MAY 31 - JULY 5, 2011

Welcome to Learning Theories [EDCI5065]. We are going to spend the next six weeks together experimenting, taking sensible risks, and interrogating one of the most important questions educators ask: How do people learn?

Soon we will begin what will assuredly become for you a life-long endeavor—exploring how people, especially youngsters, learn and develop. We will start by uncovering the individual experiences, rational intuition(s), and personal pedagogies we bring into the classroom as learners. Using what we "bring to the mix" as a base, over our six weeks together we will add voices of wisdom, texts, and experiences to help us build and advance our understanding of human development and learning.

Our inquiry into how people learn will be guided by five questions.

Essential Questions
  1. What do I bring to the mix as a learner?
  2. How does what I bring to the mix impact my teaching and students' learning?
  3. What are the prevailing theories and models of learning?
  4. How are learning theories relevant to students and teachers, and to the content and contexts of schooling today?
  5. How can theories and models of learning inform my everyday practice as a teacher?

Scholarly Practices

TCPCG2012 wiki

The TCPCG2012 wiki will serve as my primary mode of communication to you as a group. All weekly tasks, including readings or resources, will be posted here in a timely manner. Your only responsibility is to check this wiki daily during our six-week course. Checking the wiki daily will ensure you have the latest information about our course. [Note: If you are unfamiliar with how to use a wiki, get a quick overview by watching a short video, Wikis in Plain English, made by commoncraft.]

Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning Teams (aka INTEL Teams)

The years you have spent studying your content area will undoubtedly influence the way you attend to teaching and learning-related problems, therefore to capitalize upon everyone's experiential diversity, we will form interdisciplinary teams. Employing INTEL Teams intends to accomplish two broad goals. First it will provide you the opportunity to practice working with teachers who share common objectives (e.g., researcher and teacher Nicole Mirra's action-research project, "Tearing Down Classroom Walls: Analyzing the Effects of Interdisciplinary Team Teaching"). The second goal is to promote critical thinking operationalized by Art Costa's Habits of Mind of a person who is "constantly confronted with problems where the solution is not obvious" aka teachers and Deborah Meier's five major intellectual habits that should be practiced by all learners aka teachers: concern for evidence (how do you know that?), viewpoint (who said it and why?), cause and effect (what lead to it and what else happened?), hypothesizing (what if, supposing that?), and relevance (who cares?).

INTEL Teams of 3-5 members will be formed during the first class meeting and work together throughout the course. As a member of your INTEL Team, you will bring the content-area expertise of your area of study (e.g., Chemistry, English). Working as a productive member of your team means you will
  • Collaborate hands-on and minds-on during all in-class activities,
  • Provide technical, intellectual, and emotional support to your colleagues,
  • Offer direct and parsimonious critical feedback on each others' public artifacts, and
  • Ensure the responsibilities assigned to your INTEL Team are distributed equitably among its members.

Weekly Tasks

Each week you will be assigned a number of scholarly tasks to accomplish prior to the subsequent class meeting. Accomplishing the tasks IN THE ORDER they are presented each week will help you gain the most benefit from you outside of class learning. Your scholarly tasks will be assigned as we advance through the term. The scholarly tasks will serve as instructional scaffolds for each subsequent class meeting. We will count on each other to be thoroughly prepared for each class meeting.

Theory to Practice (aka T2P)

Preparing to teach means being able to put theory (what you learn about how people learn) into practice (the ways you teach your future students) aka T2P. We will accomplish this by taking time during each class session to critically reflect upon (in writing) the teaching and learning theory and practice we experienced during that session. I'm not talking about your typical "reflection" here folks. I'm talking about reflection with the intention of analyzing data, asserting hypothesis, and applying what you've observed and experienced to your growing understanding of how people learn–I'm talking about critical reflection. We will use the model of Reflective Pedagogical Thinking Taxonomy (Simmons et al., 1989) to guide the development of your T2P thinking.

The last 20 minutes of each class meeting will be dedicated to writing your weekly T2P essay. You will post your essays to the blog or wiki (the one you will create for EDCI5825) prior to leaving class.

To demonstrate the way a typical TCPCG student's ability to analyze teaching and learning changes from week one to week five, I've included two sample segments (displayed with permission). Note how during the first week of class this future teacher used the lens of student to reflect on her experience, and how five weeks later she made observations like a teacher.

Week One T2P essay: "The classroom learning activities did a good job highlighting different approaches to solving problems and interpreting instructions and learning objectives. The scatter plot lesson was particularly interesting. Seeing the interactions of the learners, both at the board and in the group was enlightening."

Week Five T2P essay: "If your pedagogy is to create a learner-centered classroom environment where students construct understandings, and construct them at higher levels such as analysis and synthesis, then you must be prepared to employ a variety of teaching methodologies. A methodology that is too heavy on teacher-centered direct instruction will not foster the critical thinking desired. It is important to build student engagement through group learning activities and creative, authentic assignments and assessments."


Each week we will focus on directing the course towards an increased understanding of how teaching and learning theories can inform your practice as an educator. Your final grade in Learning Theories is contingent upon you demonstrating an ever-increasing ability to apply the domain-specific content of the course in the artifacts you produce and your in-class performance(s). In other words, what you produce every week e.g., your weekly scholarly tasks, T2P essays, and other artifacts made alone or in groups, will serve to evidence to your learning over time. I will review all artifacts you produce and provide critical written and/or verbal feedback each week (to individuals and the entire class).

During each class session I will employ various types of authentic assessment. Assessments will match the tasks, many will occur on the fly, and along the way you will become astute at identifying when and how you are being assessed. Authentic assessment enables me to organically guide our work class by class, activity by activity, and student by student so that each member of our team measurably advances their ability to demonstrate their understanding of essential course topics. The outcome of this endeavor will be that each student deserves and earns the letter grade of "A" in Learning Theories.

A Note about Assessments

I believe assessments of a student's performance are meant to guide her or his ongoing exploration of a subject. Therefore, assessment of your performance will happen week-by-week. I believe assessments should be formative and data-rich. Accordingly, you will be provided specific written and/or verbal feedback about how to produce consistently high-level demonstrations of your learning. I also believe the use of letter grades or point systems as a way of assessing student performance potentially distorts student-teacher-content relationships from meaningful and mutually enriching to manipulative and misguided. Given my stance on grading, and provided that we are operating within a system that does not afford us with a way to opt-out, I offer each student who completes all activities associated with the course on-time and to the best of their ability an A in Learning Theories. For similar perspectives on assessments, see teacher Joe Bower's blog post, "Detoxing Students from Grade Use" , professor Cathy Davidson's article,"How to Crowdsource Grading" and the story of Denis Rancourt, a Canadian professor who is in a bit of trouble, "In this class, everyone gets A+".

Final Portfolio Artifact

After five weeks of reading, writing, and thinking; minds-on and hands-on work in class; and applying theory to practice, you will be completely ready to create a kick-ass final artifact for your teaching portfolio.

Your final artifact for this course will be a written statement responding to at least two of the five "Essential Questions" of our course.

Your essay will serve as the only public testimony to the grand adventure that will be your unique experience as student, teacher, participant-observer, scientist, apprentice, and co-conspirator in our course. The tremendous work you will have put into creating meaning of the body of knowledge and experiences to be presented throughout our time together will come together in an artifact which testifies to your ability to articulately employ the language of teaching and learning in a final demonstration of your aptitude in “Transforming Learning Theory into Practice.” You will receive detailed information about this task during week five. In the mean time you can look forward to
  • Using your weekly T2P essays as the bulk of the content of your final artifact,
  • Spending the majority of our sixth meeting together creating additional content,
  • Leaving class after our final meeting having made significant progress on your final artifact,
  • Receiving detailed, individual feedback on your final submission (until you feel it represents your best work), and
  • Feeling immensely satisfied by your ability to craft an insightful and analytical scholarly essay which will serve as a powerful statement to your advancement as a critically-minded pedagogue.

* If you need course adaptations or accommodations because of a disability or if you have emergency medical information to share, please make an appointment with me as soon as possible.
* *The posting of your course grade is contingent upon your submission of the final version of your TaskStream Portfolio Artifact.