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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Chapter 4: One Final Word


In this chapter, readers will have found little explicit reference to skill development in students or to professional development in teachers. This is because we see both as an integral part of the inclusive class: skill development is embedded in the delivery of academic content and professional development is an ongoing, vibrant force that results from the active teaching that is required.

In the example from our Theory of Knowledge class where students built three-dimensional models to represent their concepts of historical knowledge, students synthesized knowledge in an inductive process. They recalled associations, terms and phrases to do with history, then compared similarities and differences in recollections to those of their peers within the group, all the while learning and remembering other words. Students then went on to sort their information into chunks, developing categories of knowledge and evaluating decisions for clustering specific ideas together. Finally, as their 3-D representations of historical knowledge were constructed, students created new and personal knowledge at the level of metaphoric thinking: "History is like a starburst, e.g., take the US Embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. The event takes place and then all the possible investigations radiate outwards from it. Each of the rays of the starburst represents aspects of the historian's work. It is the historian's job to evaluate data, identify bias and judge the reliability of sources. He then has to develop an interpretation. Much of the interpretation will depend on the data he has selected, interacting with his own prior knowledge, experiences and emotions that have developed up to the point of the incident."

The same class also provided us as teachers with an opportunity for reflection and professional growth. We had gone into class with detailed lesson plans ready: the 3-D model was the culminating activity of the 80 minute class as well as of the unit on historical knowledge. Aside from the curricular objectives for students, we were working on our own professional agendas as well, to further develop our own craft as teachers. Specifically, we were interested in:

• Developing precision with language in communicating instructions; and
• Refining the timing/pacing of lessons and activities.

After taking the students through the first 40 minutes, we launched into the 3-D model activity, passing out index cards to each student with the instructions, "What do you think of when you hear the word 'history?' Write down on each index card the words or phrases that come to mind when you hear the word history." Some students immediately began writing and simultaneously, other students' hands shot up in the air. "Do you mean we should write a definition of history?" "How many words do you want on each card?" (This was a good question, as we had not specified that we only wanted one word or phrase per card.) "How many index cards do you want?" "Do you want everything we know about history on one card?" Clearly, the instructions were not sufficiently precise.

We had already announced several weeks before that as teachers, we were working on our pacing and had asked students to give feedback as to how we were doing - were we providing sufficient processing time for each activity? As simple as it sounds, pacing requires ongoing, dynamical assessment of multiple features of classroom life: • What moods are the students in that day?

           • Is it an early morning class or is it late in the day?
                                     • How are students interacting with each other?
                                     • How is my mood affecting student learning?

• How are students reacting to the material?

                       • Do they understand the material? (How can I tell?)
                       • Which ideas excite/frustrate/interest or bore them?
                       • Have I facilitated a hook into prior knowledge or found some other way to help them understand
                         the relevance of the material?

• How are students responding to the planned activity?

                       • Have I given them enough time to process the material and conduct the activity?
                       • Do students consider they have had enough time?
                       • What needs to change immediately in my presentation style to re-engage students?

Assessing these multiple features will allow teachers, particularly those who are task-oriented, to strike the balance between presenting content and providing time for students to process content and conduct individual inquiry.

As a result of our work on pacing, we have come to develop more fully and use more frequently the strategy of "signal time." This is the strategy wherein students are asked, ahead of the planned end of the activity, to signal by way of holding up their fingers, how many more minutes they need to complete their work. This simple strategy serves several purposes: it reduces stress by allowing students to have input into the time remaining; it keeps students focused, knowing that time is finite (and they have had a stake in determining that time); and finally, it informs students that the class is about to go into a transition period, perhaps with a class presentation or a new activity. This is congruent with the principles of brain-based learning outlined at the beginning of the chapter.

With carefully crafted instruction in the inclusive classroom, teachers and students become partners in learning.

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