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Tools for Critique: Chapter 6
Instruction: Teaching and Learning Across the Content Areas


Chapter 6, “Instruction: Teaching and Learning Across the Content Areas,” begins with a bit of history detailing how teaching has changed—and hasn’t changed—over the past 200 years. The chapter then discusses recent advances in our understandings about learning. The remainder of the chapter focuses on instructional principles that help teachers to structure multidimensional, active, and interactive experiences that facilitate learning among culturally and linguistically diverse students.

Chapter Headings

  • How Teachers Taught
  • Theories of Learning and Their Implications for Teaching
    • Learning Is Developmental, Social, and Cultural
    • Intelligence Is Acquired and Multidimensional
    • Knowledge is Constructed and Becomes Meaningful in Context
  • Contemporary Theories in the Classroom
    • Seeing Diversity as an Asset
    • Providing Opportunities for Active, Social, Multidimensional and Scaffolded Learning
    • Building on Students’ Culture and Language
  • No Easy Recipes

Generative Questions and Activities

    How Teachers Taught

  1. The authors note that teachers in public schools during the early 1900s tended to follow “scientific” and “efficient” school reforms.  In what ways is this similar to current calls for more “scientifically-based” reading programs?  The authors also suggest that instruction has changed relatively little over the past century, stating: “teachers still instruct large groups of students, and students mostly work alone.  Teachers transmit knowledge to students in an orderly sequence of steps, often prescribed in school or school district policy.”  Does this statement accurately reflect the type of instruction that you have witnessed, received, and/or provided?  Have you witnessed, received, and/or provided instruction in smaller groups?  Instruction that incorporates and emphasizes social interaction?  Instruction that involves students in actively constructing their own knowledge?  Instruction that is not predetermined and prescribed by school or school district policy?  Do you believe that instruction has departed too much from past practices?  Not enough?  In what ways should there be a mix of the old and new?

    Theories of Learning and Their Implications for Teaching

  2. Summarizing the findings of research on learning over the past 40 years, the authors state that, “people learn to be intelligent as they interact with others to make sense, or construct, meaning out of the world and their experiences in it.”  What are the instructional implications of this?  Given that people learn and develop through social interaction, what should teachers do in the classroom?  Broadly speaking, how should we organize instruction in order to best facilitate student learning?  What types of interaction best promote student development?  Explain your view with a specific classroom example or two.

  3. Drawing on the research of Cole and Scribner, the authors claim that, “competence and intelligence are context-dependent.” What does this mean? Is it relevant for classrooms in the United States? How might curriculum and instruction look different in a classroom where the teacher holds context-dependent notions of intelligence, versus a classroom where the teacher holds more static notions of intelligence, viewing it as stable across all situations and settings?

  4. Why are “hands-on” or experience-based lessons likely to be more compatible with sociocultural theories of learning than traditional teacher-centered or teacher-directed lessons?  Compare two lessons you experienced or observed, selecting one because it involved students in active participation and the other because it emphasized “pencil and paper” and listening and responding.

  5. In the authors’ discussion of sociocultural and constructivist teaching, they note, “sociocultural and constructivist theories invite teachers to place inclusive and democratic principles at the center of their curricula and from that core develop daily learning opportunities.” Have you ever observed, experienced, or implemented this type of instruction? If so, describe specifics of the lesson(s) and unit(s). If not, how can you imagine you might present curricular content in these ways? What would it look like?

    Contemporary Theories in the Classroom

  6. In Concept Table 6.1, the authors offer a demanding set of guidelines that teachers can use as they construct classroom learning communities:
    * Teachers see diversity as an asset and see every student as a capable learner.
    * Instruction provides opportunities for active, social, multidimensional, and scaffolded learning.
    * Teaching and learning builds on students’ cultural and linguistic knowledge.
    * Authentic assessment plays a central role in teaching and learning.
    * Relationships are caring and interdependent.
    * Talk and action are socially just.
    If you have the opportunity to observe a classroom over time, use these guidelines to organize your observations.  Otherwise, recall the details of one of your own classroom experiences and describe whether and how you experienced these elements.  Note that the authors do not intend these guidelines to be a “Yes/No” checklist.  Detail how and to what extent these dimensions are present—how and whether each guideline appears to enter into the teacher’s struggle for a classroom guided by current theories of learning and intelligence.

  7. Describe a situation you experienced or observed when a public comparison undermined a student’s (perhaps your own) confidence.  Be sure to speculate on the intention of the comparison.  Whom was it intended to benefit, and how?  Was it intended to hurt or diminish anyone’s confidence or comfort?  What was the actual effect of the comparison? What might you or the teacher have done differently in order to accomplish the instructional goal, yet avoid the comparison? 

  8. Current high-stakes accountability policies, coupled with an emphasis on using student data to inform instruction, has led many administrators to “require” teachers to display students’ test scores on classroom or hallway bulletin boards. Sometimes these scores are color-coded; for example, students’ names highlighted in green are performing on grade level, while names in red are students performing below grade level. What do you think are the effects of these displays? What might you do if you taught in a school that “required” these types of public displays of student test scores?

  9. Students are so used to public comparisons that their own language and thinking is likely to perpetuate a public comparison “culture” in the classroom.  Often the comparisons are associated with competitions and games that are attractive ways to engage students in lessons.  Often students have not learned other ways to evaluate their own progress (or self-worth!) besides comparing themselves to others.  How would you explain, in your own words, to a new class of students how and why this class is different?  What types of relationships, values, processes, and routines will be different?  Have in mind a particular grade level, and prepare these remarks in a written one-page letter.

  10. Think of your own experiences in which you have felt and/or observed stereotypical vulnerability of the sort described by Makeba Jones and Claude Steele.  Further, even though you are dignified and polite in your public speech and expression, consider whether you might have contributed to a climate of racial vulnerability—for example, by “checking out” the class performance or speech of a student of color, or paying some extra attention to the home and yard upkeep of a family of color in the neighborhood.  Is it possible to entirely avoid making these observations?  Can such observations (and thoughts) ever be entirely invisible?

  11. By exploring Claude Steele’s stereotypical vulnerability and Daniel Solorzano’s microaggressions, the authors offer a deeper look into the power and effects of race in schooling.  Do these concepts help you understand how subtle expressions of stereotypes and prejudice work to disadvantage people perceived to be different?  How might these concepts enable you to reflect on your own practices as a student or teacher?  At what age do you think students can be introduced to these ideas in order to help them understand the effects of prejudice on both themselves and others?  How might you go about introducing such ideas to students of different ages?

  12. Designing and delivering complex instruction is one way to support students to achieve high expectations. Reflect on your own schooling experience. Have you ever been in a class in which the teacher attempted to differentiate instruction but did not succeed in helping you (or others) meet high academic expectations? How might this teacher have modified his or her instruction to help you or others become a competent member of the classroom community?  Write a detailed example.

  13. The authors argue that, “sometimes acting on high expectations requires teachers to challenge ‘normal’ procedures that reflect institutionalized low expectations.”  As an example, they point to the work that Mauro Bautista has done to institutionalize higher expectations for English Learners at his middle school.  Think of some ways that low expectations have been institutionalized for English Learners and/or other “low status” groups of students at your school?  What procedures help perpetuate low expectations for these students?  What steps could you take to challenge such procedures?  What alternative procedures might you propose in order to institutionalize higher expectations for them? 

  14. The authors offer brief descriptions of small-group or cooperative learning, and of scaffolding strategies and question asking.  But theirs is not a book that goes extensively into teaching methods—particularly in specific school subjects.  In addition to the obvious, “take a class that promises to teach those skills,” how might a prospective or experienced teacher go about acquiring the content-specific instructional skills and knowledge to become skilled at group instruction and scaffolding?  What cautions might you have if you were invited to attend an afternoon “in-service” on cooperative groups or a one-day workshop on cognitively guided instruction?

  15. A classroom culture of sharing and cooperation takes effort and time to develop.  Oftentimes, cooperative learning strategies are dismissed because teachers believe that whole-group instruction is a more efficient way to impart knowledge.  However, effective teachers use a variety of strategies to address their students’ multiple learning needs.  In addition, like adults, children tend to be more productive, more alert, and less bored if they have a chance to move between activity settings rather than engaging in a single activity for an extended period of time.  Reflect on a grade or subject you would like to teach.  Think strategically about how you would plan a lesson or an instructional day.  Which objectives would best be accomplished in cooperative groups?  Which lessons would be most effectively taught in a whole-class format?  Small-group format?  When would individual seat-work be acceptable and/or appropriate?  How might you make the learning “fun” without introducing destructive elements of competition?  Give specific examples and provide reasons for your decisions.

  16. The authors note that teachers who are motivated by sociocultural learning theories tend to emphasize “activities and relationships that give students access to adults and knowledgeable peers.”  Can you think of examples from your own schooling experience in which such activities and relationships were emphasized?  What opportunities did you have to interact with adults and other peers in cooperative activities?  How might you go about implementing such activities in your own classroom?

  17. Middle school math teacher Juliana Jones states that providing effective scaffolding for students requires serious and deliberate preparation.  She notes that she often brainstorms ways to extend student understanding before she teaches a lesson.  Think of a lesson that you have taught (or would like to teach) and consider how you might prepare to scaffold student learning.  Brainstorm a list of questions and/or prompts that might help push students further.  What questions might you anticipate from students in connection with this lesson?  Think about how you would respond to such questions.

  18. Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) is an example of current research into teaching that has yet to come to the attention of many teachers, as well as many college instructors and researchers.  What might be some unique challenges and special benefits to a “new” teacher who is interested in pursuing CGI further?

  19. Teaching with cooperative groups is a good example of an instructional strategy that, although always a struggle and never perfect, is usually worth the effort.  Furthermore, the instructional benefits of cooperative learning are widely documented, and books, instructional materials, and training are widely available.  Yet considerable resistance to cooperative learning remains, and too many teachers attempt and then abandon this strategy.  What steps would you take if you wanted to use cooperative groups, but sensed resistance from students, parents, teacher colleagues, or administrators? 

    One common criticism of cooperative groups is that more capable students do all the work and have to teach slower students instead of speeding on with their own learning.  How would you respond to this criticism?  What rationale would you provide?  How might you demonstrate the effectiveness of cooperative groups?

  20. Suppose you volunteered to serve on a school’s “Technology Committee,” but that, other than a general interest in technology and a modest facility with a computer, you do not have extensive technological expertise.  What do you think you could offer this committee as you work alongside others to learn about the available technologies and to bring them to your school?   In your opinion, do teachers need technological expertise in order to help decide how technology should be used?  At one extreme, some teachers pursue any opportunity to learn new technologies that promise to help them be more effective teachers; at the other extreme, some teachers want no part of the time, effort, learning, and relearning required to use new technologies.  Consider your technology experience up until now; where would you place yourself at or between these extremes?  Are you satisfied with this placement?  Explain.

  21. Consider the “Core Media Literacy Skills” described in Concept Table 6.4. Do you agree that these skills are necessary in today’s technologically advanced world? Are there any skills that you think are missing? How can teachers help students develop these skills? How might teachers still support students to learn these skills in a school with limited access to technology?

  22. In the authors’ discussion of the “Digital Divide,” they discuss how use of technology may vary between different groups of students – even within the same school. They also note that it is important to “emphasize students’ engagement with rather than mere access to technology.”  Imagine you work in a racially, socioeconomically, and linguistically diverse high school.  Develop a “Technology Engagement Plan” for your school.  Consider that any significant school “improvement” or “reform,” such as that required to shift patterns of access and engagement, will have these three dimensions: (1) a normative dimension that addresses people’s beliefs, philosophies, and attitudes regarding who can and should learn what knowledge; (2) a political dimension that addresses the power structures and groups that support or resist change; and (3) a technical dimension that addresses how organizational and teaching resources and methods are arranged for optimal learning experiences.  As an alternative, find a school’s current technology plan, mission, or set of objectives and analyze the degree to which the normative, political, and technical dimensions are addressed.  In the likely event that important gaps exist in this plan, fill in the gaps with your own provisions.  Work with a partner or group, or make this a whole-class effort.  Finally, you might consider how this very question can become the core of an engaging and highly motivational lesson for students from upper elementary to high school levels.

  23. The authors also assert that there are gender differences in access to and use of technology and that these differences are not trivial. Create a plan that attempts to support gender equity in technology use and access in a large, diverse public high school.

  24. Teachers Matthew Eide, Maria Hwang, Cindy Bell, Benji Chang, and Kimberly Min all provide examples of ways to build on students’ culture and language in the classroom.  Think about the classroom context with which you are most familiar.  What cultural and linguistic backgrounds are represented in that class?  What could you do to draw on and leverage these linguistic and cultural “funds of knowledge” in order to better scaffold student learning?  Brainstorm a list of specific strategies, techniques, and activities that you could attempt to use.
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