Empowering Learners: Theory and Practice of Extra-Classroom Teaching
Spring 2005
Bryn Mawr College

There’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.

-- Leonard Cohen

Prof. Alice Lesnick
Class Meeting Time: Thursdays, 1-4 pm, BYC 106
Office Hours: Thursdays, 11:30-1 or by appointment
BMC Office: Bettws-y-Coed, x7499
Home Phone: (215) 233-1838

Course Overview

A variety of educational reforms in both higher education and the K-12 world require teaching that complements and supplements formal, classroom-based instruction. Those responsible for empowering learners outside of traditional classroom settings take on a challenging role. They must find ways to facilitate learners’ achievement within a particular context — a course designed by someone else. Equally important, they must also encourage students to understand the processes by which they are learning in order to ensure that learning will continue beyond the particular context. To meet the demands of this role, new and experienced practitioners in it must carry out their work from a solid base of knowledge, collegial dialogue, observation and inquiry, and reflection. Such practitioners must explore the theoretical and political dimensions of informal education, including its relation to content-specific education and its situatedness within and alongside institutions.

This course, created by Alice Lesnick and Jody Cohen (with support from the Math Science Partnership of Greater Philadelphia), is designed for students who occupy this learning support role. Its main goal is to help such students develop, refine, and share their knowledge of how best to support learners in extra-classroom educational contexts. The course will use the concepts of collaborative learning and scaffolding – a teacher’s or facilitator’s strategic structuring of interactions or experiences designed both to support and challenge students as they link prior knowledge and skills to new knowledge and skills – as central ways to conceptualize empowering education. Ongoing Praxis field placements through the Peer-Led Instruction Program or other on-campus or extra-campus tutoring/learning support programs will serve as sources of experiential learning, cross-setting inquiry, and challenge. Students will study and contribute to theory-building in the growing field of extra-classroom education, joining the professional conversation now taking place concerning the nuanced types and purposes of such educational endeavors.

Course Goals:

To provide a knowledge base for students as they strive to improve their practice as mentors, tutors, and facilitators.

To study and apply educational research that illuminates methods for leading group sessions and individual tutoring; strategies for metacognition; and approaches to formative and summative assessment (including outside assessment, teacher assessment, and self-assessment).

To create in-depth and ongoing assessments of learners’ needs, progress, and goals through systematic documentation and inquiry.

To use peer review to deepen the reflective practice of learning support tutors/facilitators.

To contribute to a bi-college community of practice engaged with empowering learning within and beyond the Colleges.

Course Structure:

Through a once-weekly session of 3 hours in combination with a praxis field placement (2-3 hours per week), course readings, and writing assignments, students will study three inter-related strands of extra-classroom teaching:

Who are the learners (teachers included)? What do/can we know about them and about ourselves? What do we need to know? What structures of communication will help us teach and learn?

What is the subject matter (including discipline/field, specific classroom culture, and teaching roles)?

How shall I teach (engage in planning, assessing, and revising the actions, interactions, and interventions I undertake) in order to empower learning?

These three strands will be informed by ongoing considerations of culture, communication, and justice with the goal of developing our own and our students’ capacities.

A key way that the course will build on this structure, and act as a stepping stone in developing a bi-college community that empowers learners, will be the creation of student-authored handbook: Theory and Practice of Empowering Learning in Extra-Classroom Settings. We will publish this handbook on the Web through Serendip, thus creating a resource for other people on our campuses and beyond who are engaged with extra-classroom teaching. We hope that this handbook will also serve as a context for future interaction among such practitioners.

Course Policies

This course is demanding in several respects. It is writing intensive. Students are expected to turn in all work on time. All work submitted late will be marked down one grade (3.7 to 3.3) for each day it is late. Work turned in more than a week late will not be accepted. If you need an extension, be sure to ask for it BEFORE the due date. If you wish to revise a paper, you are welcome to do so and to consult with me on the process. Revised papers are due at the last class of the semester.

This course is also a praxis course (field component: 2-3 hours per week for 10 weeks), which means that by taking the course you commit to undertaking a field placement with the understanding that your own and future students’ opportunities to learn from field work depend on your commitment to responsible participation. The course is highly interactive and requires consistent attendance and participation in a class-wide project as well as individuals’ academic assignments.

If you plan to use as your praxis placement work that will be financially compensated, you must agree to complete an extra project for the course in order to ensure fairness in the course requirements for all students in the course. I will work with each individual to develop a project that closely fits your interests and goals.

If you think you may need accommodations in this course because of the impact of a learning difference, please meet with me privately early in the semester. Students who attend Bryn Mawr should also contact Stephanie Bell, Coordinator of Access Services, at 610-526-7351 in Canwyll House, as soon as possible, to verify their eligibility for reasonable accommodations. Haverford Students should contact Rick Webb, Coordinator, Office of Disabilities Services, at or 610-896-1290. Early contact will help to avoid unnecessary inconvenience and delays.

Course Texts:

National Research Council. (1997). Science Teaching Reconsidered: A Handbook. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Bransford,J., Brown, A., & R. Cocking, (eds.). (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Frank, C.. (1999). Ethnographic Eyes: A Teacher’s Guide to Classroom Observation. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Selected articles (course pack), including readings on educational theory, tutoring, mentoring, Supplemental Instruction, informal education, and content-specific pedagogy.

IMPORTANT: You are encouraged to review this course pack and the web-based resources below in order to identify focal areas and gaps in their address to your particular goals. I invite you to empower yourselves by suggesting substitutions in the readings and modifications in the assignments as needed for you to pursue your placement and goals for the course.

Web Resources From the website: “Originating in interactions among neurobiologists, computer scientists, business people, and educators, Serendip is both an expanding forum and a continually developing set of resources to explore and support intellectual and social change in education, in social organization... and in how one makes sense of life.” (materials on Supplemental Instruction) : "How to Grow an Effective Campus-Based Literacy Program" and "Ten Components of a Highly Effective Literacy Program" "Women's Words: A Change Curriculum for Tutors and Learners" "Checklist for a Highly Effective Literacy Program" SCALE's Training Topics Menu"

Course Assignments/Requirements:

  1. A complex written assessment (8-10 pp.) of a learner, including the learner’s literacy profile, subject-area challenges and goals, and instructional plans. This will include an earlier assignment in which you construct and apply a framework derived from course readings.
  2. A reflective essay (3 pp.) on what you learned from the peer review experience in revising our handbook entries.
  3. Field journal (typed, minimum one entry per week, to be turned in for comments from the instructor) in which you keep track of plans, reactions, questions concerning course readings, activities, and field work and explore the development of your thinking, skill, and understanding. Also plan to use the weekly journal to document ideas for other course assignments, such as the assessment of a learner, handbook entry, and final paper.
  4. Online participation (posted every other week to our Serendip web forum) in the creation of a class-wide annotated bibliography of course readings (assigned ones and those you find) and their bearing on practice. This bibliography will be the concluding section of our class handbook. At the end of the course, the class will create a reading list to be part of the Handbook and each individual will be responsible for assembling and refining cogent commentary on a course reading.
  5. An entry (3-5 pp., posted to the web forum) and annotations to others’ entries contributing to our class handbook: Theory and Practice of Empowering Learning in Extra-Classroom Settings. Each entry will need to discuss a critical issue from practice (e.g. in mentoring, tutoring, or group facilitation) in light of broader issues and questions of concern to other practitioners.
  6. Final Paper (10 pp.): A critique of conceptual and empirical research concerning a focal area relevant to the your field work in which you discuss the roles and limits of literature in informing practice.

Class 1

Introductions/Orientation to three strands of course: learners (including you); subject matter (including field, context, and role); and teaching (planning, assessing, revising).

In-class writing activity

Class 2: Theories of Learning

Reading due:
How People Learn, Chapters 1, 2, and 3

Writing due:
Field Journal entry

Class 3: (Science) Teaching Reconsidered

Reading Due: Science Teaching Reconsidered
How People Learn, chapter 7

Field journal entry

Writing due:
Notes toward a framework, derived from early course readings, that sets you up to think about how to write an assessment of a learner. What does it mean to assess a learner? What do you need to take into account to think about that?

Class 4: Constructivism

Reading due:
How People Learn, chapters 4 & 5
Blank, D., Cassidy, K., Dalke, A., & Grobstein, P. “Emergent Pedagogy: Learning to Enjoy the Uncontrollable – and Make it Productive.”
Turner, N. “Learning to Learn.”
Davis, Sumara, Luce-Kapler (2000). “Learning Theories.” In Engaging Minds: Teaching and Learning in a Complex World.
Gardner, H. (1999). “Perspectives of Mind and Brain.” In The Disciplined Mind: What All Students Should Understand. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Class 5: Learning from Observation

Reading due:
Frank, Ethnographic Eyes

Writing due:
Notes for Handbook Entry (Identify a critical issue arising from your field experience that is relevant for others engaged with extra-classroom teaching; jot down questions and ideas that emerge from re-reading and reflecting on your field notes.) These first thoughts on a proposed topic need to be posted to the Serendip web forum for Handbook work by Tuesday of this week.

Field Journal Entry

Class 6: Equity and Diversity

Reading due:
Powell, L. (1997). “The Achievement (K)not: Whiteness and Black ‘Underachievement.’” In Fine, M., Powell, L., & Wong, M., Off White: Readings on Race, Power, and Society. NY: Routledge.
Darling-Hammond, L. (2002). Educating a Profession for Equitable Practice. In Darling-Hammond, French, & Garcia-Lopez (Eds.), Learning to Teach for Social Justice. NY: Teachers College Press.
Ruiz, A. L. (2002). Wanted: Teachers with Consciencia. In Darling-Hammond, French, & Garcia-Lopez (Eds.), Learning to Teach for Social Justice. NY: Teachers College Press.
Baker, J. (2002). Trilingualism. In Delpit & Dowdy, (Eds.), The Skin We Speak: Thoughts on Language and Culture in the Classroom. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Writing due:
Field Journal Entry

Class 7: Understanding Academic Disciplines

Gardner, H. “Disciplined Approaches.” In The Disciplined Mind: What All Students Should Understand. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Bruffee, K. (1999, 2nd edition). Collaborative Learning: Higher Education, Interdependence, and the Authority of Knowledge. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. (Chapter 1)

Writing due:
Begin with your earlier handbook entry draft and take it a step further by making it more public and somewhat more abstract. Conceptualize the issue in such a way that it will be meaningful and relevant to others doing similar work. Post this draft to the Serendip web forum.

Field Journal Entry

Class 8: Perspectives on Math and Science Education

Reading due:
Grobstein, P. “Getting It Less Wrong: Some Thoughts on Introductory Science Teaching After Biology 10, Fall Semester 1993.”
Rickey, D. & Stacy, A. “The Role of Metacognition in Learning Chemistry.” Journal of Chemical Education 77 (8), July 2000, 915 – 920.
Elby, A. “Another Reason That Physics Students Learn by Rote.” Physics Education Research, American Journal of Physics Supplement 67 (8), July 1999, 852 – 857.
Middlecamp, C. & Subramaniam, B. “What is Feminist Pedagogy? Useful Ideas for Teaching Chemistry.” Journal of Chemical Education 6 (4), April 1999, 520 – 525.
Echeverria, P. (2004). “Tips on How to Study Math.”

Helping Children Learn Mathematics by National Academy Press.

Writing due:
Reflective essay on peer review experience.

Field Journal Entry

Class 9: Language, Learning, and Academic Literacy

Reading due:
Connolly, P. (1989). “Writing and the Ecology of Learning.” In Connolly, P. & Vilardi, T. Writing to Learn Math and Science. NY: Teachers College Press.
Kutz, E. (1998/1986). “Between Students’ Language and Academic Discourse: Interlanguage as Middle Ground.” In Zamel & Spack (eds.), Negotiating Academic Literacies. NY: Earlbaum.
Podis, L. & J. (eds.). (1999). Working with Student Writers: Essays on Tutoring and Teaching. New York: Peter Lang. (Chapters 4 (Podis, L.), 5 (Dyehouse, J.), and 6 (Podis, L.)

Writing due:
Field Journal Entry

Additions/revisions to the framework you are developing for assessing a learner. If possible, seek input into this framework from others in your placement and world.

Class 10: Understanding Difficulty

Reading due:
Clifford, (1990). “Students Need Challenge, Not Easy Success.” Educational Leadership, (48), 1:32-36.
Shank, M. (2000). “Striving for Education Rigor: Acceptance of Masculine Privilege.” In Lesko, N. (Ed.). Masculinities at School. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Writing due:
Complex assessment of a learner, incorporating the earlier literature-based framework.

Class 11: Mentoring

Reading due:
Light, R. (2001). Making the Most of College: Students Speak Their Minds (Cambridge, MA/London, England: Harvard Univ. Press, chapter 5.
Herman, L. & Mandell, A. (2004). From Teaching to Mentoring: Principles and Practice, Dialogue and Life in Adult Education. London: RoutledgeFalmer. (selection)

Writing due:
Field Journal Entry

Class 12: Student-Selected Disciplinary Focus

Reading Due:
3 articles or book chapters, student-selected – bring to class prepared to present a brief summary and critique.

Writing due:
Field Journal Entry

Class 13: Ongoing Learning

Reading Due:
Guskey & Maranzo, “The Teacher as Self-Directed Learner”
How People Learn, chapter 8

Writing due:
Completed Handbook Entry and Bibliographic Entry, to be posted to Serendip.

Class 14: What have we learned?

Writing workshop
Final paper due at the end of finals period.