Drop by Associate Professor of Education David Hollier’s classroom on any given day and you’re likely to find his students painting, sculpting, playing with marshmallows or designing board games for children. It’s fun, yes, but it’s also part of Hollier’s emphasis on teaching in unexpected ways. By setting this example, he hopes to encourage Education majors to try new things in their own classes someday.

They have opportunities to do exactly that thanks to a course he teaches every semester to student interns gaining experience in the field. “At big public schools, sometimes you have as many as 30 students in an internship class at a time,” Hollier says. “At St. Edward’s, I teach between four and eight students a semester.”

That makes a huge difference for students; Hollier and his fellow professors are able to devote their time and attention to making sure each student gets the absolute most out of an internship experience. Once a student meets all the prerequisites for student-teaching, professors search for a good mentor teacher for the student to work with, based on the field connections and collaborative understanding that professors at St. Edward’s have with nearby school districts.

“We spend many hours making phone calls and visiting campuses to find the right teacher,” Hollier says. “At times we have to observe a teacher in order to be sure it’s a good fit. We also meet with the mentor teacher to explain what we hope the student will get out of the experience.”

After students are paired with a supervising teacher in the field, the semester begins. Hollier provides backup in a “block-filled” course taught by two faculty members with complementary specializations. In Hollier’s case, that class is Curriculum Assessment Evaluation, co-taught with Associate Professor of Literacy Elisabeth Johnson. Hollier teaches students how to develop an effective curriculum — and Johnson teaches them to deliver that curriculum to high schoolers for whom reading is a challenge.

Hollier jokes that Curriculum Assessment Evaluation is like teaching a class and a half, but he loves it. Some of his proudest moments are when student-teachers come up with truly innovative lesson plans. Recently, a high school Biology major rapped about plant and animal life. At the end of her performance, her students gave her a standing ovation. And it set the tone for her to continue experimenting; she asked students to put on a skit exploring what they’d just learned.

“My big concern was that these were high school kids,” Hollier says. “I didn’t see them going for it. But she got them on board and involved, and I think they really understood the concepts of the lesson because of it. That’s the kind of thing we hope to see with students in the internship — they take risks, they try new things, and in their own teaching practice they’ll be able to keep it going.”

Hollier encourages students to think in new ways in his other classes. Both Math Methods and The Arts for Children are “methods courses” and very hands-on. “With Math Methods, our objective is to use activities to help elementary students intuitively understand math rather than just memorizing math facts,” Hollier says. For example, students created sculptures out of marshmallows and toothpicks and used them to help understand mathematical formulas related to 2D and 3D shapes.

“One of the biggest challenges we face today as teacher-educators is training future teachers in an era where ‘give me the basics and the bullet points’ seems to rule the day,” Hollier says. “My own education and my practice of teaching are contrary to the ‘bullet points’ approach. Becoming reflective, inquiring, deeply thoughtful teacher-leaders takes more than basic knowledge and facts. It can be daunting, but I look forward to working with a group of talented young students every year at St. Ed’s.

“We’re always working on improving our programs and our practice of teaching. It’s an art, but it’s also a science, and the more we can learn to make it both art and science, we’ll all grow as teachers.”

By Lauren Liebowitz
Photography by Whitney Devin ’10