Theme 2: Reflecting upon and refining best practices – professional and pedagogical knowledge and skills -- to develop a repertoire of instructional and assessment strategies that improve student learning
In the contemporary educational environment, schools and professional educators must successfully educate increasingly diverse and inclusive communities of learners to world class standards. Meeting the substantial challenges of increasingly diverse and inclusive classrooms requires a rich and varied repertoire of student-centered instructional and assessment strategies.
As indicated, education that ensures increased levels of success for all students demands academic mastery on the part of educators, thereby providing educators with the capacity to help students make the connections between what they know and new concepts, information, or skills they need to acquire. However, equally important, and directly linked to the quest for increased content knowledge, is the impact of research on pedagogical content knowledge and its role in teacher effectiveness (Grossman, 2005; Grossman & Schoenfeld, 2005; MSDE, 2003a, Visionary Panel; Marzano & Pollock, 2001; Reeves, 2004; Rice, 2003; Shulman, 1987). Although educators must first deeply comprehend their content, they must also transform content for teaching purposes in ways that foster student learning, tby making content accessible and meaningful to all students. This transformation of content occurs as educators critically reflect on and interpret content and determine appropriate examples and instructional representations. This transformational, pedagogical content knowledge differentiates “expert teachers” in content fields from “content area experts” (Howey, 1996).
Reflecting the unit’s Essential Dispositions for Educators, this caliber of skillful and flexible teaching demands an understanding of student development along a number of dimensions – physical, social, emotional, cognitive, linguistic (Horowitz et al, 2005; Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006), a highly developed ability to asses what students know and can do, and how they think and learn, and the knowledge and skill to differentiate instruction to address the developmental levels and needs of individual students. This mission for educators defies a single formula approach to instruction and assessment. To be successful, educators need to learn and possess a broad repertoire of student-centered instructional and assessment strategies that enable them to evaluate their teaching based on the standard of student learning (Bransford et al, 2005; Darling-Hammond & Schon, 1996; NCATE, 2005; McTighe & O’Connor, 2005; Shulman, 1987; Stiggins, 2000).
Reflective of the previously identified environmental forces, the movement toward performance-based standards for educators, and efforts underway to develop more sophisticated and authentic assessments for teachers (INTASC; MHEC Redesign, 1995; National Board for Professional Teaching Standards), professional education at Towson views teaching as a complex, cognitive process grounded in decisions contingent upon students’ development, needs and instructional goals, and continually adjusted by assessment of students’ learning (Darling-Hammond & Baratz-Snowden, 2005; Darling-Hammond & Schon, 1996; Horowitz et al, 2005; Rice, 2003; Shulman, 1987; Stiggins, 2000). Towson University believes that what constitutes effective teaching to improve student learning is increasingly known and documented. The unit believes that there are certain teaching competencies and performances relevant to all fields and programs, and that effective educators have a blend of content knowledge and professional and pedagogical knowledge, skills, and dispositions.
Accordingly, the unit (TEEB) has adopted the INTASC Principles as its performance-based standards at the initial level, and the guidelines and standards of specialty organizations at the advanced level that are capable of capturing educators’ reasoned judgments. Like the first tier of assessment for licensing in virtually all professions, the INTASC Principles standards identify the common principles and foundations of professional practice – knowledge of content, the knowledge of student learning and development, curriculum and teaching, contexts and purposes - which create a set of professional understandings, abilities, and dispositions that all current and future educators share. These standards are then translated into performance-based assessments that document what candidates know and can do to improve student learning in authentic teaching settings.
Professional education incorporates a well-planned sequence of professional and pedagogical courses and field experiences that provide initial and advanced level candidates with knowledge about and ability to use a broad repertoire of “best practices” in instruction and assessment. Reflecting performance-based standards, candidates must possess and demonstrate a repertoire of instructional and assessment strategies that reflect knowledge and skills in instructional design, organization and management of the learning environment to support instructional goals, and effective individual and group motivational strategies that create meaningful learning opportunities and result in learning by all students.
In this performance-based setting, teaching effectiveness has become directly linked to student achievement. In turn, the Unit has increased its emphasis on candidates’ “assessment literacy” (Fullan, 2001; NCATE, 2005; Stiggins, 2000). Candidates must know about, create, and use appropriate and effective assessments in teaching to prove and improve all students’ learning. Reflecting this initiative, “teaching, learning, and assessment must be viewed as interactive and cyclical by candidates” (Darling-Hammond & Baratz-Snowden, 2005, p. 23; also see Guskey, 2003).
Candidates must also know and appropriately use emerging technologies (Darling-Hammond et al, 2005; Dede, 1998; Fisher, Dwyer & Yocam, 1996; Maryland Business Roundtable Ribbon Committee on Technology in Education, 2002; Maryland Teacher Technology Standards, MSDE, 2002; Towson 2010, 2004; Willis & Mehlinger, 1996). Candidates must also recognize that they are contributing members of multiple learning communities – professional associations, school faculty and the larger school community – who share knowledge, skills, and dispositions, and collaborate to improve the educational setting for all members of the learning community.
Finally, candidates must also be reflective practitioners who continually engage in reflective assessment to refine their practices (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005; Daniels & Bizar, 1998; Howey, 1996; Zeichner & Liston, 1996). To fully develop this sophisticated expertise, requires many years of experience, as educators “continually construct new knowledge and skills in practice… rather than acquiring a finite set of knowledge and skills in their totality before entering the classroom.” Our goal is to provide candidates with “the core ideas and broad understanding of teaching and learning that give them traction for their later development. This perspective views teachers’ capacity not as a fixed storehouse of facts and ideas, but as ‘a source and creator of knowledge and skills needed for instruction.’” The goal “is to help candidates become ‘adaptive experts’ who are prepared for effective lifelong learning” (Bransford, Darling-Hammond, & LePage, 2005, p. 3; Daniels & Bizar, 1998).
Similarly, teaching, learning, assessment for quality improvement, and lifelong learning are viewed as interactive and cyclical by the unit in its assessment system. Reflecting the University’s assessment model (Towson, 2005), the Conceptual Framework and the integrated, standards-aligned themes of the Vision Statement, and the input of our P-12 partners, the unit refined and expanded its assessment system to ensure that it regularly assesses the performance of its candidates, graduates, faculty and unit operations through a comprehensive and integrated set of formative and summative performance measures. Technology plays an increasing important role as data are systematically collected, analyzed, and used to document, inform, and improve candidate performance, faculty performance, and Unit programs and operations.