PROVIDING THE STUDENT WITH CHOICE
When I started the PhD program, I recognized a gap in my instructional competencies at the postsecondary level so I developed an intentional plan to develop and expand these competencies. During my first two semesters of the PhD program, I reached out to Dr. Sanchez and Dr. Fitzgerald to volunteer as a teaching assistant in their ED-6030- Practices for Inclusive Education, and ED-6150-Educational Leadership courses respectively. I was exposed to different instructional styles and environmental settings as half of ED-6150 was conducted online due to the in person restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. I have also completed the first domain of UPEI’s Academic Instructional Skills Program (AISP) which focused on developing a teaching philosophy and a teaching dossier.
However, my instructional competencies were most developed during my role as a sessional instructor for two simultaneous cohorts (elementary and secondary) of ED-4150 Diversity and Inclusive Classrooms so a teaching dossier of this experience became my third artifact. This dossier includes:
- Course Syllubus
- Student Opinion of Teaching Surveys (SOTS)
- Interactive Reference Guide (with comprehensive details of the course)
I applied for the sessional instructor position based on my previous experience in adult training and development, and my knowledge of inclusive education. My teaching philosophies align with Dewey’s beliefs that knowledge is constructed when learners use existing experiences through active learning to acquire new knowledge (Dewey,1899). Similar to Rogers humanistic theory, I also believe in a student-centered approach through self-directed learning (Rogers,1969). In relation to motivation, I concur with the concepts of the self-determination theory (SDT) which propose the need for competence, autonomy and relatedness in order to trigger intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Finally, my values about inclusive education correlate with the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) which provides students with multiple means of engagement, multiple means of representation, and multiple means of action and expression (Cast, 2018). These combined concepts can be observed in the elements of the Response to Intervention (RTI) framework; a tiered approach to identifying students’ needs, implementing appropriate instructional strategies, and monitoring students’ progress. My teaching approach models an integration of the UDL and RTI frameworks, so within the ED-4150 course, my objective was to first get to know the needs, strengths, interests, and learning preferences of each student, and provide the students with flexibility and choice of instructional and assessment methods.
Inclusive Instructional Strategies
I started the course by having the students complete a Google survey to learn about their interests, strengths, learning preferences, prior inclusive teaching practices, goals for the course, and any learning challenges they wanted to share. The results of the survey were incorporated into an automated class profile I designed, providing me with a broad overview of learner profiles. This process assisted me to learn the names of the 60 students within both cohorts. After recognizing that many students struggled with mental anxiety, difficulties sustaining attention, and learned best through hands-on activities, I adjusted the break time from (one) twenty minute break to (two) ten minute breaks which the class appreciated. I also incorporated a variety of practical hands-on activities so students could develop resources that they could maintain for future use in their own classrooms. In order to support students in achieving their course objectives, I offered multiple forms of informal feedback outside of class through online zoom sessions, email and in person appointments. I also monitored students’ progress in class using exit cards and a mid course check in survey. These feedback strategies were most valuable as they enabled me to identify the instructional strategies that were working well as well as those that required improvement so I could adjust my teaching practices to support the students in achieving their goals.
Mid course feedback
The strategies that students found helpful were the variety of practical collaborative activities, the regular feedback I offered, the enhanced use of technology, the lessons on motivational theories, UDL, class/learner profile, and the personal examples and experiences I shared of effective inclusive practices.
The areas of greatest concern for the students were the clarity of instructions for assignments, the pace of my oral communication and the organization of course materials. In an effort to align with the principles of UDL, I tried to offer more choice and flexibility in structure of assignments but this resulted in more confusion for students who preferred more explicit instructions. The students also preferred all content be maintained in one place instead of a combination of Google and Moodle.
Keeping this feedback in mind and with only two weeks left in the course, I developed an interactive reference guide to condense the key components of the entire course and include practical resources. The informal feedback and comments from the SOTs suggested that the students appreciated the guide. However, since the SOTs feedback was reflective of the entire course, some of the comments in the SOTs were similar to the comments from the mid course feedback.
SOTs Feedback: Teaching most beneficial to students’ learning
In general, I am proud of the outcome of my first postsecondary teaching assignment as the SOTS indicated that the students appreciated the content (specifically learner profiles, UDL strategies, group presentations, guest student and guest speaker with a disability), they valued the feedback and they respected the knowledge and enthusiasm I displayed. A couple of examples representing these views included:
“I really enjoyed the way Diane provided us with class resources through Google docs so that we have access to these resources moving forward. Diane also provided us with a great opportunity to teach/observe the teaching of a student with an intellectual disability”.
“The assignments were extremely relevant and practical and I really appreciated that. Learner profiles and class profiles are beneficial tools. I also appreciated the focus on UDL as it is an area many educators are unfamiliar with.”
SOTs Feedback: Teaching which could have been completed differently
The areas requiring most improvement were; the access to and organization of materials, my oral pace and clarity of instruction. A few meaningful comments reflecting these views were:
“At times I felt confused about where certain documents were. However, Diane responded very well to our feedback and created a large document with everything in it which really helped”.
“Reduce the pace just a little because at times it was just a little hard to keep up for those of us who process a little more slowly.”
Since the students found it challenging to access materials on both Moodle and Google, in future I will maintain all resources on Moodle with the ability to still use the collaborative features within Google. In relation to my oral pace, I will also reduce some of the course content and slow down my pace to ensure a balance of pace for all learners. The clarity of instructions and format of assignments was the most significant concern for students and the most enlightening lesson for me as it seemed to conflict with my teaching philosophy of providing choice and flexibility.
However, after further reflection on SDT theory, I realized that choice can still be provided with structure depending on whether the student’s motivation is intrinsic or extrinsic (Deci & Ryan, 2020). For example, if a student is extrinsically instead of intrinsically motivated to learn and seeks validation of achievement, the student may have the desire (autonomy) but not the perceived ability (perceived competence) to achieve a task (Rodgers et al., 2014; Ryan, 1982). According to Deci and Ryan, both autonomy and competence are required to trigger intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Rhew et al., 2018). A teacher can enhance competency by providing opportunities to master experience, just as they can induce a greater feeling of autonomy through choice (Ryan & Deci, 2000; Ryan, 1982; Deci & Ryan, 1985). In my course, I may have provided autonomy through choice, but failed to recognize the need for mastery through more formal instruction. An approach suggested by Deci et al. (1991) to promote self-determination is “offering choice, minimizing controls, acknowledging feelings, and making available information that is needed for decision making and for performing the target task” (p. 342). In future courses, I will aim to provide a better balance between structure and flexibility.
Comparison of elementary and secondary cohorts
There were benefits and challenges to teaching simultaneous cohorts. One benefit was the ability to adjust content or teaching strategies in the second cohort depending on its effectiveness in the first cohort. This effort was evidenced based on the higher ratings I received in the elementary (second cohort) than the secondary (first cohort). There was also a small group of students in the secondary cohort who provided lower ratings which may have impacted the total scores, as this trend was not evident in the elementary cohort. Overall, this experience was exhilarating, and motivated me to continue expanding my instructional competencies through future sessional instructional opportunities.
REFERENCES have been included in the full version of my introductory paper.
INTERACTIVE COURSE REFERENCE GUIDE- DIVERSE AND INCLUSIVE CLASSROOMS