Welcome to Front of the Class, a regular series offering an inside look at the Cato College of Education. We’ll travel through the college’s programs, sit in on a variety of classes, learn from the perspective of award-winning faculty, and hear from students as they strive to become the next generation of teachers, counselors and school leaders.
Class: Counseling Across the Lifespan
Associated Degree Programs: Masters in Counseling (School Counseling, Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and Addictions Counseling Specialties)
Professor: Dr. Clare Merlin-Knoblich
Today’s Topic: Cognitive development in infancy and early childhood
Perched high on the 10th floor of UNC Charlotte Center City, a group of future counselors are approaching things a bit differently than they will in their careers. Rather than exploring the emotions of others, they’re reflecting on their own feelings. Dr. Clare Merlin-Knoblich begins each session with an inquiry from the “Question Bag,” a pouch filled with questions that the students themselves write anonymously on index cards the first day of class. Today the group is answering a question about their motivations for pursuing a career in the counseling field. Some share intimate details from their lives or reflect on past trauma and their desire to help others heal. The room is heavy with emotion.
“Questions range from ‘what's your favorite restaurant in Charlotte?’ to ‘what person has had the greatest influence on your life?’’ Merlin-Knoblich said. “We never know if the activity will be fun and silly or take us deeper and spur reflection at the start of class.”
After each student has an opportunity to speak on the day’s question, the class begins the assigned substantive content. The way they go about it, however, turns the traditional lecture on its head.
At UNC Charlotte, Merlin-Knoblich is a leading advocate for “flipped learning”, a teaching approach in which core content is delivered to students outside of class via video lecture and in-class time is spent solely on application-based activities.
As a result, group meetings become more interactive and meaningful. Merlin-Knoblich uses all available class time for discussions, technique demonstrations, guest speakers and other interactive activities.
“A growing body of research shows that flipped learning improves student achievement and related variables,” she said. “My own studies on flipped learning have also indicated that the approach is positive for students and leads to greater classroom engagement than non-flipped courses.”
“I feel it’s a great learning model,” said student Alexis White. “There is more time for processing the knowledge outside of class then applying it in the following class.”
Today’s lesson focuses on cognitive development in infancy and early childhood. Having already watched a 15-minute video lecture with essential information on the topic for homework, class time is spent in a series of activities exploring the content in-depth. The class forms groups, researches vocabulary and presents on key points. Then Merlin-Knoblich plays a podcast episode on the famous “Marshmallow Experiment” and students consider what it may indicate about early cognitive development. Later in class, students discuss recent multicultural criticisms of the study and its value in light of these questions.
“The interactive style has helped me apply the material from the textbook. Class is never boring! We often have in-depth, interesting discussions in which everyone's voice is heard,” said school counseling graduate student Laura Markstein.
For Merlin-Knoblich, the engaging approach must rest on a foundation of practical, down-to-earth content.
“Even though we were studying infants, and some students in the class plan to counsel adults, I tried to create a space in which students could connect the dots between cognitive development in infancy and early childhood and their work as counselors with clients of all ages.”