Concept Mastery and Teacher Interview

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The two images above were taken at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The first image was taken on March 7, 1965 (Bloody Sunday) and shows local Alabama policemen beating Civil Rights activists. The second image was taken on March 21, 1965 when Civil Rights activists, led by Martin Luther King Jr., returned to Selma to cross the bridge on their march to Montgomery, Alabama, this time under the protection of federal troops.

 Concept Mastery

As a historian one of the most significant concepts in American history is the concept of power. The concept of power is complex and intersects with other big concepts in American history, like racism and equality. The idea of who has power and what kinds of power those  people have has shifted and changed throughout American history. To talk about concept master I want to focus briefly on that concept through investigating the two images above. This cannot only demonstrate what concept mastery is, but will also give an example of what that might look like.

Concept formation, as told by Larson and Keiper, is an instructional approach that helps students learn critical attributes of history. It provides students with the ability to become their own historians by examining examples that relate to attributes of the concept, by drawing conclusions about the similarities and differences between examples, and then to communicate those findings in relation to the concept (Larson and Keiper, 155).

In selecting a concept teachers should focus on a few powerful ideas that they want students to explore on in their classroom throughout a unit or the entire year. These concepts, maybe five or six, should be critically important for students to learn and could possibly be built upon in other content areas. My concept of power is one that will carry from the colonial period (particularly in relation to the place of women, Native peoples, and enslaved individuals) through today (for example gay rights activists). Additionally, this topic could be built upon in English as it is a frequent topic in literature.

Once the topic is selected teachers should study a few examples and gather evidence about those examples. So in my lesson on Civil Rights in the 1960s my two examples are from the Selma Marches. I have gathered images for students to investigate and would pair them with primary sources from individuals at the marches and secondary articles that explain them. As a teacher I have already gathered my evidence, but students should be allowed to explore the evidence as individuals or in small groups rather than me, as the teacher, telling them my conclusions.

After students study these two examples I would have them come back from their small groups to report to the class. So in these pictures who has the power? Students can report their observations about the pictures and the sources which can clarify questions they could not answer and verify what they have done.

The first thing students could report are the differences they saw between the examples. The differences are striking. In the first it is obvious that the policemen have the power and are physically assaulting activists. In the second the activists have the power. Not only does it seem that they have power through numbers, but students would have learned that the images of violence from the first march had turned popular opinion to their side and they were able to march across the bridge again peacefully.

The second thing students could do is to report on similarities. One similarity could be that they are taken at the same place. Another could be that they are similar groups and have similar aims.

Then students could synthesize what they have learned about these examples and about the concept into a sentence or two on their own. Students could share these sentences to check to see what others have done and teachers can engage students while they are synthesizing their thoughts.

As a class I could ask students to label parts of this concept by looking at the similarities and differences in our case study. So things students could label as a subset of power could be institutionalized racism, public opinion, and governmental authority. All three of which play a part in these two situations.

Finally, I should asses student understating by engaging them in clarifying tasks. Larson and Keiper suggest focusing on allowing students to distinguish between other examples and non-examples of the conflict. I might, instead, ask them to produce their own examples that are similar to the ones in this case study. Some might bring up protests over women’s suffrage, while others might talk about the Trail of Tears.

As I’ve demonstrated, concept mastery has use within hsitory and outside. Though my example is a quick one, and addmitedly needs more work, it gives us a glimpse into what this might actually look like in the classroom. Concepts underly history and for students they connect events from the past to the present.

Focus on Teachers

For this portion of my blog I chose to interview my cooperating teacher in my field placement. The teacher I’m working with has been teaching full-time for over seven years and has taught both middle school and high school social studies.

I started by asking him about what he believed expectations were for young teachers, particularly because he is not that far from when he started teaching. The first thing he focused on was personal dispositions of beginning teachers. Young teachers should, he said, be committed to lifelong learning and should be dedicated to learning more about their content areas and educational pedagogy. Furthermore, young teachers should be able to work on a team, not just on a team within their own content area, but also with teachers across other disciplines. My teacher also believes that young teachers should seek help and support from professionals within the building and should also become active within school and community activities. Finally, he stressed the importance of young teachers to communicate frequently with parents. He said that by establishing contact with parents before the school year starts and frequently updating them on their child’s progress can not only help the student, but can also be a way to head off behavior problems before they start. While having a deep understanding of content is important, my teacher believes it is everything else that really makes a young teacher successful.

Next, I asked him about what the stresses and strains of being a teacher were. For him, the hardest part about being a teacher was being able to keep his teaching life and his personal life apart. It is, he said, a daily struggle to try not to take too much work home to do outside of class and he consistently worries about his students outside of class as well as inside. On top of this, he said he found it challenging to keep up with constant changes in teaching, particularly changes in expectations of what teachers should do within the classroom. But perhaps the most stressing thing of being a teacher is being able to reach struggling learners effectively because there are always some students who prove hard to reach. It is those students that he loses the most sleep over.

Finally, I asked my teacher about his ideas on planning. His first reaction was to talk about standards and the importance of looking at the standards and designing lessons and instruction around those as your end goal. While planning he stressed the importance of differentiating instruction to be able to hit on different learning styles of students (VAK: visual, audio, and kinesthetic). Part of this is to integrate different forms of technology in the classroom to assist learning. Teachers should also plan warm up and closure activities for each lesson to provide an entry way into the lesson and a sense of closure of the lesson. Finally, he said that he thinks about each lesson in relation to the students he is teaching and creates the lesson according to that particular class’s needs and/or interests.

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