The Acorn

A Newsletter for CSB/SJU Cooperating Teachers

Volume 2, issue 3 * September 18, 2019

Growing, Nurturing, Developing, and Supporting

"The Acorn" is a newsletter for the cooperating teachers working with student teachers from the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University. This publication is intended to help our cooperating teachers understand their roles and responsibilities as well as provide them with current research and best practice on working with student teachers.

We do—Collaborative Communication in the Student Teaching Relationship—Generating a Dialogue in Student Teaching

In the last edition of The Acorn, I wrote about Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR) within the student teaching situation and taking time to let the student teacher’s individual skills and confidence emerge through that process. This article serves as a follow-up to that, specifically looking at the “You do it together” or collaborative learning part of the model. In this segment of the GRR model, students would be negotiating learning together, engaging in dialogue about content and processes in order to gain the confidence necessary for independence. In the student teaching situation, this translates to collaborative communication and dialogue.

In my years as an English teacher, my favorite and most personally challenging lessons usually involved the teaching of writing. I had been trained on and taught students the writing process, Six +1 Traits of Writing, idea generation, argumentation, elements of grammar and style, proofreading, editing, and a large variety of techniques to accomplish writing tasks. To best help students, I used GRR to move from ideation to completed work, especially with younger, less confident writers. In this process, like many English teaching friends and colleagues, I would bleed purple (red can be a bit disturbing) ink all over drafts and final copies of essays. I would provide extensive feedback (monologic communication) in terms of corrections, ideas for improvement, and tidbits of praise. But, student writing didn’t improve much. Why? The feedback came from my frustrations and involved too many areas of focus. I hadn’t really considered the students, their needs, their stumbling blocks, or their interests in the work of providing feedback. After a few years of pulling my hair out, I shifted my practice. Once we moved through the “I do” and early “We do” stages of GRR in writing lessons, I would engage students in a dialogue about their writing. Sitting side-by-side, we would discuss the student’s goals, frustrations, specific areas of need, ideas to consider; essentially, we would have a conversation around writing. The student would then make choices to shape their own work. While this was not the only change I made in teaching writing that proved to be more successful for students (and in keeping more ink in my purple pens), it was the most successful in helping me to build writer confidence and skill, encourage risk-taking, and develop a relationship grounded in small movements toward improvement.

This same idea works in the student-teaching relationship where the cooperating and pre-service teacher engage in conversations about teaching. In that critical time of practice, in the “We do” moments of the GRR process, time for immediate feedback and reflection is essential (Merk, Betz, & O’Mara, 2015, p. 37; Volmer, 2018). As we work with student teachers to improve their knowledge, skills, and practices, we are inclined to want to give feedback on all areas of their lessons. When we see something does not go well, we want to correct it by sharing ‘could haves’ and ‘should haves’ based on our own experiences and beliefs. However, that communication should be conversational rather than directional, which is the case for much feedback. This is not particularly effective as research has found that “increasing feedback will not satisfy students because they seek dialogic not monologic communication” (Bloxham & Campbell, 2010, p. 292). There are times when “goal- or task-directed, specific, neutral” (Ellis & Loughland, 2017, p. 54) feedback is necessary, but there are more times when a collaborative dialogue will advance progress in teaching.

So how do we make this happen? First, we recognize the variety of ideas and voices in the setting and the importance of valuing each voice as equals. Second, we recognize that we bring our own experience and beliefs to the table and that those experiences and beliefs shape the choices we make. Third, we remember that dialogue requires respect for others’ voices, experiences, and beliefs as our work is always done in relationship with one another (Abd Elkader, 2016). With these understandings, we can engage in conversations about teaching, about learning, about methods and pedagogies, about curriculum, and about how we advance in practice and professionalism.

In practice, we can…

*Plan lessons together, listening to each other’s ideas

*Discuss our approaches to classroom management issues and student needs

*Reflect on choices after a lesson is delivered seeking specific ways to improve curriculum and/or instruction

*Observe for specific areas of feedback, keeping the focus on the selection of the student teacher’s need

*Speak openly and honestly, embracing differences without fear of conflict

*Respect each other’s experience and beliefs and use them as starting points for the conversation

Ultimately, we want our student teachers to “participate collectively and individually as authors of their own actions in the use of the tools and practices” (Lampert, Ghousseini, & Beasley, 2015, p. 350) of their content and pedagogies. By engaging in dialogue with one another, this can be done.


Abd Elkader, N. (2016). Dialogic Pedagogy and Educating Preservice Teachers for Critical

Multiculturalism. SAGE Open.

Bloxham, S. & Campbell, L. (2010). Generating dialogue in assessment feedback: Exploring the

use of interactive cover sheets. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(3), 291-


Ellis, N. J. & Loughland, T. (2017). Where to next?: Examining feedback received by teacher

education students. Issues in Educational Research, 27(1), 51-63.

Lampert, M., Ghousseini, H. & Beasley, H. (2015). Positioning Novice Teachers as Agents in

Learning Teaching.

Merk, H., Betz, M., & O’Mara, C. (2015). Teacher candidates’ learning gains: The Tale of two co-

teachers. Networks: An On-line Journal for Teacher Research, 17 (2), 1-9.

Volmer, A. (2018). Co-teaching as a Clinical Model of Student Teaching: Perceptions of

Preparedness for First Year Teaching. (Doctoral dissertation). University of Missouri -

Columbia. (13877174)

Gradual Release of Responsibility Diagram

Big picture

What to Do During Weeks 4 & 5

Remember that helpful information can be found in our handbooks: cooperating teacher handbook and student teaching handbook

Please fill out the cooperating teacher information page if not done so already.

For Weeks 4-5:

  • Work with the student teacher in planning, preparation of lessons and materials, monitoring student work.

  • Review the student teacher’s lesson plans (CSB/SJU approved lesson plans should be used for the first two-three weeks of teaching).

  • Co-teach lessons throughout the day (Consider the Co-Teaching Approaches from issue 2)

  • Informally observe and provide feedback throughout these two weeks.

  • For the formal observation, use this document: Student Teaching Observations (It is not necessary to complete every part of the observation form if not every element was observed).


Allow the student teacher to fully teach in the edTPA subject

Co-teach in other subjects

Build to 90 minutes as lead teacher

Conduct one formal observation in the edTPA subject class


Allow the student teacher to continue with the edTPA-related course and all other sections of that course (up to two classes less than a full-time load, if the student teacher is prepared to do so)

Co-teach in other classes

Conduct one formal observation in the edTPA class

Please continue to visit with the student teacher about how they are doing, what plans you have, how they can contribute, and deliver any feedback you have about the day. It is best to be transparent, upfront, and clear! Student teachers appreciate honestly knowing how they are doing. It helps calm their nerves and assists in building communication.

Culturally Responsive Learning Spaces

Each of our schools has its own culture, and the individuals who learn and work there bring their own cultural identities to the shared space. It is through the lenses and filters of our culture that we take in information and communicate ourselves. To operate effectively and equitably in the shared space of school, we must recognize and respect the cultural references that impact and shape who we are and how we learn.

Culturally responsive teaching asks us to present learning opportunities within the context of culture. Maria Wilson-Portuondo stated, "The increasing diversity in our schools, the ongoing demographic changes across the nation, and the movement towards globalization dictate that we develop a more in-depth understanding of culture if we want to bring about true understanding among diverse populations." That kind of understanding happens when we engage in conversations and build relationships.

The Education Alliance at Brown University has offered suggestions on how we can build our cultural awareness and create learning spaces that are culturally responsive. The ideas below include suggestions found on the Education Alliance webpage:

Research students’ experiences with learning and teaching styles

  • Visit the communities of the students to find out how they interact and learn in that environment
  • Ask students about their learning style preferences
  • Interview parents about how and what students learn from them
  • Engage in conversations about children’s backgrounds and cultures with those who are close to the children
Create an environment that encourages and embraces culture
  • Employ patterns of management that are familiar to students
  • Allow students ample opportunities to share their cultural knowledge
  • Question and challenge students on their beliefs and actions, being respectful to their cultural practices
  • Create a respectful space where students are free to share their beliefs and backgrounds
  • Teach students how to appropriately question, challenge, and support their beliefs and actions

CSB/SJU Education Department

Jennifer L. Meagher, Ed.D.

Director of Elementary and Secondary Student Teaching