Welcome to Feature Friday! Where we showcase a new teacher each week in an interview. For past Feature Friday interviews, go here.
Today’s Feature Friday is highlighting Dr. Scott Hunsaker. He is a well known college professor at Utah State University teaching pre-service teachers. While teaching at USU he has received multiple awards including Teacher of the Year, Undergraduate Research Mentor of the Year, and the Carol and William Strong Human Service Awards from the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services. He was also honored by the Utah Association for Gifted Children for his career work in gifted and talented education. Here’s what Dr. Hunsaker has for us today.
What grade/ subjects have you taught and for how long?
“I taught 6th grade in an elementary school for 8 years. I also taught about 1 year in the lockup unit of a private school for “troubled” boys, and ½ year in a 5/6 combination gifted magnet class. I’ve been at Utah State (25 years), and, before that, University of Georgia (4 years) teaching undergraduate and graduate students in teacher preparation programs and in gifted education.”
What is your favorite thing about teaching this age/subject?
“Sixth graders are on the cusp between childhood and adolescence. I enjoyed being there to help them through that transition. I also very much enjoyed teaching the social studies content—Western Hemisphere. I enjoy working with undergraduate students because their informed naivete inspires me to remember why I went into teaching so many years ago. Graduate students provide an opportunity for me to challenge and be challenged.”
What is one of your favorite ways to utilize technology in the classroom?
“I’ve really enjoyed, recently, using an AI-enhanced group discussion format that has markedly improved student responses to weekly readings and students’ responses to one another.”
If you could recommend one children’s book, what would it be and why?
“I’m still very partial to Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. It is written in a unique format that is becoming more popular of late—free verse poetry. It provides a subtle critique of “state tests” and how we ought to be responding to those. It gets back at that theme of the transition between childhood and adolescence and even into adulthood that I’ve already mentioned makes teaching 6th graders so engaging for me. The use of figurative language is superb. Finally, I love stories that explore parent-child relationships, but especially father-child relationships. Another author who does much the same through his use of free verse poetry, but usually focusing on sports stories, is Kwame Alexander.”
What do you wish someone would have told you in your first year teaching?
“How do you really teach a math lesson.This was not presented well in my teacher preparation program. The math methods course seemed to be more a math “arts and crafts” class. Here at USU, the math methods courses do not make this mistake.”
How have you seen education change in the years you’ve taught?
“There have been many important changes in teaching since I began. Two changes, I’m not particularly glad to see—the emphasis on high-stakes testing for accountability and the deprofessionalization of teaching. Both are associated with the politicization of teaching and schools. I’m glad to see, however, a move toward standards-based grading, when it is implemented correctly, since this is a better indicator, in my opinion, of what a student is actually learning, as opposed to the more typical points systems leading to letter grades. I also believe that the internet gives teachers and students access to many wonderful resources that were previously unavailable.”
What has been one of your favorite teaching moments so far?
“Oh so many to choose from. I’d have to say, though, that I thoroughly loved what occurred when I was doing a demonstration teaching with a 6th-grade magnet gifted classroom. Our text was Secret Garden by Frances Hodgsen Burnett. By the students’ choice, we were discussing ideas related to the word “tyranny” that appeared in the text. The discussion ranged from discussing examples of “tyranny” in the story, but also in the students’ experience—including the “tyranny” they experienced on the playground.” The discussion lasted well over the 30-minutes I’d been given, and the teacher later told me she couldn’t get the students to end the discussion even after I left.”
What tips do you have for pre-service teachers?
“Remember that you’re a novice. You don’t have to be perfect on your first attempts. You’ve got time and space to grow.”
What is a brief overview of standards-based grading?
“I gave a brief overview above, but the keys are as follows: Define intended outcomes or standards clearly. Establish the evidence that you will accept that demonstrates that a student has met the standard. Provide students opportunities to practice the knowledge, skills, and dispositions related to those outcomes without consequence for those practice efforts. Provide regular and specific feedback. Especially for students who’ve not yet met the standard, use practice efforts to refocus instruction on intended outcomes (i.e., standards). Provide students who’ve met the standard opportunities to go beyond the intended outcome through extensions. Do not cloud the assessment of standards achievement (and, therefore, academic grades) with extraneous information such as attendance, punctuality (e.g., being late for class or being late with assignments), averaging in practice, number of attempts, etc. Provide multiple pathways and opportunities to demonstrate achievement of the standard.”
How and why is this more effective than traditional grading?
“Because the focus is on what students are actually learning, not how or when they learn, the grade given is more likely to be a grade that reflects actual learning rather than exogenous variables.”
Why is it important to have a specified college course for pre-service teachers regarding assessment?
“Assessment is all about gathering information to make instructional decisions. We should be gathering this information before beginning instruction about a set of standards, while giving that instruction, and after having given instruction. This helps the teacher know how to modify the planned instruction to meet the specific needs of groups of learners or individual learners, what adjustments to make along the way, and whether the instruction has been successful or not. The knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to use assessment in this way—not merely as a way for the student to earn points to receive a grade—is essential to the success of prospective teachers in schools today, as assessment, either through a shift to standards-based grading or high-stakes testing, is emphasized so much more than when I was in the public school classroom.”
Thank you Scott for your thoughts! It’s very clear Dr. Hunsaker is very intelligent in his field of study and has a lot of great information he can share with the education world. I am humbled he took time to be interviewed for the blog.
Head back to our Feature Friday next week to see what interview we have in store for you!