The SoTL Advocate

Supporting efforts to make public the reflection and study of teaching and learning at Illinois State University and beyond…


Leave a comment

It all started with a SoTL small grant: National recognition for global engagement

Written by Susan A. Hildebrandt, Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics & Spanish, Illinois State University

hild awardThe teacher education program in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures (LAN) at Illinois State University was one of 11 language programs from across the nation recently recognized by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages’ (ACTFL) inaugural Global Engagement Initiative. ACTFL is the flagship organization for K-16 language teachers in the United States, and the recognition is good for four years.

 

LAN teacher candidates, as part of their clinical experiences for LAN 320 World Language Teaching in K-12 Settings, spend 25 hours at Unity Community Center getting to know Unity youth the first half of the semester and teach them beginning language the second half. As the area has few local public elementary schools with language programs, teacher candidates in the class may have little experience teaching younger learners a language other than English. Unity Community Center is located two miles north of Illinois State and serves as multicultural “Out of School Time site” for 5- to 18-year olds from “families with limited resources” (Unity website).

hild1The goals for the language program at Unity are multifaceted. The first is to teach language and cultures to K-5th graders, allowing ISU teacher candidates to put into practice what they learn in their teacher education classes. The second goal is to give teacher candidates experiences interacting with younger learners and their families, which they wouldn’t otherwise get. The third is to provide high quality programming for Unity. And the fourth goal is to assist the monolingual Unity directors in communicating with parents whose first language is French or Spanish. Teacher candidates work at Unity throughout the semester and get to know the Unity youth before teaching seven weeks of language lessons the second half of the semester. At times, they also interpret meetings between native speaking parents of Spanish or French and the monolingual Unity personnel. Valuable experiences with Unity youth, parents, and classmates open teacher candidates’ eyes to a variety of perspectives that they wouldn’t otherwise get in their educational preparation. Unity youth, families, and personnel gain quality early language instruction that they would not have without the program.

hild 2Teaching language to K-5th grade Unity youth allows teacher candidates to learn how to co-teach with each other, construct standards-based and learner-centered lessons, create meaningful performance assessments, and learn how to use 90+ percent of the target language in their instruction in a real world setting. They learn how to integrate cultural perspectives into each lesson, to manage a classroom of wiggly, young learners, and to communicate with parents. Teacher candidates expand their linguistic and cultural competence when they interact with parents of Unity youth, while Unity youth’s linguistic and cultural competence grows with each lesson. Finally, teacher candidates immediately debrief with classmates after lessons at Unity and alone in writing for the next week, which helps teacher candidates learn how to offer colleagues constructive criticism and to help everyone do better the next week.

The program began in the spring of 2012 and has occurred nearly every semester since, for at least 7 weeks a semester. It was initially funded by a SoTL small grant in 2011 and further supported by an American Democracy Project course redesign in 2014. Unity has expressed its appreciation for the program by recognizing it with Distinguished Program Awards the last three years. This multiyear collaboration with Unity has transformed the LAN teacher education program.

A new group of teacher candidates will continue teaching languages to Unity youth each fall for the foreseeable future. An exciting development in the program is that it is now expanding to spring semesters, with the help of the ISU language clubs, including the Spanish Club, Sigma Delta Pi (Spanish Honor Society), and Pi Delta Phi (French Honor Society). We were recently awarded a grant from the ISU Senior Professionals and the American Democracy Project to complement the language teaching done in the fall by the LAN 320 class. “ISU Language Clubs and Unity Youth Read Spanish and French” will feature members of the language clubs reading Spanish- and French-language children’s books to Unity youth and their parents, as well as working one-on-one with Unity youth on bilingual puzzles and games.

The original SoTL grant investigated the benefits and challenges to language teacher candidates as they volunteered at a community center. Using data gathered from existing class assignments and recursive qualitative data analysis, a clearer picture of ISU students’ language teaching beliefs emerged, along with Unity youth and personnel’s characteristics, strengths, and needs. That feedback allowed me to create a better learning environment for both ISU students and Unity youth, as the content of the practicum course evolved to support ISU students in their new teaching role at the center. That work at Unity features as a prominent aspect of my own ongoing scholarship, with a 2014 article entitled “Mutually beneficial service learning: Language teacher candidates in a local community center” published in a regional language teaching journal. The initial project begun with the 2011 SoTL small grant enabled the program to develop into a nationally recognized program, and I anticipate continuing this research in the upcoming months and years, as my students continue working with Unity youth.

 


Leave a comment

Finding the “Sweet Spot” Across a Continuum of Student Roles/Voices in SoTL

Written by: Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL and Associate Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Illinois State University

Last week in her blog post, my colleague Phyllis McCluskey-Titus discussed the benefits for faculty who engage in SoTL work with students. She identified a variety of outcomes that make SoTL mentorship with students a reflective and productive endeavor, and explained each from her perspective as a mentor and facilitator of SoTL work with students. It was clear from her reflections that Dr. McCluskey-Titus’ work with students favored the establishment of strong connections with students through the development of collaborative research relationships. My read of this blog post led me to recall the continuum of the range of student voices developed by McKinney, Jarvis, Creasey and Herrmann (2010) which outlined the spectrum of possibilities for student voices to be heard in the context of SoTL work. This continuum is summarized in the following graphic:

continuum visual

As a Commons, we are seeking to increase student voices in SoTL – an initiative that I fully support! I think it’s necessary, timely, and right to engage students in SoTL in a similar manner as we do in our disciplinary inquiry. That said, it’s not always easy! The above continuum yields a host of potential stopping points for students engaged in SoTL, from acting as a research subject to helping with clerical work, to helping with analysis, to co-development/independent project development. All forms of engagement in SoTL can potentially be of benefit to students and faculty, but perhaps some more so than others. This continuum would suggest that to be the case.

In my experience, there are faculty-driven and student-driven contextual factors that influence the ability to involve students as more than just research subjects in any given SoTL project. The following represents a non-exhaustive list of questions/bottlenecks that I’ve pondered in terms of developing a faculty mindset for student inclusion in SoTL research:

  • Time – Does a student have ample, focused time to allocate to a SoTL project in the midst of a busy semester? If so, does a faculty member have the freedom to spend a great deal of time mentoring a student over the course of a project? Is this expenditure of time honored/valued as part of the teaching/research/service trifecta?
  • Timing – Is a student seeking involvement in a project right as a faculty member is in the process of developing one? Is it feasible for a student to be engaged with an entire SoTL project across multiple semesters in terms of his/her plan of study? Can a student contribute to a SoTL project on a short-term basis in a way that is meaningful to his/her learning and the aims of the faculty co-researcher?
  • Depth – What level of student involvement in SoTL work yields benefits for students and faculty?

These questions lead to more. Where is the “sweet spot” for student engagement in SoTL research? How do you find it? I would offer that perhaps the best fit for student involvement in SoTL is quite literally a moving target, dependent on contextual factors (considerations of time, timing, depth, etc.) that impact the ability to engage students across the continuum McKinney and colleagues describe above. There will be times where all the variables fall into place and a faculty/student research team can develop and study a teaching and learning question together collaboratively with complexity from start to finish. More often, there will be times where a student can work with a faculty member on a SoTL project in a more limited fashion, necessitating a need for less complex or active involvement in the work being done.

We know that students can benefit in a variety of ways from engagement in SoTL work. I would argue that knowing these potential benefits, we can work to adapt even short-term “lower continuum” involvement in a SoTL project to be a positive learning experience for students if we mediate the experience well. We need to talk to our students, explain the genesis of our research wonderments, describe the choices we made as researchers in terms of methods/analysis, and discuss what we might do with the outcomes of our SoTL work. In doing that, we have the opportunity to turn a less active/less complex student role in a SoTL project into one with a strong connection to the project and instructor, therein tying the student experience to both ends of the student voices/roles continuum and (hopefully) maximizing student learning/engagement in the process.

Blog Reference:

McKinney, K., Jarvis, P., Creasey, G., & Herrmann, D. (2010). In Werder, C. & Otis, M. M. (Eds). Engaging student voices in the student of teaching and learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

 


Leave a comment

Benefits to Faculty who Lead SoTL Research Teams with Students

Written by: Phyllis McCluskey-Titus, Professor of Educational Administration and Foundations at Illinois State University

Students can gain a number of important outcomes through participation in SoTL research teams with faculty. These outcomes include: enhanced research skills (Kardash, 2000); increased satisfaction with group learning (Panelli & Welch, 2005); helpful out-of-class contact between faculty and students (Cotten & Wilson, 2006); and increased connections between students and their discipline (Wayment & Dickson, 2008).

There are also significant benefits to faculty who facilitate SoTL research teams with students as co-researchers. As someone who has now led three different teams of students that studied teaching and learning, I can attest that there are some real benefits to faculty who invest time and energy into this process.

As a program coordinator as well as a faculty member, having willing student researchers allowed me to conduct a significant program evaluation that assessed student learning outcomes using national guidelines. The students developed and administered surveys, conducted interviews, and served as a review panel to rate and make recommendations from the information collected. Their assistance with writing the final report allowed the evaluation to be completed significantly faster than if I had been responsible for the entire process.

As a senior faculty member, conducting SoTL research with “learners” allowed me to keep the process fresh, and to examine different ways of conducting, publishing, and presenting research about teaching and learning with others who were not faculty. The students wanted to know why we used certain methods to collect or analyze data and forced me to reconsider and offer a rationale for what we were doing. One of the teams which was assessing learning outcomes contributed to the development of a survey instrument by asking not only what outcomes were achieved, but where and how students believed these outcomes were learned (class, graduate assistantship, volunteer experiences, professional associations) and this allowed our team to make stronger recommendations to faculty, supervisors, and other students about how to best direct their energies within the program to maximize their learning.

New faculty can certainly use a SoTL research team as “research support” when graduate research assistants are not available. For a small investment of time in teaching the team members, this group of student volunteers can be trained to help with any part of the SoTL research process. In exchange for authorship opportunities or presentation experience, even if funding is not available, SoTL research team members who are students can be more beneficial than finding a faculty mentor or partner to assist you. As the expert about SoTL and how to conduct research, you have to make sure you are very clear about the process and organization of your study in order to have students assist you. This forces you to be organized and prepared, and not put off research in favor of other responsibilities. Having the students involved will help you stay on task and on a specific timeline. By dividing the different tasks among the team members, everyone is able to contribute and learn in the process, and you may be able to be more productive and able to submit more research for publication or presentation.

Leading a SoTL research team is an important form of teaching, and a way to develop strong relationships with students outside the classroom. These relationships may allow a faculty member to better understand students in their program and classes and to adapt teaching methods accordingly. By conducting SoTL research with a team of students outside of class, faculty can learn about how students in their classes are making meaning of material covered and how they respond to teaching methods used. This information can assist in revising and updating syllabi, readings, assessments, and classroom activities to enhance the learning that students report or demonstrate.

Although the development of a SoTL research team takes time, the benefits to faculty in terms of possible enhanced productivity, nurturing relationships with students, developing new motivation and methods for teaching and conducting research, and being able to assess students’ learning are benefits that make this process worth it.

References

Cotton, S.R., & Wilson, B. (2006). Student-faculty interactions: Dynamics and determinants. Higher Education, 51(4), 487-519.

Kardash, C. M. (2000). Evaluation of an undergraduate research experience: Perceptions ofundergraduate interns and their faculty mentors. Journal of Educational Psychology,92(1), 191–201.

Panelli, R., & Welch, R.V. (2005). Teaching research through field studies: A cumulativeopportunity for teaching methodology to human geography undergraduates. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 29(2), 255– 277.

Wayment, H.A., & Dickson, K.L. (2008). Increasing student participation in undergraduateresearch benefits students, faculty, and department. Teaching of Psychology, 35(3), 194-197.


Leave a comment

One Idea for Introducing Graduate Students to SoTL: An Interactive Reading Circle

Written by: Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL and Associate Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Illinois State University

SoTL Reading Group 1

In May and June of this year, the Office of the Cross Chair in SoTL sponsored its second annual SoTL Reading Circle for graduate students. Eight students representing varied disciplines (special education, English, sociology, psychology, history, politics and government, geology, and women’s and gender studies) met to learn about the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) and to consider how scholarly teaching and/or SoTL might fit into their lives. The goal of this reading circle was to help students to understand SoTL and its contributions to classrooms, programs, institutions, and disciplines through:

  • exploration of the definitions of scholarly teaching and SoTL
  • identification of possible student roles in scholarly teaching and SoTL
  • discussion of how knowledge of SoTL can enhance teaching and learning
  • conversation centered around topical assigned readings.

I acted as the facilitator for the reading circle and worked to structure our meetings to invite discussion about teaching and learning. Adhering to Gutman, Sergison, Martin, and Berstein’s (2010, p. 36) conceptualization of ownership as a “linchpin for collaboration,” it was a priority for students to understand that SoTL was important to them as both students and as prospective faculty. We talked at length about their roles as scholarly teachers/learners and as scholars of teaching and learning and together generated the following lists of tips for both roles:

Tips for Scholarly Teaching and Learning

  • Find out if your discipline has its own pedagogical journal. Seek it out. Read articles of interest to you. Think about how the research on teaching and learning that you read about is similar to or different from “traditional” research in your discipline. Reflect on these similarities and differences.
  • Think about potential faculty mentors who engage in scholarship on teaching and learning. Set up opportunities to talk with them about their experiences. Ask them to be “meta” and walk you through their thought processes in terms of setting up or reading scholarship on teaching and learning.
  • Consider scholarship on teaching and learning with a “consumer’s mindset.” Even though SoTL is contextualized, reflect on outcomes from scholarship with an eye towards application to support your own teaching and/or learning efforts and use what you learn to improve your practices.

Tips for Scholars of Teaching and Learning

  • Think carefully about your teaching and learning wonderments. Look toward past inquiry to see what has been studied and consider how your research question(s) can be adapted to make new contributions.
  • Seek out mentors to help you structure your project. Invite them – or others – to collaborate with you.
  • Don’t feel as though your SoTL needs to look like the scholarship done by other individuals. Design a project that reflects your interests (in terms of your research question), methods that make sense within your discipline, and ways to share your outcomes that are appropriate to the work you’ve done.
  • Use the resources around you to work smarter and find support for your scholarship (we discussed specific resources here at ISU via the Office of the Cross Chair, including grants, trainings, blog, website).
  • Consider SoTL from a “producer’s mindset,” and think about strategic ways to share your work with others to improve teaching and learning on your campus and beyond.

We engaged in discussions across multiple shared readings from journal articles as well as from The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in and Across the Disciplines (McKinney, 2013). Students drafted possible research questions and collaborated to determine ways in which their questions could be studied. All in all, we spent five hours together having really interesting conversations about teaching and learning. Two students from this summer’s reading circle cohort are currently seeking disciplinary mentors for a SoTL project, to which I say, “hooray!”

Student interest in this past summer’s reading circle opportunity was immense and led to an upcoming collaboration with ISU’s Graduate School for the 2016-17 academic year. My office will be co-piloting a Certificate of Special Instruction in SoTL for graduate students, providing systematic study of scholarly teaching and SoTL as well as a guided experience in planning a SoTL project under the direction of a mentor (hopefully from the student’s discipline…stay tuned!). We are excited to have a new mechanism to introduce graduate students to SoTL and look forward to sharing outcomes from this endeavor in the not-too-distant future.

Blog References:

Gutman, E. E., Sergison, E. M., Martin, C. J., & Bernstein, J. L. (2010). Engaging students as scholars in teaching and learning: The role of ownership. In Werder, C. & Otis, M. (Eds.). Engaging student voices in the study of teaching and learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

McKinney, K. (2013). The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in and Across the Disciplines. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.


Leave a comment

Reflective Writing: Students’ Monitoring of Their Own Learning Goals

Written by: Sandra Osorio, Assistant Professor, Early Childhood Education at Illinois State University

Recently, I redesigned my science methods course to include instruction on working with students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, developing a unique out-of-class learning experience for students enrolled in this course. Upon completion of the redesign, I developed a SoTL research project to answer the following question: How do the experiences provided in my redesigned course affect pre-service teachers’ cultural awareness? This SoTL study took place in my science methods course with 26 students, all of whom were female. While the majority of participants were White, one student self-identified as Latina.  All were preservice teachers.

Participants were enrolled in this course during the final semester of classes before student teaching.  As part of the redesigned course and it’s out-of-class learning component, participants visited a local classroom which included Spanish-English bilingual students for a total of twelve times to teach science lessons. After each session in the classroom and at the end of the entire experience, participants completed weekly reflections. The focus of this blog will be on initial findings from the written reflections and final reflective papers with a focus on changes in cultural awareness as a result of this new learning experience.

At the beginning of the semester, participants set personal learning goals they were expected to use as a basis for their weekly reflections. Participants’ goals related to teaching science and working with students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.  Reflection on these goals allowed participants to connect their learning to their prior knowledge and monitor their own learning each week.

All participants’ goals related to working with students from culturally and linguistically diverse background were similar, reflecting aspirations such as:

  1. becoming more comfortable working with ELL students
  2. incorporating their cultures and previous knowledge into lessons
  3. using appropriate accommodations for those ELL learners
  4. connecting with culturally and linguistically diverse students to make them feel important and included

At the conclusion of all twelve clinical experiences, data were analyzed and interpreted. Initial reflections indicated that participants had some misconceptions related to working with bilingual students. Many of the pre-service teachers made the assumption that bilingual, really meant Spanish only, as can be seen from these student reflections:

  • “students might not be proficient in English, so when I was speaking I made sure to speak clearly and slowly enough so they could understand”
  • “being able to use my Spanish background if needed to assist them at any time”

In reality, participants were able to see that Spanish-English students were on a continuum between the languages with varying degrees of proficiency and that their assumptions about bilingual language use were not accurate.

As participants gained more experience with their bilingual students, I was able to see areas of growth and change with regard to cultural awareness. An example of such growth is Madison, who demonstrated that she was able to apply course content to her teaching experience:

“While I was working with two of the students, one asked me if he could describe the objects in Spanish.  I knew that it was important for the students to practice their English, but this activity wasn’t about the language, it was about exploring the properties of objects.  I told the student to try his best to use English, but if he couldn’t think of the word Spanish was okay.”

Similarly, Kacey wrote in the following in one of her reflections, applying the need to use active learning to facilitate vocabulary growth:

“Specifically, hands-on learning is critical for ELL students.  By providing ELL children with the opportunity to experience the learning and construct his or her own knowledge, he or she is more likely to comprehend and retain the information.  As teachers, it is important to allow ELL students various ways to learn.  By using a hands-on activity with Hannah and I’s lesson, we will be catering to the students’ needs.”

Data reflected that participants were constantly reflecting deeply on their experiences. Anna noticed that students were only using basic words such as colors to describe the objects they were given in the lesson. She said,

“Since majority of the students are ELLs they would have benefitted from explicit vocabulary instruction about how to describe and what words to use.  When working with the children I noticed that students didn’t use a variety of adjectives to describe objects.  Being able to critically reflect and think about this lesson will help me strive to reach the goals that I have set for myself.”

Anna’s reflection actually led to some changes when the lesson was retaught.  Participants decided that the first lesson of each unit would concentrate on a wider range of descriptive words. For subsequent lessons, one of the participants developed a reference word list for students which (based on participant reflections) supported not only ELL students, but all students in the classroom, as well.

The most important aspect of this redesigned course was the real world experience.  This allowed participants to change some of the common misconceptions they held and also put into practice what they were reading and learning.  This was expressed in one of Kacey’s final reflections,

“Throughout college I always felt very unprepared for having ELL students in my future classroom. I felt as though I was having a hard time comprehending the strategies without getting the chance to practice them. Therefore, getting the opportunity to be in classroom with ELL students every week was very beneficial for me. I was able to take all of the ELL teaching strategies that I have learned in my past courses and see them in action.”

Reading the reflections, I found participants still made some negative assumptions about ELL students, but they also made important strides towards their own personal learning goals and those of the course, in terms of increasing cultural awareness. These initial findings demonstrate the effectiveness of this activity within my course redesign.  Exposing participants to real-life scenarios working with culturally diverse students was an effective technique to encourage changes in thinking and application of learning.  Growth was likely facilitated by having participants write their own learning goals, so learning was differentiated to meet their individual needs.

Overall, data collected for this project helped inform changes for the next time I work with students in a similar fashion. By having students write about how they are working towards their goals and reflecting on their awareness of culture, I was able to see the connections students make to prior learning and how to better support them in the future.