Learning Assistant Liveblogging: Pedagogy course

by Stephanie Chasteen on November 3, 2011

Once again, liveblogging from the national Learning Assistant Workshop in Boulder.

When we started out the conference this afternoon, and participants shared their primary area of interest in learning more about effectively running an LA program, I’d say about half of the crowd

Steve Iona talked to us about what that pedagogy course entails, and the LAs in the current pedagogy course were invited in to talk to us and answer our questions.

Topics include both instructional techniques and philosophy.   For example:

  • Cooperative learning
  • Multiple intelligences and differentiated instruction
  • Student conceptions
  • Metacognition

LA’s attend the seminar once a week, and take the class just once.  This seems sufficient to be an LA in a single department — their license doesn’t “expire,” as it were.

Who can teach this seminar? This is a problem that I heard others discussing in the crowd — if you don’t have someone in the school of education who can devote resources to creating and running this course, what do you do?  At CU, it’s team taught  Steve Iona (a retired high school teacher), along with others such as Valerie Otero (school of education), Ian Her Many Horses (doctoral candidate in the school of education), and Laurie Langdon (chemistry and school of education).  This team planning approach is really key.  They’ve only used graduate students in the school of education, rather than in the sciences, to co-teach, though that’s more due to financial logistics than a concrete philosophy.

What if you don’t have a school of education? One problem is that you then have nowhere to send LAs who are interested in pursuing a career in education.  But then people within the departments and disciplines might need to create their own course with their own readings, etc.  How is that going to be supported?  I haven’t heard a clear answer to this question… and I imagine it’s institution-specific.  We’re very lucky at CU to have such a champion of science education reform in the school of education.

What is a reasonable work load for the LA course? Many participants had a lot of questions on this point.  LAs have quite a few other time commitments, how do you choose readings that are of a reasonable length?  Most of the readings are assigned at a surface rather than depth level, says Steve — what is the main idea of metacognition, rather than a detailed case study of how it plays out in the classroom.   Plus, these are science and math students and so they’re not particularly used to (or interested in?) reading very much.  Steve said that the first readings are carefully chosen with this in mind.  The first one is from a middle school mathematics journal, so it’s accessible, and the content is immediately relevant to what they’re doing in the course.  The second reading is also chosen to be very relevant for their immediate use.  Later assignments get meatier.  The LAs themselves indicated that the reading gets tedious and they don’t like it, but sometimes they’re provided summaries that are helpful.

What is the format of the class? It’s a 2-hour block, and teacher-talk never lasts more than 15 minutes.  The rest of the time is group work, discussions, whiteboard activity design followed by a gallery walk, large group debriefing, etc.  There are usually 3-4 different activities in each class.  They discuss in groups of 4, have weekly readings, and discuss those weekly readings as well as their teaching experiences during the week.  There’s also a peer evaluation component, where they observe and evaluate other LAs’ teaching.

How is it connected to their teaching activities? One LA described their teaching experience in their assigned course as the “lab” for the pedagogy class.  Of course, there is a limit to how well connected the pedagogy course can be to their teaching experience because each LA has very different course assignments.  But they’re encouraged to apply what they’re learning, and are given reflection questions after each topic to consider how they might apply these ideas to their teaching.

LAs said that even if they don’t become teachers, the course isn’t a waste of time.  It opens up their options, and lets them try out teaching and see if it’s something that’s interesting to them.

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