One of Howard Smith’s education innovations was a micro-teaching laboratory, a specially equipped, controlled environment for observing prospective teachers with students. He and North Texas faculty colleague Louise Allen collaborated on the project in the late 1960s. It was featured in the Dallas Times Herald Sunday Magazine Feb. 2, 1969:
Guess What’s in the Box?
At North Texas State, it’s student teachers and small fry — exploring the mysteries of education
By Bill Morgan
Photos by Eamon Kennedy
They’re thinking small up in Denton these days, and looking for big results in the North Texas State University School of Education.
While most schools are expanding to accommodate the population explosion, NTS fledgling teachers are wedging themselves into classrooms that measure seven-by-ten feet.
Once inside, they confront four to six grade schoolers with lessons that range from five to seven minutes.
Architects of the NTS “micro teaching laboratory” are Drs. Howard W. Smith and Louise Allen; the house that Howard and Louise built is also a television studio, which is just one of its wondrous little achievements.
It all started a couple of years ago when a Stanford University professor spoke on “micro teaching” at a meeting on the NTS campus.
Stanford’s faculty had been employing the technique since 1963 and the speaker, Dr. Dwight W. Allen (no kin to Louise), was a super salesman. He told how isolating grade schoolers with student teachers gave the latter a chance to use specific teaching techniques in actual classroom situations, then to make an immediate evaluation of their effectiveness.
There was a drawback: The youngsters were conscious of all the adults hovering nearby and either turned into hams or became shy and refused to take part.
“So we tried to think of a way to isolate them,” Howard Smith recalled. “The first thing that came to mind when Dr. (Louise) Allen approached me about it was putting the teacher and children in a big box.”
That’s what finally evolved — a big $10,000 box with a one-way mirror that allows an audience to watch and with two television cameras that tape the micro lesson. Actually, there are two almost-identical labs on the NTS campus today, and officials are hoping to add even more. They were built to order by a Rhode Island firm and paid for by a federal grant.
The School of Education also has a waiting list of others on campus who want to borrow the labs for use in their own projects.
And while the education school folks have room, it will travel.
“Size was predicated on this right here,” Dr. Smith said, indicating a standard-sized doorway leading into a classroom. “The micro lab folds down to seven-by-three-by-ten feet, and it’s on casters so it can be rolled to another room.”
The room can be set up in about ten minutes, but it takes considerably longer to fold it down and move it around.
No tricks are played on the elementary school kids from the North Texas Lab School and Sam Houston Elementary School who are used in the sessions. They’re told people will be watching them and they’re told they’ll be able to see themselves on TV after the session.
But once inside they see no one other than the student teacher and they get with the program.
“Youngsters that age can’t keep from acting natural very long,” Said Dr. Roderic C. DuChemin, who teaches philosophy of education and handles the technical details of the video taping because he knows about such things through his avocation as a ham radio operator.
The isolation-booth environment not only helps keep the grade schoolers loose, it has the same effect on nervous, young, aspiring teachers.
Faces of teacher and students reflect their interest in televised runback of micro lesson. Top row, left to right, student teacher Susan Kunz, Caroline Donsbach, second row, Stacy Ragsdale, Kathy Thompson; third row, Walter Malone, Ross Tatum, fourth row, Forrest Taylor, and Dr. Howard Smith's son, Chris.
One of them is Susan Kunz, a pretty blue-eyed NTS coed who took her first turn in the micro lab late this fall.
Susan seated herself with four first graders, while a dozen adults watched from the other side of the one-way mirror. Within a few seconds they were an independent group, teacher and students lost in the lesson, something about how a lemon looks and tastes and feels.
“She’s doing great,” Louise Allen beamed.
Later, Susan Kunz returned to the outside world and sat to watch another student teacher work with a fresh batch of children.
“I was really nervous when I first went in there,” she said. “But things were fine when we got started. I really enjoyed it.”
“We’re not so much concerned with how much these children learn in these sessions,” Dr. Allen pointed out. “We’re more concerned that our student teachers come into contact with the things they’ll face when they get out in a real classroom.”
If Susan Kunz had been treed by her students, the embarrassment wouldn’t have been any the less but she would have had the opportunity to make a comeback. Each lesson is given twice; first to one group, then that one is studied on the video tape, and finally the student teacher climbs back in the box to give the same lesson to a new group.
“Micro teaching is not an attempt to supplant student teaching or intern program,” Dr. Smith explained. “It’s designed to precede them and make them more effective.”
And, he says, the program has worked as well as expected since it was started in late summer. And that’s a rarity in itself — most any new innovation needs a period of trial and error before it proves itself.
So far, the only errors have been committed by tall young student teachers banging their heads going through the door. That’s better than banging their heads against the walls after they’re out on their first teaching job.