Teaching Circles Background:
Teaching circles can be defined as informal meetings where small groups of faculty (3-10 faculty members) can share pedagogical ideas and current research in education to address the challenges and needs of their students (Powell & Harrington, 2011). Traditional meetings in higher education tend to be organized around the strategic needs of the college or university that are communicated to faculty through a small team of those who hold power such as deans, program coordinators, and chairpersons (Kanter 2000, 198). Teaching circles on the other hand are organized by faculty members themselves and are used for faculty to demonstrate leadership in education by sharing and their best practices with others. The benefits of small teaching circles versus the traditional large-scale meeting are as follows: a greater sense of community and belonging among faculty members (Ashton, 2011), sharing difficulties and challenges within a safe environment (Moore et al, 2010), and sharing innovative teaching practices (Smith, 2011). However, simply bringing a team of colleagues together does not ensure productive meetings that create more innovative practices in higher education (Koeslag-Krenun et. Al 2017). As many authors have demonstrated, collaborative learning is effective when encouraged and facilitated by an influential leader (Furco and Moely 2012; Kezar 2005; Roxa and Martensson 2009).
My Experience Leading a Teaching Circle
This week I led my first teaching circle at Centennial College on inclusion in our curriculum design. Our Office Administration program has a diverse population of students, and the majority of students are foreign students and some of my students are brand new to Canada. Our program has seen a rise in international students, but our curriculum design and practices have not changed much. Therefore, I wanted to challenge my colleagues to think of ways that we could be more inclusive in the planning stage of the curriculum, the instructional stage, and the assessment stage.
I stared the talk by mentioning the story about my sister Julie, and how a teacher who was following curriculum guidelines failed her in the basketball unit of physical education because she had a severe physical disability that wouldn’t allow her to do this. Instead of simply talking at my colleagues, I wanted to seek their advice an co-learn how we can make our curriculum more inclusive. To do this, I used a discussion tool from gosoapbox.com that is a live response system, where others can answer your questions from their cell phones and the answers will show up on the screen in real time.
To make this activity less intimidating and more collaborative, I had my colleagues join teams and have one person from the group submit a number of responses. When it came to the different parts of the curriculum and inclusion, here are some of the responses:
One of my colleagues was nice enough to provide feedback over LinkedIn and let me know what she thought of the teaching circle:
Ashton, J, (2012). Using Teaching Circles Amongst Online Adjunct Faculty. Journal of Instructional Research. 11-14
Furco, A., & Moeley, B. E. (2012). Using learning communities to build faculty support for pedagogical innovation: a multi-campus study. Journal of Higher Education. 83(1), 128-153.
Kanter, R.M. 2000. When a thousand flowers bloom: Structural, collective and social conditions for innovation in organizations. In Entrepreneurship: the social science view ed. R. Swedberg, 167-210. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Kezar, A. (2005). Redesigning for collaboration within higher education institutions: an exploration into the developmental process. Research in Higher Education, 46(7), 831-860.
Koeslag-Kreunen, M., Van der Klink, M., Van den Bossche, P., Gijselaers. W., (2018). Leadership for team learning: the case for university teacher teams. Journal of Higher Education. 75:191-207
Moore, S., Wallace, S., Schack, G., Thomas Shelley, S., Lewis, L., Wilson, L., Miller, S., D’Antoni, J., (2010) Inclusive Teaching Circles: Mechanisms for creating welcoming classrooms. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. 10(1) 14-27.
Powell, M. & Harrington, J., (2011) Effective teaching circles: support for math anxious students. Nade Digest, 5(2), 25-32.
Development, 56, 286–291.
Roxa, T., & Martensson, K. (2009). Significant conversations and significant networks—exploring backstage of the teaching arena. Studies in Higher Education, 34(5), 547-559.
Smith, K. (2011). Cultivating innovative learning and teaching cultures: a question of garden design. Teaching in Higher Education, 16(4), 427-438.
When examining a few professional learning communities, I noticed that some had the three elements that Watson (2014) suggests a PLC should have: shared value and vision, learning, and a community (Watson, 2014). On the other hand, some communities were simply places for people to brag about their own work, or as Watson states, "episodic, decontextualized professional development conducted in isolation of practice" (Watson, 2014). Through my investigations, I was able to locate both types of communities described above.
I had been asked to join professional learning communities in other courses, but this time, I thought I would deliberately investigate professional learning communities that would relate to my own three domains of curriculum design. The first being the learner (learning to become a better teacher to reach my full potential as an educator), the second, the society and culture based/problem-based design. Lastly, the subject-based design. Below is a visual on how all of these come together and the specific learning communities that relate to each curriculum domain.
The Problem-based design:
Recently, our department has introduced “Teaching Circles” where faculty from our department can meet and discuss issues and learn from each other in an on-going basis. The idea is to have one person per meeting show other faculty something that could improve our teaching practices. The first meeting on February 4 was informative, however, I would have liked if we could have discussed on-going problems as a team, instead of a lecture on teaching practices. This is why I volunteered to be the next speaker on March 6. I hope to outline what I have learned in this course so far about curriculum design, but instead of acting as the expert, I wish to ask my colleagues, what we are struggling with in curriculum design from a planning, instruction, and assessment aspect. First, I will organize the members into groups to come up with one major problem with our current curriculum design and then the second part will be to discuss how we can start to address the problem from a planning, instruction and assessment level of curriculum planning. I will also ask my colleagues for their permission to share their responses for module 5.
The Learner-based design:
The goal of these professional learning communities are for self-improvement as an educator. I was able to locate many professional learning communities for teachers in higher education looking to connect and share information on Linkedin. Two that I have investigated so far are “International Higher Education Teaching and Learning Association” and “The Teaching Professor”. I found that “The Teaching Professor” group had some interesting and helpful posts for educators, although it lacked a sense of community that the “International Higher Education Teaching and Learning Association demonstrated. Here is a recent post on interdisciplinary learning that I responded to:
It seems there was a lot more interaction and discussion in this group instead of everyone just posting a digital billboard of their own work.
The Subject Based Design
The goal of joining these professional learning communities is to learn more about the subjects I currently teach (Microsoft PowerPoint and Excel). Specifically, I want to join these communities to learn what others struggle with and how educators can help. I found two communities through Facebook, “Let’s learn MS Excel and PowerPoint” and “Microsoft Excel Solution”. Just liked the LinkedIn I was worried that these communities would simply be spam pages, or personal, digital billboards for others sharing their work. The “Let’s learn MS Excel and PowerPoint” group was absolutely like this. This was a space for people to post their own work without interacting with others. The “Microsoft Excel Solution” group was different in that it was a place for people seeking help to solve a problem, and many users would jump in to offer help or advice. This is the type of community I would like to be a part of, one that is designed to help others and promote discussions.
I have learned through this experience that professional learning communities should be based on mutual learning experiences through discussion not a one-way lecture on what one person has to share with the group.
Watson, C. (2014). Effective professional learning communities? the possibilities for teachers as agents of change in schools. British Educational Research Journal, 40(1), 18-29. doi:10.1002/berj.3025
This is Mike and I will be presenting Erin’s and my presentation on the three dominant sources of curriculum content from a view of planning, instruction, and assessment. We will also be presenting some contemporary examples of the three main sources of curriculum content.
Whereas our content map looked at all of the connections between curriculum design and philosophies, we are just going to focus on what Evelyn Sowell deems as the three most dominant sources of curriculum content which includes Learner based designs, Society and culture based designs, and subject matter based designs.
First, the learner based designs focus on the needs and interests of the learner. This is similar to concepts from our concept map that involve “humanistic” or “self-actualization” concepts of curriculum. Students in this type of design are involved in the planning phase of development. The type of instruction is student-centered and allows for students to work in teams while learning involves research and self inquiry. Student participation and how they work with others is largely assessed. In some cases, students can choose how they are assessed. A real example of this type of curriculum design comes from Paula Rogovin who, in the fall of 2015 at The Manhattan New School, a public school in New York City, demonstrated that kindergarten students could become more engaged in school subjects if their questions became the curriculum. In other words, the children chose what they wanted to learn based on things they were naturally curious about. Questions from students were posted on a board and then students had to find ways to retrieve the answers. Although, this does not seem like a highly organized way of structuring curriculum, the researchers noted that students demonstrated high levels of engagement and participation.
Secondly, the society and culture based designs tend to respond to the needs of the current culture or society. The content is not predetermined and reflects current life and events in society. This is like the social reconstruction concept from our map. Although, according to Sowell (2005), these designs tend to take a representative route, not a reconstructionalism route because they don’t actually intend to change society so much as represent current society. The instruction tends to involve problem solving and focuses on student experience. Student reflection and the completion of projects are main components of assessment in this type of design. A great example of this type of design would be the Ursula Franklin Academy that is based in Toronto. The last two lines of their mission statement is “We continuously develop the tools that enable us to think critically about our world and the place we want to have in it.” The enrichment program held on Wednesdays are interesting because they give the students choices on which course to take that are outside of the traditional curriculum and are taught by not only teachers, but parents, and members of the community, which is a more realistic view of society if you think than just being taught by those who went to teachers’ college.
Lastly, we have the subject matter design, which is typically how most curriculums are created. This curriculum design provides structure for each subject taught. The planning involves predesigned subject learning outcomes and objectives. Instruction involves the teacher trying to have students meet the objectives of each subject at each grade level and assessment largely involves summative evaluations such as tests, quizzes, and assignments. This is similar to our “Academic, scholar, or rationalism” component of curriculum where the essential skills in each subject are taught. An example of this would be any provincial curriculum that uses language like “students will…” and then gives a predetermined skill students must learn in each unit. This type of design is very structured which can be great as it gives teachers a clear road map for how to instruct and assess students. It does however, leave some students behind. A personal example would be my sister Julie. Julie had what doctors could only call the “child version of ALS. If you remember the trending ice bucket challenge from a few years ago, raising awareness and donations for those suffering from ALS you will remember that it is a disease the paralyzes people. Julie became paralyzed from the waist up at age 4 and where her mind was sharp, it made things more difficult in her physical education classes. One teacher she had in grade 5 failed her for not meeting the criteria of being able to dribble a basketball. Although this seems like the work of a horrible teacher, the teacher in fairness was just following the subject matter design which stated that in order to pass that particular unit in physical education. One must learn how to dribble a basketball. This is the downside of having a predetermined curriculum as it does not acknowledge students skills and challenges that they may have.
In conclusion, what we have learned throughout our first three modules, is that no matter how you design your courses. We should always leave room for student choices at the planning, instruction, and assessment areas of curriculum design. We should also incorporate different design elements and not just focus on one. By focusing too much on a design such as the subject matter design, we might be forgetting to incorporate teaching and assessment practices that help students thrive in society based on their own individual needs and challenges. A balanced approach to curriculum would be best. Thank you so much for taking the time to view our presentation.
Ornstein, A. C., & Hunkins, F. P. (2013). Curriculum: Foundations, principles, and issues. (Pp. 149-173). (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Limited.
Ornstein, A. C. (1990/1991). Philosophy as a basis for curriculum decisions. High School Journal,74(2). Pp. 102-109.
Rogovin, P. (2015). Kindergartners’ questions become the curriculum. Social Studies and the Young Learner (28)1, 8–11.
Sowell, E. J. (2005). Curriculum: An integrative introduction. (Pp. 52-61, 81-85, 103-106). UpperSaddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill/Prentice Hall.
Ursula Franklin Academy. https://schoolweb.tdsb.on.ca/ufa/ Date Retrieved: February 2, 2019.
For this week, we looked at the philosophical foundations of education and curriculum design planning. As you can see in our visual below. We were able to summarize some of the key connections we made to curriculum concepts from our previous module and connect them with philosophical foundations and curriculum design:
The readings in this module made me question whether different curriculum philosophies could be used simultaneously. Ornstein and Hunkins (2013) suggest that, “Curricular designs should reflect diverse voices, meanings and points of view” (Ornstein, A. C., & Hunkins, F. P. 2013). Therefore, as an educator, one should be aware of their own philosophies towards curriculum design and keep an open mind to better serve a diverse population.
Our design helped me to reflect on some of my own teaching philosophies, and I believe that my teaching philosophy tends to fall into the “humanistic” or “progressivism” category that tends to be learner centered (Ornstein, 1991). However, I believe I could develop and help students further by developing a “reconstructionalist” philosophy of education to benefit more marginalized students as teachers with this philosophy tend to be “change agents” and don’t merely repeat the status quo (Ornstein, 1991).
1. Ornstein, A. C. (1990/1991). Philosophy as a basis for curriculum decisions. The High School Journal, 74, 102-109
2. Ornstein, A. C., & Hunkins, F. P. (2013). Curriculum: Foundations, principles, and issues (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson. Read Chapter 6, pp. 149-173.
3. Sowell, E. J. (2005). Curriculum: An integrative introduction (3rd ed., pp. 52-54, 55-61, 81-85,103-106). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Curriculum Conceptions Overview:
Ornstein and Hunkins (2013) describe curriculum as a plan for achieving goals and designing what the student experience will be like through the learning process (Ornstein, A. C., & Hunkins, F. P. 2013). As a teacher in post-secondary education, I have always believed that the main goal of a curriculum should be to help students learn how to obtain and hold onto a career job. After completing our readings for conceptions of curriculum (see concept map below) I noticed that curriculum tends to respond to both the needs of society versus the needs of the individual and that it is important not to neglect necessary aspects of the curriculum.
Personal Success versus Commitment to Learning:
I agree with Vallance (1986) that two new concepts should be added that revolve around “personal success” of the students and “commitment to learning” (Vallance, 1986). These concepts of personal success and commitment to learning have become mainstream in response to a rapidly changing and increasingly competitive job market (Vallance 1986). The two concepts should work together, but in the real world, I believe we focus more on personal success and neglect the concept of commitment to learning. In discussions with my colleagues, I have noticed the fact that at the post-secondary level over the past several years, the general student population has increasingly shown an attitude of entitlement, an inability to cope with failure, and arrive ill-prepared for the rigors of further study and work-placement. Life-readiness seems to be an issue here. Showing respect, having resilience, taking responsibility for one's own actions, (which means accepting and learning from failure), knowing how to handle streams of information, among other life-readiness behaviors that fall under the commitment to learning concept are important to keep in mind. This is why we need to include all aspects of curriculum. Excluding just one, such as commitment to learning, can have negative consequences on an individual and society.
In my own teaching practice, there are opportunities to use some of the curriculum concepts to improve my instructional and assessment practices. The “self actualization” (Eisner and Vallance, 1974) or “humanistic” (Cheung, 2000) concepts of curriculum involve having the student reach their full potential and becoming who they want to be (Cheung, 2000; Eisner & Vallance, 1974). To do this, I must get to know my students better and design assignments and assessments that would allow them to express who they are. For my PowerPoint class, this is easy enough as I could have my student design a presentation based around their major life events, aspirations, and ultimately who they want to become at the end of college.