CETL Podcast - Episode 25: Lisa Arter

Tony Pellegrini: Good morning, good morning, friends at the SUU. Tony Pellegrini here with our Teaching and Learning at Southern Utah University Podcast. Uh- I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able to connect with you and to share some of our great teachers here at Southern Utah University. Our guest today is one of those great ones: Lisa Arter from the English department here at Southern Utah University. Lisa, would you be willing to take a moment or two to introduce yourself, tell us a little about Lisa Arter?

Lisa Arter: I’d be happy to, Tony. Thank you. Um- this is my twenty-fifth year of teaching overall, and my tenth year at Southern Utah. I’ve taught in some capacity at just about every grade level: elementary, secondary, college, graduate, adult, everything, um- and every type of community college, undergrad, research institute, everything. Uh- And also to modalities: after last year, face-to-face, synchronous and asynchronous all at the same time. I’m hoping that they don’t come up with another modality for a little bit when you get used to some of the ones we have already. I have a bachelors in English Ed., a Masters in Literature with a concentration in mythology, and then my PhD is curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in English Education. 

Tony Pellegrini: How exciting. Your learners really do benefit from the learning that you have acquired and you’re able to share with them and encourage them. I was particularly impressed, Lisa, with–you know– your wide variety of instruction across at different, oh different entities, and so, I think that uh- a lot of those- thinking back to elementary and middle school and high school, those are real world situations. Not that college isn’t, but uh- What are some of the things that you do to help your learners connect- your lessons to real world experiences that they have? Would you be able to share with us some of the- some of the things that you do associated with that?

Lisa Arter: Sure! Uh- Each of my classes, and I have five English education methods classes, which I’ve fought for and I absolutely love having them all. They have real classroom practicum components built into them. So at the 2000 level classes, there are methods of grammar and methods of writing. We go into elementary schools, even though most of my students are secondary. I like starting them with the third and the fifth graders because that’s really what the standards for writing and grammar begin. And it gives my students a chance to get some teaching classroom experience under their belt without it quite being high school, middle school scary yet. And for one of the classes, they co-plan, co-teach, and co-asses lessons, and when they’re not up front teaching, they provide small group support and get practice implementing other teacher’s lesson plans. And then, for methods of teaching, writing, the focus for those practicums is to individually instruct just small groups over several weeks. And there, they learn some real world differienterating for needs and abilities, as well as how different the same kid can be from one moment to the next and how they just love to throw curveballs at you, and you gotta get pretty good at teaching and hitting those back. 

Tony Pellegrini: You absolutely do, and you know, you- what you made me think of is you’re visiting there and sharing was the complexity… yes, with the- with all your degrees, with all your experiences- boy you really can- deal with that complexity, but how do you- how do you reach out to your learners- with those complex activities to check for their understanding, to make sure that they’re on track, and they’re really conceptualizing or seeing the picture that you are painting? What is it that you do to check for student ed. and understanding for what you’re teaching? 

Lisa Arter: I like- since I get to work with future teachers- I like the modeling approach. I use it a lot in teaching, and so, in my methods classes, I try to explain that how I’m teaching is a type of metacognition teaching where I’m trying to make what I’m thinking as a teacher visible to my students. And so, there are days when we’re talking about lesson planning that wanting to lesson plan that I bring in lesson plans for things I’ve taught them or I will lesson plan that day’s lesson plan in front of them as they’ll go along. We also- I use- Lemov’s field guide in my classes. He’s a wonderful practitioner and researcher. And so, they work their way through his sixty-three techniques for fabulous teaching, and they read about a technique and then we talk about it and I model it and then we talk about some more and they practice modeling it with their peers, so that they can see me do it and talk about it, but then as they’re actually pretending to be a teacher in a classroom when they’re with their peers, I can give them live feedback. Okay- you know- “this is great” or “you need to stand here” or “you ignored that part of the classroom”. And then when I go into the classroom where they’re with the kids, we do- afterwards, I give them feedback on– you know– what I saw and then the classroom teachers, the practicum teachers, also provide feedback, and so it’s much as close to– you know– trying to make it a lab experience as possible. And I’m big on formative assessment. I don’t want to wait until the end of the unit or the end of the semester to point out what was going on well and what was going wrong, so it’s just this constant conversation of feedback is really how I assess my students.

Tony Pellegrini: Well that- that formative approach is just so practical and- applicable to making things happen and to be a- modeling for your students as well. You’re constantly assessing. *laughs* We live glass hou- You know, We live in glass houses. It’s okay if a- I’m watching you. It’s okay if you make a mistake or two. That’s- that’s how we learn. We learn from those-

Lisa Arter: Yes.

Tony Pellegrini: And we can improve from those. Lisa- let me- let me change the topic just a little bit. Today, we had the wonderful opportunity of having Provo Standerson and his team in our department. It was a wonderful opportunity to listen to his perspectives, but again, to be able to allow him to listen to us as far as- the wonderful opportunities that we have to teach here at SUU. And I was particularly touched in one- with his question to us and wanted to share that same question with you: What is it that you really love about teaching at SUU? Would you be willing to share that with us? 

Lisa Arter: Always. That’s one of my favorite questions because it’s so easy to answer. I was drawn to SUU because it’s a teaching-centric university. But the department- the program I’m in is still small enough where across those five methods classes that I don’t really have to share with anyone. I get to teach them- I get to teach the same students- my core group of students- you know, throughout the semesters across all the years, so I get to meet them when they’re eighteen-year-old freshman who want to be teachers and they’re full of idealism and passion and they think they already have all the answers. And it’s- it’s so energetic and wonderful. And then, across the course of four years, I see them over and over and I see them developing their own teacher persona and really understanding- you know- the combination of content and pedagogy and what works for them and their style and their own students and really building into a teacher that four years later, after I’ve signed off their last paperwork as student teaching, I get to send them a letter that welcomes them as my colleague. And I absolutely love that I get to work in a place where I get to really know my students and they get to know and trust me, and I get to talk to them for the next ten, twenty, thirty years because they’re all my colleagues.

Tony Pellegrini: And that learning- that learning is really is a two-way street. And-

Lisa Arter: It is!

Tony Pellegrini: -you can learn as well. Boy, the- I don’t know if we call it professional development, but- you know- learning from our learners, what a wonderful way to- to add value to this world. I really do appreciate that about you. I want to change tacks just a little bit. And- I can’t even imagine that you have this situation, but I’m going to ask it. Certainly- see your growth over your learners two, three, four years is powerful and profound, and to- to lift and encourage your learners like you do is wonderful, but along the way, do you ever bump into a reluctant learner? Do you give up on them right away? What do you do if you come to- if you get someone that’s maybe a little reluctant to follow your directions, but you do see that- that skill or that attitude or disposition to be good teachers in them? What are some things you do?

Lisa Arter: I have run into that. It doesn’t throw me now as much as it did in the beginning. Maybe because I have better answers for them or maybe because I have a little more confidence in myself. But- when I have a student who- and I have had students who are just- you know, who are reluctant to learn up to flat out trying to contradict what I’m saying and suggesting that they do it as teachers and telling me “no, it wouldn’t work that way”. I ask them: well, what’s their idea? How would they do it in a classroom? And then, try to set up a scenario where they have the opportunity to actually put that into play. I do a lot of role-playing in my classrooms and a lot of- Okay well let’s talk this out and work this out and see if we could get something to its logical end, its logical conclusion. And see if that really does work out for you. And so, I think that again, that conversation with them, trying to find out why they’re reluctant. What is it that tends to be throwing the whole wall between that? In some ways, it’s- it’s much easier at the college level because they have a bit more experience, a bit more vocabulary to be able to explain it. When I taught middle school– sometimes they didn’t know why they were reluctant. It just kind of came down to “I don’t like school,” and I don’t really see that at the college level. And I think that having a conversation with the reluctant learner, to try to determine what is the source of that reluctance. And then finding an interest to get them to engage in what is going on in the classroom, particularly in the college level, if you’re in my class, you chose to be there, so there’s got to be a reason. There’s got to be something in it that can connect with you or you wouldn’t be here and so… I just think at the college level, it’s so much easier. The K-12 level, they’re there because they have to be there. But still, having a conversation and finding something in your content that can engage them. And it just- it overcomes that reluctance once you know what it is, you can decide how to go about defeating it. 

Tony Pellegrini: Well, that’s one thing I really love about you. You know, your knowledge of your learners. Going that extra mile to learn about them, to dig deep, to understand where they’re coming from is so critical for you– Again, formative assessment– But critical for you to be able to nurture and guide and suggest ways for them to be better. I’ve seen that in you, and I really do appreciate that. I’ve got another question for you, just before we wrap up here. You mentioned– you know– the work that you do to increase the student’s vocabulary regarding the instructional tools. Maybe, it’s scaffolding that you’re sharing or maybe it’s think-pair-share that you’re working with them. What are some of the learning activities that you do to help your learners acquire the concepts that you share in class that maybe are new and innovative to your learners?

Lisa Arter: I like an active and engaged classroom. And so, I think in some ways with teaching, it’s even easier because you get to be very- almost painfully obvious about the activity that you’re doing and so sometimes I’ll just announce “Hey, we’re going to do a think-pair-share” and then I’ll explain what that is. But then, I’ll have my students do it. I think it’s very important particularly with pre-service teachers that you have- that you don’t just explain the pedagogy, you have them participate in it. And so, I will give them a very very simple piece of content or concept, and I tell them, it’s not because I think you don’t already know the parts of speech or something very basic but I want your cognitive energy to focus on the pedagogy right now and not the content, so that when you’re a teacher and you are implementing this with your students, you feel confident doing that, so I- I’m constantly reading and researching about pedagogy and stuff and when I find something, I’ll bring articles into my class and we’ll read it and we’ll talk about it, but I try to always have them do the activity the article is talking about. So one of my favorite recent things to do with my students is called a graffiti wall where– I’m sure you already know this one, Tony. But for anyone who might be listening that doesn’t– you- you make a copy of whatever article or text you want them to read and you put it in the middle of a big piece of butcher paper or some larger paper and you give them each markers and they annotate as a small group together and write questions and answers so it’s a written conversation of the thought process they all had while they were reading about this and I first did that when I read an article about graffiti walls. So most of my- my teaching activities really are: hey, here’s something that works for students, I’m going to have you do it so that you have that confidence of how to do and then we always do a brief. “Okay what did you learn through this experience?” 

Tony Pellegrini: I- This podcast is totally about you Lisa, but I have to just share one personal story just really quickly. When my- when my third daughter was three years old, my wife took the others and went and did something. She goes, “You ought to paint this bedroom, Tony, and keep Tessa active.” And so, I’m painting, and you know- you try painting with a three-year-old. It’s a tough- It’s a tough road to ho. Anyway, so I’m painting painting, and so, little Tessa of course comes over and says “Hey, dad! Let me paint! Let me paint! Let me help!” And I go, you know, “why don’t you watch? Why don’t you watch and have good thoughts for dad? Watching and good thoughts is really helpful.” And she looked at me and put her hands on her hips and she said, “Watching is not helping, dad. Doing is helping.” And you know, it stuck with me throughout my life. It’s what we do. We got to have that belief in ourselves, the belief that we could make this happen. Are we going to make a mistake along the way? Absolutely. But doing is so much more helpful than just good thoughts. 

Lisa Arter: I absolutely agree. And I agree with what you said about mistakes. We’re going to make mistakes and I- I encourage my preservice teachers to make mistakes in our classrooms together. I said this is the safest place for you to make your teaching boofs. Because we’re all learning together, and I– I can fix it. Whatever falls apart or breaks, you know, the wheels come off the car, you know, the train falls off the tracks, whatever metaphoric you want to use, we can fix it in here. It’s a lot harder for me to help you when you’re in your own classroom somewhere else in the country. So be brave and jump in and make mistakes here where we can fix them and learn from them. 

Tony Pellegrini: Lisa, I love your vision. I love your perspective. Um- we got to wrap this up, but I want to give you one last opportunity: words of wisdom for students, for teachers here. Give us a couple words of wisdom from Lisa Arter. Would you please?

Lisa Arter: Be fearless. Just Try. You know, experience everything you can. Every week, my students have to write a reflection, and one of the questions they have to answer every week is: What did you do this week that tested your comfort zone? Because teaching will test your comfort zone like nothing else. And you’re supposed to embrace that, so honestly just, if you see any pedagogy, if you read any piece of new content, and you’ve never tried it before, be fearless. Take it into your classroom and just try it. You know, yes you might fall, but darling, you might fly. 

Tony Pellegrini: And it is worth the effort to do that. Lisa, thank you so much for taking a few minutes with me. I sure appreciate you. You’re a gracious friend, and I’m just grateful for the learning that I’ve been able to acquire listening to you. You make it a great year. Keep doing the wonderful things you’re doing, and keep lifting our learners, okay?

Lisa Arter: Thanks, Tony.

Tony Pellegrini: Have a great day. Thank you so much, Lisa. Bye Now.


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