Radical redesign of teacher preparation enters next phase

classroom setting

Teacher candidates in ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College are increasingly at the forefront of efforts to improve PreK-12 educational outcomes in Arizona schools, thanks to an ongoing effort by Teachers College faculty to revise the undergraduate curriculum.

Along with implementing the iTeachAZ program, which is expanding the student teaching experience to a full academic year, the college is preparing to implement a full curriculum redesign that eliminates some courses, adds new ones, and revises the rest.

The redesign was in its early stages when a reorganization process in 2009 and 2010 united three separate ASU education colleges under the Teachers College umbrella. “This gave us a unique opportunity to examine the courses offered in all three colleges and select the best elements of all of them,” said Mari Koerner, dean of Teachers College.

An unusual aspect of the new curriculum, planned for implementation in the fall of 2012 upon Arizona Board of Regents approval, is a 25 percent reduction in the number of Teachers College pedagogy classes, to be replaced by coursework focusing on academic content that is relevant for teachers. “It’s not typical for a college to cut back on its own course requirements,” Koerner said. “Our commitment is to do whatever it takes to prepare outstanding teachers for Arizona classrooms.”

A key element in that commitment is to produce new teachers who possess a solid foundation of knowledge in the academic content they will be teaching. Toward that end, Teachers College has reached out to faculty members in colleges across the university to utilize their subject-area expertise.

“Simply, we believe that it takes a university, especially a Research I university, to create a teacher,” said Elizabeth Hinde, director of the Teachers College Division of Teacher Preparation. “Faculty and staff in the college know the schools, districts, politics, and understanding of teaching and learning. Our knowledge combined with the knowledge of faculty in the disciplines is essential to providing prospective teachers with a well-rounded and solid base of both content and pedagogy.”

The ReSETS curriculum is one example of this collaborative approach. ReSETS stands for Reforming Science Education for Students and Teachers; it has brought together some of ASU’s leading scientists, education experts and technology specialists. The result will be five new courses, grounded in the National Science Standards, that employ cutting-edge digital learning resources to effectively prepare PreK-8 teachers to nurture the next generation of scientists and scientifically savvy citizens.

ReSETS course titles include “Discovery,” “Origins,” “Exploration,” “Environment,” and “Sustainability.” The classes incorporate concepts from the physical, life, earth and space sciences; they are designed to help teacher candidates engender an understanding of key concepts among their PreK-8 students.

Teachers College also has worked with faculty from ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to develop a B.S. degree in math with a secondary education concentration, expected to be offered in the fall of 2012.

Math and science are not the only fields affected by planned curriculum changes. Teachers College’s “Children’s Literature” course has been a 300-level course available only to juniors and seniors. “It will now be a lower-division course that articulates across ASU and the community colleges,” Hinde said. “This has been another area of collaboration in the redesign process, working with the community colleges to ensure that their graduates can transition seamlessly into the new Teachers College curriculum.”

Koerner says that while a few prospective Teachers College students may wonder whether the new curriculum is too rigorous, in reality it is designed to ease their transition into the teaching profession by efficiently providing them with the specific knowledge and skills they will need to succeed. “By providing a strong foundation in content knowledge and a thorough understanding of what it takes to be a teacher, we expect the curriculum to have a positive effect on retention rates once our students graduate and begin teaching in their own classrooms,” she said.

In their senior year, students enter the culminating iTeachAZ full-year student teaching program. iTeachAZ was piloted in three Phoenix-area school districts in 2010/11 and expanded to more than a dozen districts during the current school year. During the yearlong experience, teacher candidates spend four days per week in school classrooms, working collaboratively with mentor teachers and fellow students, and one day per week taking Teachers College pedagogy classes delivered by full-time ASU faculty in the partner districts.

“The full-year student teaching experience really enables you to see the students’ growth as well as your own,” said Julie Kerr, who currently is student teaching in a second grade classroom at Lattie Coor Elementary School in the Avondale Elementary School District. Kerr will earn a bachelor’s degree in diversity in language and learning when she completes the program.

“Having the site-based ASU courses has been extremely convenient and effective,” Kerr said. “We are getting the individual attention we need in order to plan effective lessons. I also have benefited by mentorship from other teachers at the school. Whether it is through observations, lesson ideas, or pre-conferences, the other teachers have been really supportive and cooperative. It has been very helpful to be exposed to different viewpoints throughout this entire experience.”

“Our partner districts are very enthusiastic about our programs,” Hinde said. “They have been incredibly supportive and are on board for future years. In fact, we have been contacted by other districts who would like to be included in iTeachAZ as well.”

In recent years Teachers College has successfully competed for multimillion-dollar federal grants and received a large gift from philanthropist T. Denny Sanford. These resources have helped facilitate the major changes now being implemented in the college’s curriculum. “This has created a unique opportunity to more closely align our curriculum with the knowledge and skills we know teachers need to positively impact student learning and with what research tells us about best practices and the way children learn,” Hinde said.

Added Koerner, “The payoff from this process is the same payoff for which we have always strived – to improve student achievement in PreK-12 classrooms in Arizona.”