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Learning communities creating master teachers

Dissertation
Author: Brenda L. Schnebel Schiermeyer
Abstract:
  The purpose of this descriptive, phenomenographic qualitative case study is to analyze facilitator perceptions of a model for a non-traditional graduate degree in education delivered in the form of integrated, seamless instruction, in a learning community setting, emphasizing social constructivism. Much has been written about the irony of ineffective traditional instructional methods taught currently in the vast majority of classrooms. This paper will examine several issues surrounding the nearly one hundred-year-old concept of the learning community and how it is implemented in one Midwestern state college. Major concepts of social constructivism learning theory, learning community format, integrated curriculum, adult learning theory and the role of the facilitator will be addressed. The five emergent themes included - facilitators perceived that: it is important for learners to personalize concepts, teacher-learners need to be self-directed, learning in a group community setting is a priority, learners need large concepts rather than small details, and best practice strategies are whatever the learners need. Recommendations for additional studies examining other areas within this non-traditional venue will also be offered. Keywords : Learning community, social constructivism, non-traditional education, adult learning theory, integrated curriculum, facilitation, best practices, teaching strategies

TABLE OF CONTENTS Page Abstract 14

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION 15

Background 15

Context of the Study 21

Purpose of the Study 22

Definition of Terms 23

Significance of Study to Teaching 25

Research Question

25

Summary 26

CHAPTER 2: REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE 27

Framework 27

Social Constructivism Theory 27

Adult Learning Theory 29

Learning Community Format 33

Integrated Curriculum 39

Learning Communities Creating Master Teachers 8 Role of the Facilitator 40

Summary 45

CHAPTER 3: METHODOLOGY 46

Research Design 46

Methodology 47

Research Question 47

Methods 47

Participants 47

Recruitment 48

Protection of Human Subjects 48

Modes of Data Collection 49

Interview Questions 49

Institutional Documentation 50

Archival Data 50

Field Notes 51

Modes of Data Analysis 51

Data Analysis 51

Learning Communities Creating Master Teachers 9 Ethical Considerations 52

Limitations and Delimitations 53

Summary 55

CHAPTER 4: FINDINGS 56

Data Analysis 56

Participants 56

Emergent Themes 61

Analysis of Themes 64

Facilitators Perceived that it is Important for Learners to Personalize Concepts 64

Allowing for Learner Choice 66

Relationship Building 68

Facilitators Perceived that Teacher-Learners Need to be Self-Directed 70

Motivation 72

Lifelong Learning 73

Facilitators Perceived that Learning in a Group Community Setting is a Priority 74

Facilitators Perceived that it is Critical to be Members of the Community Themselves 85

Facilitators Perceived that Learners need Large Concepts Rather than Small

Details

88

Learning Communities Creating Master Teachers 10 Facilitators Perceived that Best Practice Strategies are Whatever the Learners Need 91

Giving Feedback 95

Adding Flexibility 95

Listening 100

Modeling 100

Creating Ambiguity 101

Providing Opportunities for Action Research 102

Guiding Questions 104

Making Time for Reflection 110

Facilitators Perceived that Activities Improve with Each Use 117

Tower of Power 117 Defining “The Process” 119 Summary 124 CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSION 125 Research Question 125 Discussion 127 Implications 137

Learning Communities Creating Master Teachers 11

Recommendations 138 Summary 139 References 141 Appendix A: Consent Form of College Represented in this Study 154 Appendix B: IRB Approval Letter 156 Appendix C: E-Mail Consent Form 157 Appendix D: Rights of Research Participants Form 158 Appendix E: Schiermeyer CSM Research Questionnaire 159 Appendix F: Member Check Form 161 Appendix G: Classroom Diagrams 162 Appendix H: Word Frequency List 166 Appendix I: Facilitator E-Mail Survey Results 167

Learning Communities Creating Master Teachers 12 LIST OF TABLES Table Page 4.1 Facilitator Participant Demographics 58

4.2 Findings Organization Matrix 63

5.1 Themes as Connected to Literature 126

Learning Communities Creating Master Teachers 13 LIST OF FIGURES Figure Page 4.1 Learner-Created Values Sample 77

4.2 Diagram of a Classroom 80

4.3 Agenda Samples 99

4.4 Facilitation Team Guiding Questions 109

4.5 Reflection Tools 114

4.6 Learner Reflection Samples 115

4.7 Learner Created Syllabus Sample

123

5.1 The Schiermeyer Learning Community Format Delivery Model: Facilitator Role 136

Learning Communities Creating Master Teachers 14 Abstract

The purpose of this descriptive, phenomenographic qualitative case study is to analyze facilitator perceptions of a model for a non-traditional graduate degree in education delivered in the form of integrated, seamless instruction, in a learning community setting, emphasizing social constructivism. Much has been written about the irony of ineffective traditional instructional methods taught currently in the vast majority of classrooms. This paper will examine several issues surrounding the nearly one hundred-year-old concept of the learning community and how it is implemented in one Midwestern state college. Major concepts of social constructivism learning theory, learning community format, integrated curriculum, adult learning theory and the role of the facilitator will be addressed. The five emergent themes included – facilitators perceived that: it is important for learners to personalize concepts, teacher-learners need to be self-directed, learning in a group community setting is a priority, learners need large concepts rather than small details, and best practice strategies are whatever the learners need. Recommendations for additional studies examining other areas within this non-traditional venue will also be offered. Keywords: Learning community, social constructivism, non-traditional education, adult learning theory, integrated curriculum, facilitation, best practices, teaching strategies

Learning Communities Creating Master Teachers 15 Chapter 1: Introduction Chapter one will include background information, the significance of the study to teaching, the purpose of the study, the research question, and an explanation of the program being investigated. A listing of terms will be provided, along with their definitions as they relate to the scope and context of the study. Background Educators at all levels are well aware of the need for students to become proficient in learning with a deep understanding so that whatever they learn is retained and contributes to useful, practical, meaningful knowledge (Chee, 1997). They also recognize that simply learning facts is not what matters most in an era where information explosion has become the norm – in part due to technological advancements that move too quickly for items in print to keep up. Instead, what matters most should be learning to learn, acquiring the skills of independent thinking and reasoning, and instilling appreciation for lifelong learning (Chee, 1997). Recognizing that problems with traditional teacher-dominated elementary and secondary classrooms currently exist in the quest to get students to think independently, educators are increasingly frustrated as to how to resolve these issues while at the same time honoring the requirements and constraints of standardized testing. Rassuli and Manzer (2005) pointed out that the creative and problem-solving abilities of the learners are suppressed within traditional pedagogy in higher education. As a result, colleges and universities are beginning to listen to these concerns, look into their own teacher education courses and programs, and modify curricula for graduate level programs. In order to address some of these issues, a state college in the rural Midwest has been

Learning Communities Creating Master Teachers 16 offering non-traditional masters degrees in education and administration since 2002 in the form of integrated, seamless instruction, within learning community settings, emphasizing social constructivism theory utilizing a unique delivery model. Price (2005) believed that learning communities are the place for the experimental and cooperative learning that empowers adult classroom teachers as learners. Within this environment, adult-learners of all ages, varied years of teaching experience, and diverse content expertise come together one weekend a month to collaboratively undergo a two- year teaching-style transformation. The college represented in this dissertation study is a model using a non-traditional, learning community style format within its graduate level, Master of Science in Education program. Using the non-traditional graduate level program structure is not consistent with the concept that instruction and learning are typically thought of as occurring in the classroom, which is the basic unit of the typical, traditional curriculum. Brooks and Brooks (1993) identified five problems that arise in conventional classroom settings. First, the predominant direction of communication flow in the typical kindergarten through college classroom generally goes from the teacher to the students. Student- initiated questions and peer / student interactions are not the norm. Second, teachers tend to over-rely on textbooks and simply disseminate the contained information. Third, the structure of most classrooms actually discourages students from working collaboratively. Emphasis in the described classrooms is placed on individual accomplishment and assessment on isolated tasks requiring low-level skills rather than higher-order thinking. Fourth, student thinking is obviously undervalued. In general, the goal of the teacher is merely to determine whether students know the one “right” answer to a question. Fifth,

Learning Communities Creating Master Teachers 17 schooling is premised on the notion that there exists a fixed, objective world based on conventional, predetermined understandings that the student must come to know. In schools fitting the above traditional, teacher-led, conventional description – from pre-kindergarten through upper college levels – students are viewed as successful when lofty test scores are achieved rather than in the understanding and learning of concepts. The emphasis on performance encourages them to stress the learning of techniques, rules, and rote memorization in order to regurgitate facts onto standardized tests. The result leads to very low retention of concepts over time, very little long-term understanding, and low ability to apply what has been learned in situations where such learning could be usefully applied (Chee, 1997). Even when schools appear successful, students exhibiting all the signs of this traditional “success” typically do not display an adequate understanding or retention of the material and concepts which they have supposedly mastered (Brooks & Brooks, 1993; Gardner, 1991; Littky, 2004; Savery & Duffy, 1995; Senge et al., 2000). At the opposite end of this spectrum lies the student-directed, interest-driven, social constructivist classroom. In the schools where these components are combined to focus on student learning, more effective and sustained student achievement is shown (Bredeson & Scribner, 2000; Louis, Toole, & Hargreaves, 1999). This concept is very different from traditional teacher-directed pedagogy. Recreating and sustaining these changes happen, not by force or command, but rather by taking a deliberate approach to opportunities for improvement in schools (Senge et al., 2000). The specific viewpoint of social constructivism can be described as based upon Dewey’s Theory of Learning. Ambiguity, instability, and confusion occur with new

Learning Communities Creating Master Teachers 18 situations and concepts. Following a contextual progression involving interaction with the environment, learners struggle to make connections and meaning prevail over the instability of everyday, real-world events (Dewey, 1925/1981). The state of uncertainty associated with reality cannot be completely alleviated. It can only be interrupted temporarily as individuals attempt to create small pieces of meaning in their daily existence (Prawat & Floden, 1994). For the purpose of this study, “learning” will be referred to as a developmental process (Hung, Chen, & Lim, 2009, p. 3). Within this social constructivist learning-theory approach, learners are strongly encouraged to ask questions of themselves as well as of others, let their voices be heard, make inquiries through dialogue with group members, formulate initial, tentative ideas and patterns rather than absolute, closed statements, keep an open mind that there may be more than one “right” answer, and handle disagreements and differences through discussion, more inquiry, and verbal clarification (Antonacci & Colasacco, 1995). In participating in this type of shared problem solving, students participate in a community of learners, or learning community. A major goal of learning communities is to advance collective knowledge by supporting growth of individual knowledge (Snyder, 2009). Vygotsky (1978) believed that learning occurs first interpsychologically (outside of oneself) before concepts are understood and internalized intrapsychologically (within oneself). Therefore, it is necessary that the instructor respond to student comments, raise questions, and make observations to move discussions in a desired direction. This keeps dialogue moving efficiently, drawing out inactive students, and limiting the voice of dominating learners when they become detrimental to the learning of the group (Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer, 2001).

Learning Communities Creating Master Teachers 19 Due to the constructivist nature of a non-traditional learning community program, lessons are applicable to each graduate student’s personal classroom. Portions of the assignments require the learners to take the concepts from the weekend class and adapt them to each individual classroom. Teacher-learners are then responsible for reflecting on the lessons to further internalize the information. Action research is encouraged from the beginning of the program so that learners become comfortable in making their classrooms better learning environments for their own students. Curriculum concepts are presented as general, whole-concept ideas; and graduate students are guided into comprehension of the materials presented through discussion within a number of diverse collaborative groups (G. Garbe, personal communication, October 19, 2008). Within this teaching model, groups of learners work on problems in the collaborative, social constructivist environment. The goal is to share many alternative viewpoints and challenges as well as help develop each alternative point of view (Cunningham, Duffy, & Knuth, 1993; Savery & Duffy, 1995; Sharan & Sharan, 1992). A practical, problem-based learning approach such as this involves the students in authentic educational problems that are currently occurring in their own classrooms. Since learning occurs naturally and comfortably through social-dialogical processes, the reason for using groups is to promote dialogue (allowing every member’s voice to be heard), exchange perspectives, and continue reflection for deeper understanding of the content material (Mondi, Woods, & Rafi, 2007; Tinto, 1997). Good learning environments fit the needs of the learners, assuring that each individual makes meaningful connections to the concepts (Shea & Bidjerano, 2009). Striking this balance within the learning environment requires the continual cooperation of all participants.

Learning Communities Creating Master Teachers 20 Getting colleges and universities to employ non-traditional curriculum as part of educational practice would be an extremely difficult task. The motivations for and theory behind a social constructivist learning community model, most would agree, are well- founded. Attempting to realize and adapt such learning in the higher education setting would be quite a formidable challenge. This would require a deeper and lasting cultural change in learning and teaching practice that is understandably difficult to achieve (Honawar, 2008). Non-traditional approaches in graduate degree programs will require more time, effort, and persistence to be widespread, accepted, and adopted in traditional colleges and universities. Adult-learners with preconceived ideas of college courses enter into non- traditional learning community programs with skepticism, frustration, and fear. Therefore, a reasonable amount of optimism, shifts in paradigms, word-of-mouth success, and a greater emphasis placed on the importance of incorporating the use of best practices in education would be necessary. It has been nearly 100 years since John Dewey proposed the kind of change in education that would move schools away from teacher-directed, controlling classrooms with abstract concepts to environments in which learning is achieved through hands-on experimentation, dialogue, inquiry, and exposure to the real world. Learning should be approached as a constructive, self-regulated, inclusive, cooperative, and individually different process. It should be evident that learning driven by the theory of social constructivism is better suited to the attainment of deep understanding and retention of knowledge within students (Chee, 1997). The challenge, however, is for educators at all levels to take the time to create purposeful learning situations driven by content,

Learning Communities Creating Master Teachers 21 meaningfully guide and facilitate the creation of deep understanding, and allow the learners to uncover subject material in ways that are thoroughly understood by each individual. It is a juggling act for the teacher to undertake this challenge while balancing time, content, mandated testing, and student learning differences. Many instructors are unwilling to give up total control of their classrooms to make this happen. A variety of barriers may initially need to be faced and overcome before college facilitators can experience the learning outcomes inherent of a constructivist learning community model. Context of the study The college represented in this study has a long, rich, and established tradition of diverse teacher education programs ranging from undergraduate to masters level. One of these programs is a Masters of Science in Education with an emphasis in Curriculum and Instruction delivered in a learning community format which is the subject of this study. The learning community delivery model was purposefully designed to provide area kindergarten through twelfth (K-12) grade teachers opportunities to reflect about their profession as a group and engage each other in a learner-directed environment. The communities are typically made up of between 20 to 70 teacher-learners. These non- traditional graduate programs usually draw members from a geographical area of a 50 to 100 mile radius from the off-campus site. The teacher-learners attend either as individuals or as persons comprising a group from a school, district, or building. Learning community members meet together at the off-campus class site one weekend a month over a two-year period with the purpose of improving their professional practice while obtaining a masters degree. Members of the community, along with the guidance of a two or three person facilitation team, together develop and

Learning Communities Creating Master Teachers 22 share a common vision, establish values, create standards for learning, devise and implement individual professional development plans (PDPs), and ultimately formulate and conduct action research projects as a culminating program capstone project. All the while, they document their professional growth through continuous reflection in portfolios (Brown & Benson, 2005). Key to the learning community format is the varied and diverse purposeful grouping arrangement created for the function of providing many types of learner support and encouragement. Although the teacher-learners enroll in individual college graduate courses, the experience of the learning is through an integrated, seamless, process driven by learner choice. The learning community delivery format curriculum contains 30 credit hours. Requirements for completion of the program dictate that 36 credit hours are necessary for graduation. Learners must obtain an additional six hours of graduate credits before the degree is awarded. Classes specific to the content the learners teach in their own classrooms are highly encouraged to enrich and enhance individual practices of the learners. The impact of the learning community experience on the teacher-learners indicated that the capstone action research projects they chose focused on their individual content areas. Learners, through their capstones, all illustrate personal stories of classroom teachers implementing what they learned while enrolled as members of the masters program delivered in the learning community format. Purpose of study This phenomenographic, qualitative case study has a threefold purpose. It seeks to research, depict, and define the role of the facilitator of the learning community model as represented in this study.

Learning Communities Creating Master Teachers 23 Definition of Terms The following definitions were used for the purpose of this study. They represent the best “fit” from the literature when considering the context of this study. Adult education. “activities intentionally designed for the purpose of bringing about learning among those whose age, social roles, or self-perception define them as adults” (Merriam & Brockett, 1997, p. 8) Adult learning. “the process of adults gaining knowledge and expertise” (Knowles, Holton, III, & Swanson, 2005, p. 174) Adult learning theory. “seeks to explain how the process of learning as an adult differs from learning as a child” (Snyder, 2009, p. 49) Andragogy. theory of adult learning based on the assumption that adult-learners learn differently from child learners (Knowles, 1990); hypothesizes that adult learners are self-directed and have been expected to take responsibility for personal decisions; “the art and science of helping adults learn” (Knowles, 1980, p. 24) Collaboration. described by Barojas (2004) as a problem-solving pursuit of common goals; collaborative groups create their own direction and sources (Berry, 2008) Constructivism theory. philosophy of learning founded on the theory that learners have constructed their own understanding of the world they live in by reflecting on their prior experiences and adjusting mental models to accommodate new experiences into existing schema (Boud & Lee, 2005; Chee, 1997; Hartnell-Young, 2006; Windschitl, 1999)

Learning Communities Creating Master Teachers 24 Facilitation. a pedagogical term that applies to student-centered approaches to learning as opposed to teacher-driven; the teacher’s role moving from expert to one of facilitation – ‘sage-on-the-stage’ to ‘guide-on-the-side’ (Tinto, 1997) Integrated curriculum. described by Shoemaker (1995) as “Education that is organized in such a way that it cuts across subject-matter lines, bringing together various aspects of the curriculum into meaningful association to focus upon broad areas of study. It views learning and teaching in a holistic way and reflects the real world, which is interactive” (as cited in Walker, 1995, p. 1) Learning activities. “thinking activities that people employ to learn” (Vermunt, 1996, p. 25) Learning community. a group of “experts and novices, all learners, working together to build knowledge across various domains” (Hartnell-Young, 2006, p. 1) who have interests and needs in common Learning strategies. patterns or series of learning activities used by students naturally (Vermunt, 1996) Learning style. a coherent whole of learning activities that students usually employ, including their learning orientation and their mental model of learning; a whole that is characteristic of them at a certain period (Vermunt, 1996) Self-directed learning. occurs when students are active participants in their own learning, learning at their own pace and using their own strategies; they are more intrinsically than extrinsically motivated; and learning is more individualized than standardized; an essential part of the maturation process (Knowles, 1975)

Learning Communities Creating Master Teachers 25 Social constructivism theory. talking through the new ideas and information with others as a way of negotiating meaning (Fosnot, 1996) Significance of study to teaching One significance of this study to teaching was to provide research on and a better understanding of the role of the facilitator in the Midwestern state college’s learning community delivery model represented in this study. Another significance was to examine strategies that may influence teachers in the pursuit of a constructivist, non- traditional Masters of Science in Education program. Presenting information that may contribute to the development of teachers who will create student-led classrooms will be an additional benefit. Moreover, this knowledge could help institutions that are delivering or considering implementing a non-traditional, learning community format delivery in their graduate courses, to attract, train, and retain talented facilitators so they might more effectively assist teacher-learners. Research Question In order to complete this phenomenographic, qualitative case study, the following research question was addressed: What structural components, methods, and best practice strategies do facilitators perceive they need to use when engaging in the learning community delivery model represented in this study? This study investigated which learning community structural components were utilized when facilitators engaged in the delivery format model represented in this dissertation study. By analyzing and then describing the integral elements of this particular learning community format, knowledge of non-traditional adult graduate

Learning Communities Creating Master Teachers 26 programs in education may be increased as a result of the findings. This study will outline which methods facilitators need to use when engaging in this type of learning community model. This study will include findings in regard to cohort learning in an integrated graduate teacher education setting. Furthermore, the findings will show which best practice strategies facilitators believe they need to use when engaging in a learning community model such as the model represented in this study. This research may offer insight into the use of effective strategies for cohort education programs. Another benefit may include adding testimony to the research on what constitutes effective instructional practice in reference to adult learning. Summary This chapter set forth the introduction, purpose of the study, research question, definitions of terminology, and background of the program being studied that will be used throughout this dissertation. Chapter two will be a review of literature related to social constructivism theory, adult learning theory, and learning community format. The subjects of integrated curriculum and the role of facilitator will also be addressed. Each topic frames the study.

Learning Communities Creating Master Teachers 27 Chapter 2: Review of Related Literature Chapter two will include a compilation of relevant literature to explain and frame elements of the program being studied. The areas of research to be included in this study will be social constructivism theory, adult learning theory, learning community format, integrated curriculum, and role of facilitator. Framework Social constructivism theory. The basic premise of constructivism theory is simple: individuals construct their own understanding of the world around them (Chee, 1997; Boud & Lee, 2005; Dewey, 1925/1981; Hartnell-Young, 2006; Windschitl, 1999). The general view is that 1) learning is an active process of constructing rather than acquiring knowledge, and 2) instruction is a process of supporting that construction rather than communicating knowledge. Weaknesses in traditional schools stem from a lack of appreciation that to be effective, human learning is based not so much on knowing, but rather understanding (Bruner, 1990). To learn with understanding, students must make sense of what they are studying by synthesizing and connecting new information and experiences into existing intellectual schema (Harrington & Enochs, 2009). Learners at any level also need to come to accept and appreciate uncertainty and ambiguity, while learning to inquire. The process of questioning is very time-consuming to instill in learners. Constructivism should not be viewed as a theory of instruction; it is a theory of knowledge and of learning (Fosnot, 1996). It defines knowledge as being “temporary, developmental, socially and culturally mediated, and thus, non-objective. Learning from this perspective is understood as a self-regulated process of resolving inner cognitive

Learning Communities Creating Master Teachers 28 conflicts that often become apparent through concrete experience, collaborative discourse, and reflection” (Fosnot in Preface to Brooks & Brooks, 1993, p. vii). Because it puts forward such a different relationship between knowledge and what takes place in the traditional classroom, von Glaserfeld (1993) suggested that constructivism is better viewed as a theory of knowing than as a theory of knowledge. Constructivism is not reduced to mechanical memorization for fact recall as with some of the traditional educational models. One reason for the resurgence of constructivism is its compatibility with technology. In addition, the evaluation of comprehension and understanding cannot be based on what students are able to repeat. Rather, it must be based on what they can generate, demonstrate, and exhibit (Andrew, 2007; Brooks & Brooks, 1993; Gardner, 1991; Tinto, 1997). Information is processed in this manner according to the social constructivist principle regardless of age or educational level of the student, and goes hand-in-hand with the learning community model. In describing social constructivism, Tsang summed the process as, “when someone doesn’t understand something, it bothers them internally – this nagging is resolved when one has the chance to experiment by doing, share the experience with others, and have time to think about the confusion” (2004, p. 1). Within the fostering of dialogue, students are assisted in drawing connections. Further group discussion helps them to incorporate these connections into higher-level themes (Weller, 2007). In a setting of collaborative learning, graduate level teacher-learners can safely criticize their own and fellow students’ contributions, ask for clarification / explanations, and give counter-arguments. In this way they are stimulating themselves and the other learners in an attempt to make sense of the knowledge (Delaat & Lally, 2003; Wells,

Full document contains 187 pages
Abstract:   The purpose of this descriptive, phenomenographic qualitative case study is to analyze facilitator perceptions of a model for a non-traditional graduate degree in education delivered in the form of integrated, seamless instruction, in a learning community setting, emphasizing social constructivism. Much has been written about the irony of ineffective traditional instructional methods taught currently in the vast majority of classrooms. This paper will examine several issues surrounding the nearly one hundred-year-old concept of the learning community and how it is implemented in one Midwestern state college. Major concepts of social constructivism learning theory, learning community format, integrated curriculum, adult learning theory and the role of the facilitator will be addressed. The five emergent themes included - facilitators perceived that: it is important for learners to personalize concepts, teacher-learners need to be self-directed, learning in a group community setting is a priority, learners need large concepts rather than small details, and best practice strategies are whatever the learners need. Recommendations for additional studies examining other areas within this non-traditional venue will also be offered. Keywords : Learning community, social constructivism, non-traditional education, adult learning theory, integrated curriculum, facilitation, best practices, teaching strategies