Teaching Profession Opinion

Learning to Teach: A Four-Pronged Approach

By Christian J. Faltis — June 12, 2013 2 min read
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More than two thirds of new teachers nationwide enroll in university teacher-preparation programs. By and large these programs are doing a very good job of preparing the nation’s teachers to provide high-quality instruction, particularly in the application of the new Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science standards. Research has shown that strong practice-based models of teacher education provide the best foundation for entering the classroom, so university programs prepare novice teachers through a series of courses and in-class practices.

Christian J. Faltis
Most university-based teacher education programs focus on four essential elements: strong pedagogical content knowledge, ongoing assessment of student learning during instruction, engagement of students in various participation structures, and a deep knowledge of how students learn.

Solid pedagogy depends on deep content knowledge combined with specific practices for how to teach children and youth in the content. Included is an understanding of a range of the intense language demands permeating the new era of standards, which move away from a focus exclusively on content knowledge and toward a display of knowing and doing enacted through oral and written language. This is true for math and science as well. At UC Davis, we carefully select and admit students who have content discipline knowledge; with that solid foundation, they receive methods instruction and guided practice with mentor-teachers to arm them with pedagogical content knowledge to address the needs of all learners when they enter the profession.

The second essential element involves the constant monitoring of student learning through assessment. Credential students learn to recognize and use various forms of student data to monitor learning on a regular basis to inform their teaching to meet students’ learning needs. This essential element is reinforced throughout students’ preparation, and it is embedded into the teacher performance assessment system used in UC teacher preparation.

Learning happens in classrooms where students engage in multiple participation structures, from one-to-whole-class instruction to small groupwork and individual learning. Learning to manage complex instruction in classrooms of 30 or more students requires repeated practice and attention to interaction and engagement in the various structures. The ultimate goal is to ensure students gain equitable access to, participation in, and benefit from high-quality learning opportunities.

Last but not least, learning to teach well requires a deep understanding of learners and their development, which includes ways to support students who have learning differences or difficulties. This also includes knowing how to support student learning of language and content for students who are in the process of learning English. How well new teachers manifest these elements in their classrooms is the most important measure of their success.

Christian J. Faltis is Dolly and David Fiddyment Chair in Teacher Education; and professor of language, literacy, and culture at the University of California, Davis, where he also serves as director of teacher education.

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