The goal for the experimental lesson was to consider ways to improve teaching by focusing on engagement. This reflects two elements of the seminar’s content knowledge (the content being promising practices that support TAs’ efforts to improve their teaching). The first is the text we use in the class, The Teaching Gap. We like the book’s message that change takes time and commitment, and teachers should be at the center of this development. We also focus on Action Plans as a professional development approach that supports teachers in identifying and addressing teaching challenges.
Here is where the pedagogical piece intersects. We know learners need to have a purpose in order for an activity to be meaningful. Therefore, I told the TAs to imagine that a colleague had developed an Action Plan asking for support in writing plans that would engage more learners. (An improvement would be to have a mock Action Plan – I just can’t help seeing what is missing). It was their job to watch his instruction and offer him, or his representatives, feedback after the lesson. The other pedagogical intersection was that the lesson was a video of one of the American lessons described in The Teaching Gap. Thus, it was a connection to the known – a pedagogical imperative if learning is going to occur.
The technology overlapped the content knowledge and the pedagogy in two ways. We accessed the video via the internet and used Twitter to take notes on our observations, questions, and ideas during the lesson. We chose an unused hashtag, #e3pd (ed 331 planning dialogue – shortened to make it easier to tweet), and then projected the video and the Twitter stream on a split screen.
As the TAs tweeted, I noticed that some were not showing up on the list. I soon realized that because they had protected accounts their tweets were on my personal stream but not in the list. I quickly began quoting and retweeting but it became obvious that I was not going to be able to keep it up throughout the lesson. This is another thing to think about for next time.
Once I stopped retweeting I began noticing trends in the Twitter stream. The TAs were identifying some of the same actions and offering the same advice. Many of these were issues and ideas that we had discussed throughout the semester. They also began communicating to one another (and me) in pure backchannel fashion. And there was a record of it for us to look at later. If you had been in the seminar, you would have seen me smiling.
The lesson ended and the TAs immediately wanted to offer the teacher feedback. I told them he was unavailable but three of his representatives would be meeting with individual groups. As luck would have it, these TAs meet with me prior to seminar to discuss planning engaging lessons. I coached them ahead of time to be open to ideas but to push back with some of the constraints we had discussed earlier (time, classroom management, culture, …). One of the groups welcomed a representative saying, “Oh, you must be Mr. J’s student teacher.” I will stow this nice touch away for next time as well.
I walked around eavesdropping on these dialogues. It was great to hear the TAs offer ideas and support their point with successes from their own experience. One representative/student teacher took copious notes as she listened to her colleagues’ suggestions. (I need to remember to get a copy of those notes to see exactly what she wrote.) The reflection for the activity was for TA’s to tweet one final subtle shift that the teacher might consider incorporating into his planning to improve engagement.
The last piece of business was to get feedback about the experience. A couple TAs said they had been skeptical about tweeting during a video but they were now sold. Tweeting allowed them to remain engaged in an otherwise non-engaging lesson by bring their thinking to the surface. (Fostering metacognition is another example of how the lesson landed in the TPACK framework’s center.) We discussed trying the same approach while watching a German or Japanese lesson. They also appreciated that there was a record of their thoughts available to examine latter.
John gathered the tweets in Twapper Keeper and we may do an analysis at some point. What I observed in real time reminded me of the work Deb Roy shared in the second part of his TED Talk. You can watch it here.
Looking back on the experiment, I remain pleased with the outcome. There are certainly things to improve, and I wonder if it will be as meaningful the second time. Was it the novelty that made it so engaging? How can I maintain this TPACK momentum?
Now that you have heard my story, I would be interested in your perspective.