy into 10 minutes was a challenge! But I just did my best to remember that the point of this is for me to practice this skill.
Most difficult part about receiving feedback
My peer gave me honest and helpful feedback. I am fortunate in that my undergrad training really opened me up to receiving feedback with grace, and I welcomed her insight. The main challenge was that she wasn’t as knowledgable about Indigenous pedagogy as I had hoped, so it might have been helpful to discuss it with my group member who is doing the same topic as I am. I tried to explain what I could, but Indigenous pedagogy can go against the things that have allowed us to be successful in academia (as grad students) so it’s not something that can just be explained simply in a 20 minute period. To understand the topic it needs to be revisited again and again, like many things in Indigenous culture, as I currently understand it. So, this was part of the feedback process that felt clunky for me, and not particularly helpful on this strategy.
Admittedly, it was hard to hear that my lesson plan wasn’t as clear as I thought it would be since I have some experience writing lesson plans. I helped me realized that there is still so much for me to learn about creating program plans, and I will never be fully competent in understanding every learner’s perspective. In this way, continuing to learn and get feedback on my lesson plans and teaching strategies is essential for my ongoing professional development. Even when feeling saturating in knowledge in the area of how learning happens, there will always be more for me to learn, and additional perspectives to consider.
Effective Feedback as an Educator
I don’t like thinking of myself as a teacher or having a teaching practice per se. I don’t “teach” as my main responsibility, even as an early childhood educator. I co-learn. I walk with children and students as they learn. My practice is to be a responsive and caring adult (not an expert). I am trained to respond to the needs and curiosities of my learners, by observing and analyzing their skills and interests and extending these abilities through meaningful and engaging activities. In this regard, reflective practice is essential to being a responsive educator who can grow with students. By extension, receiving feedback is a crucial piece of expanding our self-awareness, understanding our impacts on learners, and continuing to adjust our practice over time. There will never be a time where an educator can stop learning about being an effective educator, especially because every group of students is unique. And feedback from others is necessary because we aren’t usually able to fully see past our own biases or to interpret our ideas from the students perspective. I hope I am able to continue to engage in professional development that allows me to have direct feedback on my skills in action (not just learning about concepts without applying them and seeing how it works out).
Additionally, I have realized that practicing something without getting feedback is not always sufficient to ensure that the necessary growth can take place. Practicing without feedback would be like practicing playing music without ever listening to yourself on a recording or getting people to tell you their reactions. It’s a different experience to get direct feedback on your ideas or performance than the act of practicing those ideas or performance. I think that there really isn’t a replacement for getting feedback from others on our pedagogical decisions.
Feedback I am Using
My peer mentioned keeping my active learning activity very simple because I had a lot packed in. I realized that I agreed, and that it might be too much to complete in 10 mins. I realized that I could use this feedback AND implement an additional strategy from the articles I read on Indigenous pedagogy. I could allow students to self-pace their completion of this activity beyond the scope of the lesson plan, which is reflective of how students self-paced their completion of courses in the study I read for my SoTL snapshot (Papp, 2020). I decided to use this feedback in a unique way, and I would not have had this realization without a peer mentioning it in a way that prompted me to think differently about it.
My peer also liked that I included a jamboard and menti link, so I am going to keep both.
Feedback I am not using
My peer mentioned that my topic choice of epistemology was a big topic to discuss in 10 minutes. We chatted a bit about it and I agreed. I probably should change the topic. However, I decided that I wanted to try it anyway because a different topic was not coming to mind that would allow me to utilize an Indigenous pedagogical strategy. From my reading, it is not enough to simple inject Indigenous content into courses in order to decolonize academia, so I felt strongly about avoiding doing that. Instead, I wanted to teach about an academic topic by using documented Indigenous pedagogical strategies like I had learned about. I felt that this was a great extension on the learning I have been doing about Indigenizing the curriculum over the past year or so, and would be a good challenge for myself. I have other opportunities to teach simpler topics so this felt like a risk that I wanted to try for my own learning and growth. We will see how it works out.
For the scope of this course, it proved challenging to finish my lesson plan on the topic of epistemology and I had to significantly cut down the content in order to included all the strategies and BOPPS items that I wanted to. I am wondering what is more important for my learning: to demonstrate I can implement BOPPPS in a 10 min lesson plan or to try to decolonize my own pedagogical practice at a deeper level. I can’t seem to do both and meet the expectations of this assignment. I am craving more practicing with implementing Indigenous pedagogy and I am trying to find a way that I can continue to learn about this topic outside of this course.