When TEACH-NOW was still an idea, I asked myself, “What would the ideal teacher preparation program look like?” I examined the research on the most valuable components of teacher preparation programs as rated by practicing teachers in the United States. Not surprisingly, the teachers rated their clinical experiences and own teaching experience highest, but “learning from other teachers/colleagues” was a close second, not only by teachers surveyed in the research studies, but also by our survey of TEACH-NOW alumni, as seen in this chart:
TEACH-NOW’s digital program builds in clinical experiences throughout the program, but to ensure opportunities for “learning from other teachers/colleagues,” the second most highly rated preparation component, I knew that TEACH-NOW should be based on a collaborative learning-to-teach model. This model would differ significantly from the traditional higher education and P-12 classroom teaching and learning paradigm. Instead of emphasizing individual learning through tests, quizzes, and individual assignments and projects, TEACH-NOW candidates would learn from and with each other as they work together on projects. Yes, there would be individual activities, but unlike traditional classrooms, TEACH-NOW’s model is designed to be collaborative and transparent: everyone in the class cohort can see, comment on, and discuss everyone else’s work. Project-based learning and the flipped classroom model, in which P-12 students work and learn collaboratively by bringing a project to fruition, are turning traditional classroom teaching on its head. Teacher candidates in the TEACH-NOW preparation program experience a parallel collaborative learning-to-teach model which prepares them well for the 21st century classroom that is moving to project-based collaborative learning to improve problem-solving, critical thinking, and deeper learning.
Charlotte Danielson highlighted the research findings on collaborative learning in a recent Ed Week article:
“Overwhelmingly, most teachers report that they learn more from their colleagues than from an “expert” in a workshop. When teachers work together to solve problems of practice, they have the benefit of their colleagues’ knowledge and experience to address a particular issue they’re facing in their classroom.” (Danielson, 2016)
Too, in his Ed Week blog, Tom Vander Ark lists the traits of a learner-centered teacher—number 1 is ‘act as facilitator and guide’; another of the seven is ‘truly encourage students to drive their own learning.’ TEACH-NOW follows those precepts to reimagine and re-engineer teacher preparation for the 21st century.
The TEACH-NOW Collaborative Learning Process
In the TEACH-NOW program, candidates are engaged in group and individual activities throughout the week. In addition, we expect candidates to question, comment, and discuss the individual work of their peers. Because TEACH-NOW is a digitally-based program with candidates in more than 80 countries and 40 states, our candidates learn to use tech tools to collaborate and share their work.
Many of our graduates tell us they are now training teachers in their schools in using tech tools to collaborate on their own learning and professional development as well as to enhance student learning. We have received numerous thanks from alumni for equipping them with 21st century tools that make learning fun and engaging. These teachers have the opportunity to become teacher leaders in their schools very rapidly as they introduce new digital learning strategies.
Collaborative Learning Boosts Candidate Performance
We measure candidate collaboration in a number of ways. As an example, this scatter plot reveals the relationship between the degree of collaboration and candidate grades; most high collaborators receive high grades; those who collaborate the least are usually the least successful in the program.
Measuring Collaboration in Cohorts: Part of the Continuous Improvement Process
As the number of cohorts increases, we will use these analyses and visual representations as diagnostic tools to examine why a cohort may be collaborating more or less than average. We’ll be able to sort by relevant variables to help pinpoint the answers. Which instructors are most highly rated? Do these ratings correlate with cohorts with high rates of candidate collaboration? What strategies are highly rated instructors using to enhance candidate collaboration? TEACH-NOW is committed to continuous improvement; with a click on our laptops we can quickly gather and analyze data on each cohort, each student, and each instructor.
With the collaborative learning-to-teach paradigm at its center, TEACH-NOW is leading the way in training tomorrow’s teachers for tomorrow’s learning world.