The Digital Media and Learning Initiative
Photo: Courtesy of Claudio Midolo, Institute of Play
A New Vision of Teacher Preparation
This convening brought together experts in teacher education, digital media and learning, and design to look ahead at teacher preparation for the 21st century. The convening, held on July 9, 2009 at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, was led by Katie Salen, Executive Director of the Institute of Play, and Arthur Levine, President of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.
New Learning Environments
K-12 schools are undergoing significant changes: from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning, from constant time to constant outcomes, and from self-contained institutions to porous institutions that rely on both formal and informal, out-of-school learning. Digital learning is key to many of these prospective changes in schools, and to the broader question of how students today learn.
The new school Quest to Learn, opening in fall 2009 in New York City, is one example of what these changes could look like. Three members of its planning team attended the convening to discuss some specific needs of this new school, examine some of the school’s assumptions about teaching and learning, and compare them to thinking in current teacher preparation programs.
Teacher Preparation: A Progression of Demonstrated Competencies
Perspectives from Quest to Learn gave rise to a discussion of what teachers will need to know and know how to do in such new learning environments—a discussion made more pressing by a general consensus that, currently, many teacher education programs fail to prepare teacher candidates adequately for classroom realities. The question was raised: Is it morally wrong to put whole classrooms of students in their hands? In the context of this larger problem, participants decided it makes sense to think towards the skills of the future while still addressing the needs of today’s school system.
First, there was strong agreement that skilled teaching is highly site-specific—that learning outcomes can only be reached by understanding the unique context of each school and the backgrounds of the students in each classroom. At the same time, participants agreed, necessary teaching skills could be boiled down to a clear list of assessable competencies that every novice teacher must satisfactorily demonstrate before being assigned to a classroom. Deborah Ball, Dean of the University of Michigan School of Education, suggested—to considerable approval from the group—that the list of assessable, actionable skills required of beginning teachers should also include a professional code of ethics.
But novice skills do not suffice. Participants also agreed that teachers must improve their competencies not only through individual reflection, but through continuing formal and informal professional development. Such development calls for a degree of comfort with group work that teacher preparation programs must cultivate if teachers are to draw upon group work in their later development. Benchmarks on the way to becoming an expert teacher must also be developed to help new teachers increase their competencies while teaching.
Overall, convening participants recommended that both pre-service teacher preparation and in-service teacher development should be embedded in schools, and that teachers’ development should continue far past certification, the benchmark commonly associated with sufficient expertise to assume classroom responsibilities. Teachers, guided by their teacher preparation programs, need to develop a greater continuum of experience and knowledge to support their efforts in both current classrooms and emerging 21st-century learning environments.
New Language: Teaching as Design and Systems Thinking
Consensus also grew around the idea that teaching and learning must be thought of as a complex system, sometimes known as an instructional system. Teachers must be fluent in this system’s ins and outs on the day they step into the classroom. They must be able to design and build the learning environments and learning experiences that will most benefit their students within this system. This kind of design, however, is not an abstract, unachievable methodology. Rather, it offers a more accurate way of describing the process by which effective teachers already help students learn. Effective teachers think on multiple levels at once: They take into account the larger context of the school and its students; they know specific details of classroom management, like how to hand out books for a new assignment or write tests; and they understand how to modify their plans when they do not reach the desired result. This approach does not differ from the skills traditionally expected of expert teachers; instead, it is a more coherent way of breaking apart, analyzing, and building these skills as communicable knowledge and practice, which is what all educators of future teachers must do, and what participants want to help teacher preparation programs learn to do.
For more information on this convening, visit here.