Over the Fall 2019 semester, I have guided and instructed preservice social studies teachers through their practicum experience. My students must complete one hundred hours of onsite observations and teaching, and I monitor a few of their lessons and review their reflections. If you ask a practicing educator, “What was the most valuable experience you had in order to become a teacher?”, many of them will reply it was their practicum and student teaching experiences. This part of a teacher’s education is fundamental, because it tests them in ways that goes beyond written reflections or after action discussions. In order to best assist my students’ growth, I collect data from them through their written assignments, such as their introduction letters, formal observation reports, and observations of other teachers. Collecting this data has given my students an idea of their strengths and weaknesses, but I fear that I have not done enough.
Stephen Brookfield, who has taught undergraduates for over thirty years and has written a book on effective teaching, which is in its third edition, believes that collecting student data is fundamental to good teaching practices. Brookfield argues that regular collection of data from students is “key to being a good college teacher” and that a teacher must focus data on how “they [students] are learning, week in and week out, and then using that information to guide your decisions” (Brookfield, 8). In my case, this data collection is difficult because my preservice teachers do not meet with me face-to-face each week. Instead, we correspond through email, an occasional video, and my one-on-one visits.
This has been one of the better books that I have read on how to be an effective teacher. Brookfield is easy to read and he describes several practical strategies which lead to positive learning.
Collecting and using student data can often feel overwhelming, but there are methods that make it less time consuming and stressful. Some suggestions will be described in the following articles of this series.
In my 8th grade U.S. History classroom, I informally collected data from students based on their interests and desires; I have found some ways to do this with my preservice teachers as well. Still, I realized that because I do not see my students face-to-face each week that I need to find more ways to collect data.
I want to show my students that I actively consider how they can improve. I have brainstormed some ways below and thought about how data could benefit the four important aspects of teaching social studies. These aspects are (1) teaching social studies skills and historical thinking, (2) teaching with primary sources and using primary sources in research, (3) building up community and citizenship, and (4) focusing curriculum on problem based learning. I will describe each of these aspects in following articles.
- Teaching Social Studies Skills and Historical Thinking (Publish December 12, 2019)
- Teaching with Primary Sources and Using Primary Sources in Research (Publish November 26, 2019)
- Building Up Community and Citizenship (Publish December 3, 2019)
- Focusing Curriculum on Problem Based Learning (Publish December 10, 2019)
Using these multiple forms of data collection, I believe preservice teachers would find my classroom challenging, enjoyable, and worth their time. My students who will become future social studies teachers will not only build up their own knowledge of teaching history, they will see how practicable the collection of data can be. Brookfield has another data collection that is useful for how the overall class is managed. Each week, Broofield asks the following questions (Brookfield, 34):
- At what moment in class this week did you feel most engaged with what was happening?
- At what moment in class this week were you most distanced from what was happening?
- What action that anyone (teacher or student) took this week did you find most affirming or helpful?
- What action that anyone took this week did you find most puzzling or confusing?
- What about the class this surprised you the most? (This could be about your own reactions to what went on, something that someone did, or anything else that occurs.)
These questions serve the same purpose as my content specific data collection; they allow students to shape the curriculum of the course. When students have power over curriculum, they can use their knowledge of their culture and their variety of opinion to improve their experience and the overall experience of their classmates.