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Transformative Teaching Methods & Lesson Plans Kurt Love, Ph.D. Central Connecticut State University

Transformative Teaching Methods

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Transformative teaching practices

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Page 1: Transformative Teaching Methods

Transformative Teaching Methods &

Lesson Plans

Kurt Love, Ph.D.Central Connecticut State University

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What is a “Lesson”?

It depends on your conceptual frame...

What are the traditional, liberal/progressive, and transformative definitions of lessons?

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Traditional LessonLearning experiences focused on facts, “right answers,” skills, and concepts for the students to know and internalize

Liberal/Progressive Lesson

Learning experiences focused on facts, skills, and concepts including connections to the interests of the students

Transformative LessonLearning experiences focused on generating “thick descriptions” of social, cultural, and ecological (including “natureculture”) relationships; “deep” historical and aesthetic explorations of community (social, cultural, and ecological as the major components of any community) with investigations of power/knowledge relationships

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Metaphors Matter

Based on Conceptual Frames

Traditional: Teacher-as-director

Lib/Prog: Teacher-as-facilitator

Transformative: Teacher-as-mediator

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Metaphors MatterBased on Conceptual Frames

Traditional: Teacher-centered banking method

Lib/Prog: Student-centered banking method

Transformative: Students as social theorists, sociologists, culturalists, community activists, and ecologists

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Teacher has destination in mind and provides the directions to take in the learning experience


Teacher has destination in mind, but students and teacher provide the directions to take in the learning experience towards that set destination


Teacher knows that there is no end destination, only stops along a journey. Students and teacher explore community to take in the learning experience. Although no set destination is established a priori, students arrive at a variety of destinations depending on their path. This is a “true” research and/or inquiry approach that is connected to community and social identities.

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Common Questions About Transformative TeachingDoes this mean that we can’t plan lessons?

Planning for transformative learning experiences is generally more complex because of the amount of research the teacher needs to do in order to understand the current global and community-based issues. Also, designing the learning experience takes more effort to find an authentic context.

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Common Questions About Transformative Teaching

Does this mean that we can’t assess students if we use transformative teaching practices?

Assessment is also more involved than in traditional or lib/prog settings. Teachers can and should check to see how students understand concepts, but the “real” assessment is how they interact/perform in the community.

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Major Parts of Transformative Lesson Plan

Essential/Central Question(s): These drive the lesson and will generally be answered by the end of the lesson to some degree of significance

Objectives: They mirror the essential/central questions. They are usually written as, “Students will be able to...” indicating that there is something new that the students will be able to actually do.

Assessment: These are the actions that the students can now do, which the teacher checks for to see to what extent the students can actually do them. Assessment occurs frequently, and in various forms, throughout the lesson.

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That’s a little backwards...

Step 1: Think about what you want the students to be able to do (i.e. Central/Essential Questions & Objectives)

Step 2: Think about how you will assess their ability to do what you want them to be able to do (i.e. Assessment)

Step 3: Think about how you would like them to learn to be able to do what you want them to do (i.e. Activity).

In other words, think about assessment before you think about the activity.

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AssessmentBased on your Conceptual Frame:

Traditional: Teacher-Centered “Banking Method”

Lib/Prog: Student-Centered “Banking Method”

Transformative: “Authentic” & Thick Descriptions of Community

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ActivityTransformative activities have 2 primary goals:

a) engaging in “thick description,” that is, helping students shape their thoughts with the inclusion of social justice, ecojustice, and multiculturalism,

b) being rooted in some kind of community involvement.

Don’t get trapped in binary thinking. This does NOT mean that skills and content are not included. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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“Thick Description”Mainstream


Null Message

These two might set up a binary


RelationshipsThese two

generally show a complexity not

binary “packaged” info



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Oral histories


Raising Awareness

Art Exhibits


Connecting with elders

Connecting with community leaders

Connecting with artists/musicians

Field trips

Meeting/petitioning gov’t officials

Community Involvement

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DifferentiationCognitive connections: Connecting with students’ diverse ways of learning.

Cultural connections: Connecting with the diverse cultures of your students. Breaking out of the Eurocentric mindsets present in the curriculum.

Levels of resistance: Connecting with students who are creatively maladjusting because they see schooling as hurting them.

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Transformative Teaching Practices Continuum

Transformative Context

Co-centering traditional curriculum with transformative perspectives

Transformative perspectives as “add-ons”

No transformative perspectives included

No Transformative Perspectives

Transformative Perspectivesas “Add-Ons”

Co-Centering Transformative


Transformative Context

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Transformative Teaching Practices

Transformative Context A transformative topic(s) is centered and traditional content supports the understanding of the transformative topic(s). Vocabulary learned in order to understand the transformative topic more deeply. Traditional vocabulary is contextualized. Focus is on engaging students in community-based action.

Co-centering traditional curriculum with transformative perspectives

Both the transformative topic(s) and traditional content are equally emphasized. Vocabulary may be generated from student research, but it is also at least partially driven by the established curriculum and/or textbooks. If students engage in social action, it may be a mixture of classroom- and community-centric actions.

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Transformative perspectives as “add-ons” Traditional content is emphasized with transformative topics added as peripheral information. If students engage in action, it is primarily classroom-centric.

No transformative perspectives included The focus is primarily on the established curriculum. A teacher may include a “relevant” topic not emphasized in traditional, established curriculum, but doing so does not automatically mean that it is transformative.

Transformative Teaching Practices

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Teaching methods, or practices, are also defined depending on the conceptual frame that the teacher employs or emphasizes.

What are the traditional, liberal/progressive, and transformative approaches towards methods?

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“Methods”Traditional - Methods as tools to plug in or “deposit” information and reach predetermined destinations; teacher-centered “banking method”

Lib/Prog - Methods as tools to explore various pathways to reach predetermined destination; student-centered “banking method”

Transformative - Methods as pathways for students to explore history and aesthetics to create “thick descriptions” of community (understandings in a social, cultural, and ecological context); “deep sea cave diving” and “dialogical method”

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Transformative “Methods”

Joe Kincheloe: “From the post-formal, new paradigmatic perspective the well-prepared teacher is not one who enters the classroom with a fixed set of lesson plans but a scholar with a thorough knowledge of subject, an understanding of knowledge production, the ability to produce knowledge, an appreciation of social context, a cognizance of what is happening in the world, insight into the lives of her students, and a sophisticated appreciation of critical educational goals and purposes.” (p. 13 from Unauthorized Methods)

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Transformative Cooperative Groups

Traditional and Lib/Prog cooperative grouping has each member with a different task (i.e. timekeeper, recorder, taskmaster, etc.). A critique is that this is very bureaucratic.

Transformative cooperative grouping is about connecting to each student’s strength with some aspect of the community-based issue that is at hand.

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Transformative Inquiry

Focused on authentic, community-based (social, cultural, and ecological), real-world issues as the context and purpose for learning

Uses investigation and exploration as the learning experience

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Transformative Inquiry1. Teacher/students determine a

transformative context

2. “Mess about” & develop testable questions

3. Investigation

4. Report findings & discussion about connections to curriculum; “vocabulary” emerges from findings and teacher’s guidance

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Transformative Socratic Method

Using authentic questions exclusively to explore social, cultural, and ecological relationships embedded in the curriculum

Authentic questions are grounded in asking who we are, what are our relationships, and what our are actions and decisions that support them?

Authentic questions are NOT focused on getting students to generate the “right” answers. These more traditional questions may occur occasionally, but they are not the focus. If at all, they are so that the teacher can check in for understanding so that they can move on towards the relevant issues.

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Transformative Direct Instruction

Can be helpful when the teacher wants to help students construct lenses of analyses.

Can be helpful when the level of disequilibrium is more than the students might be able to handle effectively on their own.

Use it sparingly! It can be done very well, but it can be overdone pretty quickly.

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Transformative Small-Group Discussion

Students working in small groups to explore transformative concepts and develop analyses.

Each small group reports out to the rest of the class.

Teacher might ask for groups to report based on commonalities/differences rather than having each group do its whole presentation.

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Transformative Whole-Class Discussion

Teacher/students driving discussion through transformative analyses and questions.

Good for when everyone needs to be on the same page, but not as engaging as small group discussions.

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Transformative Use of Media

Viewing = consuming

What is transformative “viewing/consuming?”

Creating = producing

What is transformative “creating/producing?”

Viewing/consuming transformative issues is coupled with creating/producing transformative awareness and action in one’s community.

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Transformative Projects

Go beyond posters and tri-fold boards

Working in community-based projects

This is a rich form of assessment that is inherently differentiated, can be done in groups or individually, and can affect communities

Think beyond having students recite facts. Think about having students describe implications and provide analysis.

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Showing Relationships Between Concepts with Graphic Organizers


Venn diagram

Drawing pictures

Mind/concept maps

Cause-effect chart (with prior causes and subsequent effects)

Observation-inference chart

Cornell Notes



Describing Wheel

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Embedded Questioning

Instead of having the questions at the end of the text, they are located to the side of the text.

The questions coincide with the adjacent text.

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“Initiation” or Framing the Discourse

Initiating Communication: Rev their engines with interesting, relevant, real-world connections

Use contemporary issues as much as possible to set up the frame of discourse and analysis that will then be used for the rest of the lesson.

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“Closure” orGoing Beyond Exit Slips

Closing communication: An important opportunity to check in with the students to see where their thinking is. This is information that will help you plan, adjust, and modify for the next class meeting.

Researchers focus on implications rather than on rote memorization. Ask What does this mean for us as a people? rather than What does this mean? and What does that mean?

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Extending the Learning Experience

Homework is the traditional concept here, but this can be reconceptualized to an activity that extends thinking and analysis.

Ask one question that’s open-ended and requires analytical or relational thought. The “facts” or concepts that you want the students to know will be embedded...guaranteed!

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Transformative Lesson Sequence (Version #1)Initiation - Ask a great contextualized, question (use of articles, quotes, images, art work, videos, excerpts from texts, etc.) to connect with community.

Activity - Students work in small groups to support each other’s thoughts. They report out their thoughts to the class. Students investigate these issues in the community (local or global).

Closure - Ask questions the implications of these new thoughts that we now have.

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What about the TEST!?!?

Teaching to the test does NOT create better test scores. Just get that out of your head.

Here’s your brain on the test....

Thinking is reduced to memorizing a bunch of disconnected, decontextualized “fact packages” and meaningless skills that need to be memorized.

THIS IS ACTUALLY HARD TO DO AS A LEARNER!! Your students might as well be memorizing phone numbers from the telephone book.

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What about the TEST!?!?

When learning is contextualized in our community, when it is connected to our social identities, and when it asks us to be better as a people, we don’t usually forget it... Why?...because it’s important to us!

Fortunately, you can’t learn about complex social, cultural, and ecological concepts without learning about the basic facts and skills that curriculum exclusively focuses on.

Ergo, learning in a transformative context creates richer, more robust understandings of the content that is typically on the traditional, standardized tests, and it also happens to create stronger democratic societies that work for social and ecological justice.

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Ok, fine...what’s the catch?

Unfortunately, there are a few:

1. Research: Lots of background research in contemporary and transformative issues.

2. No Easy Answers: You can’t rely on binaries anymore. Knowledge is complex, and connected to issues of power and cultural value systems. Lesson plans are much more complex.

3. Change is Often Misunderstood: Colleagues, administrators, and stakeholders are so focused on high-stakes testing that there’s potential for much questioning and skepticism.

4. Questioning Power: Oh, right...that. Let’s not forget that some people gain from the current social power structures, and what makes it even more difficult is that they generally don’t see themselves as implicated.