Teacher Prep: Studying, Watching, and Experiencing Effective Instruction

By Colleen Mahany, SED 2015

Every time I look at the news I read about our failing public education system, our failing teachers, and our failing students. It seems like everybody has an opinion on how schools should be run, how teachers should be trained, and how students should be learning and achieving. While I would be setting myself up for failure to try to address all these topics in one sitting, I am comfortable in discussing one of my experiences in my teacher preparation journey in which I found meaning and success.

This semester I began a course entitled “Teaching of Reading.” This class examines reading development in childhood and early adolescence. We look extensively at research about literacy and discuss what the evidence means for effective instruction. Our discussions and studies culminate in the planning of reading instruction and lessons for diverse learners.

Each class we focus on a selected topic of reading instruction, such as motivation and engagement, and we take “virtual fieldtrips” to observe an instructional technique that relates to that topic. The discussions we have following the virtual fieldtrips are rich. We discuss what worked, what didn’t work, and what we would do differently if we were to teach that particular lesson. Our instructor challenges us to go beyond mere observations and link our thoughts and opinions to important educational research.

Artwork by Jason Gan

Artwork by Jason Gan

While the aforementioned model of connecting our studies and observations is an extremely helpful exercise, I have found the most meaning in the actions of my instructor. She often implements our instructional foci in her teaching with us. For example, one of our classes focused on the importance of scaffolding and cognitive modeling. Instead of simply partaking in and facilitating our discussion, which seems like a perfectly reasonable action for an instructor, she actively used a scaffold to structure our conversation. She drew a graphic organizer on a whiteboard with different categories of comments she expected us to look for as we took a virtual fieldtrip. Throughout the video and our discussion, we referred to the scaffold to focus our comments. Our task was clear, thus the resulting conversation was purposeful and thoughtful.

That same class my instructor also expertly demonstrated cognitive modeling. She gave us an assignment that needed to be completed for next class. Using cognitive modeling, she gave us an example of the type of work she expected. She explained her thinking aloud and showed us how she, personally, would structure the assignment. By giving us a window into her mind, we knew her expectations, our task was clear, and we were set up for success. For me, the anxiety and nagging sense of unease that sometimes accompanies graded assignments has greatly subsided because of my comfort in this class.

I could gush indefinitely about the ways my instructor effectively models the exact instruction she hopes we will implement in our student teaching and beyond. However, I will leave my patient readers with the bottom line; my instructor’s expert and intentional modeling of effective instruction and my subsequent positive experience as her student has made me all the more invested in immersing myself in effective reading instruction and my teacher preparation journey.

*Colleen Mahany is a junior at Boston University School of Education studying social studies education. 

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