Teachers, Quality, and Partnerships

(This week’s blog comes from Dr. Todd Finley, Associate Professor of English Education, at ECU. Dr. Finley specializes in the intersections between technology and literacy and maintains a weekly blog on Edutopia related to issues of writing pedagogy. In this post, Dr. Finley informs the university community of a project that connects the College of Education and Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences with high school teachers in our community, one goal of which is improving writing and writing instruction.)

by Dr. Todd Finley

A picture of Dr. Todd FinleySupported by a large grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) is a collaboration between ECU’s College of Education and the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, as well as Pitt and Greene County Schools—all joined to enrich prospective teachers’ experiences and demonstrably improve the academic achievement of their public school students. These objectives are being accomplished by focusing on improving teaching and learning in four content areas: language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies.

Dr. Betty Beacham, TQP primary investigator, explains, “Faculty from secondary education and educational foundations programs were identified to become members of the TQP secondary design team.  The team began exploring ways to merge the previous TQP curriculum and clinical practice reform in elementary, middle grades, and special education with the secondary curriculum reform driven by the Common Core.

In June and July of 2012, we participated in a 5-week TQP Secondary Curriculum Institute that involved training in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), Universal Design for Learning, and performance task assessments. Surrounded by white boards, markers, coffee cups, and computer cords in a second floor room of Joyner Library that overlooked the shower head art installation, I was impressed by the focus, stamina, communication skills, and creativity of my colleagues as we planned, shoulder-to-shoulder. Despite our many combined years of expert curriculum knowledge, it surprised me how difficult it was to create a performance task that met our high expectations. So that’s how my pre-service teachers feel when I assign similar tasks! Those struggles and the conversations that guided the development of our final product made me more confident in my ability to guide my senior education majors through the critical decision-making protocols that contribute to strong unit design and high-achieving secondary school students.

One product of the training was a six week unit developed by Rose High School English faculty, an English professor, and English Education faculty, which integrated multimedia investigations, argumentative writing, 21st century literacies, and a literacy practices framework. We learned new ways of thinking about planning by puzzling through our decision making in light of CCSS mandates. We also learned more about each other as classroom professionals; these reflection-rich experiences created a foundation for us to continue the valuable communication that was instantiated during the institute.

This unit is currently being taught by a Rose High School English teacher. “The goal of this collaborative effort is to enable full integration of this comprehensive curriculum reform into teacher preparation courses,” Beacham shares. Video episodes from the enacted lesson will be shared with pre-service English teachers who are designing similar units.

During the summer training, my cohort supplied me with critical feedback as I re-conceptualized the unit planning protocol in my methods course that my secondary pre-service teachers complete in Senior I. The end product is a more methodical and gradual scaffolding of unit design that has been met with enthusiasm from Senior I interns planning their edTPA while they learn to plan. Our TQP group is also in the process of developing modules that will help interns at ECU and elsewhere learn to critically align their curriculum with Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge.

The TQP is the most significant support for collaborative planning that I’ve experienced before as a professional. It has excited my thinking and deepened my conviction that ECU is providing our teacher interns with a world-class education. The grant-supported reform effort, says Dr. Beacham, “will allow us to prepare beginning teachers to be effective the first day they enter the classroom.”

As for academic writing, our community of high school and college instructors share identical, swaggering, aspirations: to develop individuals who can explore multiple spaces—external, internal, and throughout distributed domains—and think through targeted ways to make them better. These young writers, these agents of change, will be easily identified in first year composition courses; they’ll be the ones leaning forward.

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