Teaching, Active Learning, and Decision Making (TALDM)

The educational system and its related processes are always influenced by changes in society. As part of the system, teacher preparation is shaped by these changes. Candidates must be prepared to teach effectively in a society that is growing more complex each day. The Teacher Education Unit of West Virginia Wesleyan College believes that teaching, active learning, and decision-making are the essential elements for preparation of future professional educators.

Learners enter school with prior experiences, knowledge, skills, attitudes, values and social patterns - all of which add to the complexities of classroom decision-making. The immediate contexts of home, family, peers, and community, influence student abilities, interests, motivation, self-concept and related dispositions for learning. Classrooms contain youngsters who are experiencing personal problems and a variety of cultural conditions. This, in turn, impacts upon their interest in and motivation for schooling. Sometime, pre-service teachers will have the responsibility for educating learners who lack family stimulation and support. Beginning teachers must recognize and understand varying contexts and their influence upon learners.

Teachers function in developmental contexts, both personally and professionally. Similar to learners, they have complex prior life experiences or circumstances. These experiences directly or indirectly influence what is taught and how effectively it is taught. While learners and teachers may operate from different cultural, social, and school contexts, each contribute to the teaching-learning process, and these varying contexts must be considered when planning, instructing, assessing or reflecting on instruction and learning. Beginning teachers must be aware of and sensitive to the contexts that have shaped their beliefs and the effect of these influences on their teaching and decision making.

The theme Teaching, Active Learning, and Decision Making incorporates three broad concepts that are essential to education. First, it recognizes the importance of pedagogy. Teaching requires knowledge of content, curriculum, instruction, as well as the learner, and classroom management contexts. It is the marriage of art and science. Teaching is the skillful act of helping the learner construct knowledge through research-based instructional strategies. According to research by Darling-Hammond (2000), teacher quality (verbal ability, content knowledge, licensing exam scores, and professional development) positively affects student achievement.

The second concept, active learning principles, recognizes the importance of actively seeking and constructing knowledge through the use of a wide range of strategies such as inquiry training, hands-on learning, higher level questioning and discussion, cooperative learning, research, and reflection. Research on instruction notes that students whose teachers employ inquiry-based, hands-on activities, critical thinking skills, and performance assessments in daily lesson plans consistently out perform their peers (Stronge, 2002). Active learning is practiced and employed by candidates as well as public school students.

The third concept, teacher decision making, acknowledges that teaching is a complex activity. Teaching requires informed and thoughtful decisions about the interaction of student, context, curriculum, and teacher, all filtered through various value orientations, not excluding moral and ethical considerations. Through assessment of student learning, reflection, and sound educational practices, candidates seek to develop effective decision-making skills. Opportunities for decision making abound in a typical classroom moment-to-moment, as well as week-to-week. Many decisions are practical or technical in nature while others are more value laden, requiring reflection and analysis. Moreover, an increasingly diverse student population will place even greater demands on decision-making skills and related knowledge bases for beginning teachers. Preparing candidates for effective decision making is not structured in terms of “right,” “wrong,” or even the “best ways,” but in terms of “reasonable or professional” action taken in the best interests of the educational context presented or experienced.

The distinctive theme of West Virginia Wesleyan’s Education Department, Teaching, Active Learning, and Decision Making (TALDM), provides the basis for the interrelationship of professional role development and our beliefs and assumptions about teaching and learning in contemporary social and educational contexts. These beliefs are further reflected and enhanced in the unit’s mission, goals, knowledge base, program processes, and performance expectations. Developed by the unit with input from practitioners, arts and sciences faculty, and other stakeholders, the model addresses what candidates should know and be able to do upon graduation.