First-year teacher candidates (TCs) from the Faculty of Education experienced professional learning opportunities during two days of co-teaching mathematics in York Region District School Board (YRDSB) classrooms.
Faculty course directors Heather Bourrie and Marc Husband facilitated the experiential learning exercise, which took place in a Grade 1 classroom and a Grade 4/5 classroom at Phoebe Gilman Public School, where YRDSB teachers are mentoring the York TCs.
The instructional day was organized in phases to maximize learning opportunities. During the first hour, TCs, course directors and mentor teachers met to plan a math lesson, followed by presenting a math problem to the students, and observing and facilitating student thinking.
The group convened in a conference room with samples of the students’ work to discuss student responses, and selected work samples to use in a discussion with the class about their responses to the problem.
This was followed by a debriefing session and discussion of next steps for the TCs.
“Co-teaching is one of the best forms of professional development,” said Bourrie. “Throughout the phases of the experience we were discussing our understanding of effective practice and making choices with the intention of improving the student learning experience. We had a variety of professional resources that we accessed during the learning session as well as the professional knowledge and understanding that each teacher and teacher candidate brought to the table.”
The co-teaching session met a series of learning objectives for the participating TCs, including:
- bringing theory from their “on campus” math class into practice – they had an authentic, “live” experience putting theory into practice and thinking responsively to authentic student action and response;
- opportunities to analyze student thinking in a safe environment with the feedback from mentor teachers and course directors; and
- opportunities to experience the reflection necessary in teaching – reflecting on decisions from the day’s lesson, along with the data provided by students, is a teaching process used to make thoughtful decisions and choices for subsequent learning experiences.
“This was an enlightening experience and small taste of what it means to educate in a broader sense,” said York TC Andre Rufino. “We took what we learned in our “Mathematics in the Junior/Intermediate Division” classroom course and structured the co-teaching as expected. Through anticipation and student response, we were able to constructively and positively work together to come up with what we hoped would garner a favorable response from the students.
“What resulted from that was perhaps the most illuminating,” he said. “The students did not respond to the lesson as we had anticipated, which had us meet again to evaluate the terms of our content delivery. We were able to achieve some positive progress with the students after that, and with another meeting, began to think up some next steps for the students to enhance what they had gained from our lesson.”
Rufino said the experience demonstrated the reality of how a teacher’s work in delivering lessons does not always go exactly as planned, but with careful attention to specific student response, the teacher may be able to reconstruct another lesson that utilizes their prior knowledge in a productive manner.
“This session was just one example of a ‘safe’ and positive learning experience that teacher candidates will need in order to develop their teaching practice,” said Bourrie. “Hopefully this will serve as a stepping stone for them to develop their own problems and facilitate learning through problem solving in the mathematics classroom by seeing how responsive teacher actions and prompts need to be in facilitating learning for students.”