The SoTL Advocate

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


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Having a name for it: SoTL’s impact on my work

Written by Susan A. Hildebrandt, Professor Spanish and Applied Linguistics in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at Illinois State University (shildeb@ilstu.edu)

My fall 2009 arrival at Illinois State University (ISU) helped me put a name to something that I’d been doing my entire career without even knowing it. I could finally define as SoTL what I’d done as an undergraduate student teacher, a beginning middle and high school Spanish teacher, a budding teacher educator and graduate student, and a novice teacher educator. 

Although I’ve only been able to name it as such for a little less than the last decade now, the “systematic reflection/study on teaching and learning made public” has had an immeasurable impact on my career since 1995. Throughout my career, I’ve used existing research and data to drive instructional decisions and pedagogical choices made while teaching adolescents, young adults, master’s and Ph.D. candidates, and sharing results with students, parents, other instructors, administrators, accreditation agencies, and other stakeholders. 

As an applied linguist, having a name for things is kind of important to me. As a human and a neuroscience nerd, I know how important naming things is to our species. I have a weird job, even for an academic. To begin, I’m a teacher educator in a College of Arts and Sciences. Right now I am a Professor of Spanish and Applied Linguistics in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures here at ISU, where I also coordinate the World Language Teacher Education program that prepares K-12 teachers of French, German, and Spanish. Like most other tenure-track faculty members across the United States, my job is divided into three components: scholarship, teaching, and service. All three of these areas are interwoven as my scholarship, teaching, and service inform, complement, and overlap with each other. Really, SoTL encompasses the entirety of my academic work, which allows one area to feed naturally into the others. 

The primary focus of my research is K-12 world language teacher education, knowledge, development, and professionalization, using both quantitative and qualitative methods. I’m also interested in educational policy and how teacher knowledge and practice are evaluated, particularly by the standardized assessment of beginning teacher readiness called edTPA. Other areas of my research explore ways of teaching language inclusively and with a social justice focus. SoTL has made me a better researcher by giving me the tools to share what I learn about ISU students’ learning with a wider public than I would otherwise be able. Specifically, the financial support from ISU’s Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL has been critical to my success as a scholar. I’ve been grateful for a number of SoTL travel grants since my arrival at ISU and found them especially vital as a faculty member still paying off my own student loans. The impact of the financial support from a 2011 SoTL small grant for $5000, which is far from small in the humanities, still impacts my students and research agenda today. The fall of 2018 was that seed grant project’s tenth semester, as my students in Teaching World Languages in the K-12 Setting taught French, German, and Spanish lessons to a diverse population of K-5thgraders from lower socioeconomic backgrounds at Unity Community Center. Further, as a result of having explored the SoTL literature, my own research has moved this program from a service-learning model to one of civic engagement and now social justice. 

SoTL has also made me a better teacher, helping me apply what I learn from my research to improve my students’ learning, both for future language teachers and for Spanish language learners. It has helped me frame my teaching within a social justice model and to lead informed discussions with my students about systemic challenges and solutions. By understanding edTPA as both a teacher and a scholar, I am better able to help my students succeed on the standardized assessment and share those techniques with a wider audience, both in world language teacher education circles and with various educational policy stakeholders. Because I teach what I research, the impact of my work is magnified. By teaching future teachers, I hope to get a bit of a double impact.

And SoTL has made me better able to serve my department, college, university, state, and profession. My students’ edTPA data inform my participation in national educational policy discussions, which in turn inform my duties administering the LAN teacher education, my research, and my teaching. I take what I have learn through the systematic investigation of my students’ learning and bring it my conversations with fellow teacher educators from ISU and across the nation. Those investigations come to the interactions I have with the other members of the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Board of Directors and with the creators of the World Language edTPA. And SoTL has helped me develop as a mentor to other teacher educators and researchers both locally and across the country, as I model using data to improve programmatic performance and classroom instruction.  

Overall, SoTL provides me a unique opportunity to examine my students’ learning and apply those findings to my scholarship, my teaching, and my service. Working in SoTL for almost 10 years has enabled me to hone my research skills, to advance my students’ learning, and to produce a line of research that has been recognized with the 2018-2019 Dr. John Chizmar & Dr. Anthony Ostrosky Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award, an honor by which I am deeply humbled. SoTL provided me a name and a framework that has helped me move forward in my professional career and form a scholarly identity. I now have a name for what I was doing before I came to ISU and I’ll long be spreading that name far and wide.

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