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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU College of Education faculty look at different teaching approach

New Mexico State University faculty members in the College of Education are developing an educational model that may change how teachers understand and work with their students.

New Mexico State University students in Kimberly Oliver's teaching methods course work with local high school students in a physical education class. Oliver and her fellow NMSU faculty member and research partner Heather Oesterreich are studying student-centered inquiry as curriculum and its long-term impacts. (Courtesy Photo)

Kim Oliver, a human performance, dance and recreation professor, and Heather Oesterreich, a curriculum and instruction professor, are studying student-centered inquiry as curriculum and its long-term impact on both teachers and students.

Student-centered inquiry as curriculum focuses on educators learning to listen and respond to their students to better facilitate the students' interest, motivation and learning. Curriculum is developed by keeping the focus on the students' interests and needs and then responding to those through both curriculum and pedagogy. While the study focuses on student-centered inquiry in physical education teacher education, the principles can be applied to other content areas.

"Student-centered inquiry is not about letting the students do whatever they want. It is about connecting the students' interests with the lesson content and the state standards," Oliver said.

Oliver and students in her teaching methods course worked with students in physical education classes over several semesters at a local high school. During the classes, Oliver acted as a model and taught the high school students, then allowed the NMSU students to work with them.

"When I'm with my students, I ask myself, 'How do I teach them to be good teachers in the context in which they'll work?'" Oliver said.

The pre-service teachers were required to interview the high school students regarding their perceptions of physical education, what it took to create a safe class environment and which aspects of the state standards most connected with their interests.

Next, the pre-service students worked in groups to teach several lessons during the semester. While one group taught, the other groups observed everything from how the high-school students reacted to how the pre-service teachers treated them. The pre-service teachers then analyzed the observation data and reflected on their experiences.

The researchers also wanted to know if what the NMSU students learned as pre-service teachers carried over into their practice once in a school. To find an answer to this question, Oesterreich and Oliver are studying the different phases of a teacher's career, from when the pre-service teachers are in the methods class, then as they go on to student teaching and lastly, when those same graduates are teaching out in the community.

So far, they have found that the idea of student-centered inquiry as curriculum challenges long-held ideas, such as teachers are always the boss and mistakes mean punishment, not a learning experience (for both the teacher and the student).

Both the pre-service teachers and the students they worked with learned to treat mistakes as a learning experience and to take ownership over their own learning. Pre-service teachers who participated in the methods course also have formed networks to support and encourage each other. While it occurred in student teaching, it has held true for those now out teaching in the community as well.

This approach to teaching and learning helped the pre-service teachers learn how to develop curriculum while keeping in mind that education isn't something done to kids, it's done with them. It also aided in broadening youth experience and understanding of possibilities for being physically active. The high school students were engaged in activities, enjoyed the variety within class periods and gained a sense of community.