Simon Fraser University – Faculty of Education
MEd Post-Secondary, VCC Cohort
Developing Educational Programs and Practices for Diverse Educational Settings
Instructor: Dr. Natalia Gajdamaschko
Student: Kathryn Truant
April 15, 2021
This report is the first part of a larger research project that I plan to complete at the end of this Masters of Education program. I am studying the nationwide critical shortage of Certified Dental Assistants (CDAs) from a solutions-based approach. One of the ‘solutions’ that I discovered during this course is the social-constructivist educational theory, and I believe that this approach may play a significant role in supporting my above-mentioned undertaking.
 The nationwide shortage of CDA’s is well-documented. Further, there was a shortage before the pandemic and the situation has since worsened (Hunter, 2020).
“Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world” (King, 2000, p. 188).
I was fortunate as a child to have a teacher that read literature aloud to the class. Mr. Young read a variety of genres: classic and contemporary. The literature seldom reflected our prescribed subjects, but the stories have lasting impact because they introduced us to a diversity of cultures, conflicts, and ideas. As young students, we were the ideology of oppression, the products of a “banking concept of education” (Freire, 1996, p. 53), where the teacher repetitively deposits information to the learners. With Mr. Young’s guidance, the literature set us free. We “learned how literature provides understanding of the human consequences . . . and how history provides the sociocultural public context for personal experience and action” (Miller, as cited in Kozulin et al., 2003, p. 307). Paulo Freire calls this ‘problem-posing education’ (1996, p. 60).
As an educator and a Subject Matter Expert (SME) in a vocational domain, I have three main goals for my students. The first and most obvious is competency: a level of mastery must be met prior to performance in one’s profession. Competency is achieved through linking theory to practice: Praxis. Praxis is meaning-making. When I consider my students, they are oppressed; it is my role to mediate their learning, and to guide them through a socially-constructed approach. Prior knowledge will not account for their success; nor will my students succeed without an SME to guide them (Vygotsky & Cole, 1978). Competency is accomplished using established and proven methodologies. For example, ‘this is the reason we take x-rays, and this is how to expose a diagnostic x-ray.’ This method of social-constructivism requires scaffolding using the principles of Bloom’s Taxonomy in the cognitive domain to give advanced meaning to a skill (see Appendix).
My second goal as an educator is retention. Research confirms that the shortage of CDA’s is due (in large part) to retention in the profession (CDA Essentials, 2020). There are many reasons to account for the lack of retention, and because I am focusing on a solutions-based approach to achieving my goals, I have a rudimentary formula in mind to address this issue: Meaning = Joy. Simply put, if you love what you do, you will do it well, and you will want to continue to do it.
My next statement ties into my third goal as an educator, and that is to create a legacy of meaning-making in the social-constructivist fashion in a vocational domain. I lump retention and legacy together in discovering a solutions-based approach: Joy = Longevity = Retention = Legacy. This is where story-telling enters the equation. My equation starts with one question: Aside from becoming competent, how does one find higher meaning in their chosen vocation? In other words, as an educator, how do I hone instinctive truths to mediate my student’s evolution into higher ways of thinking? What tools of understanding will I use? I believe that enrichment of the curriculum through storytelling, specifically literature, is the key to a deeper and more meaningful understanding.
“Stories are unique kinds of narratives in that they have, in their basic forms, ends that satisfy some tension generated by their beginnings” (Egan & Ling, 2007, p. 6). Finding room for literature within the confines and proposed outcomes of a vocational curriculum is the challenge. Mr. Young found room in his curriculum to create a culture that valued dialogue and discussion by introducing his students to new and unfathomable scenarios. We bonded over our similar sensibilities more than our differences, and learned to appreciate different perspectives. His mediation helped us construct views and meaning that we did not know existed. What counts as knowing: conflict is okay, dialogue and discussion are okay, and diversity is okay. I believe that experiencing the challenges of literary characters builds fortitude, and confidence.
In my domain, there are two outcomes that will benefit from the insertion of a literary component and ensuing discussion. CDA 300 introduces and evaluates the following outcomes:
- Discuss human behaviours and cultural diversity in the dental environment.
- Describe professional strategies for resolving conflict in the dental office.
There is classroom time allotted for this outcome, which typically involves lecture, case study, and handouts. I propose the formation of small groups (5-6 students each), I will choose several pieces of literature, and each group selects one piece to read and present to the class with the focus being on cultural diversity and conflict resolution. Providing the students meet the CDA 300 outcomes, I have the freedom to deliver content as I see fit in this course. By introducing literature into a vocational classroom, the students, facilitated by the mediation of the instructor, will develop units of knowledge, and meaning-making. This will assist in their cognitive meaning-making when learners become able to fill gaps through the literary artefacts and within the collaborative classroom environment: “New intellectual dispositions [are] evident in students’ conscious use of the mediated social and cognitive strategies” (Miller, as cited in Kozulin et. al, 2003).
The counter-arguments to literature discussion may include: the student’s disconnection to the material (relevancy), stronger personalities tend to prevail in group discussion, the material would need to be assigned prior to give students time to read, and student’s becoming fixated on their own existing knowledge (Miller, as cited in Kozulin et al., 2003).
I believe that literary artifacts relate and reflect upon constructive curricular cultures, in all domains, regardless of the genre.
If we connect to a single intellectual and moral tradition and do not attain a deep and rich knowledge of at least another culture’s wisdom, and experience, it is unlikely that we can have a standpoint to critically examine [other] beliefs and values (Joseph, 2000, p. 169).
Planning for a literary study in CDA 300 will not create the same kind of transformation that I experienced in Mr. Young’s class because my students are adults who have had more exposure to the world. I simply want my students to construct appropriate meaning within the subject matter of their domain, understand different cultural perspectives, and develop a deeper understanding of themselves, and the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required for success and longevity in their prospective vocation.
CDA Essentials (2020). The dental assistant workforce – Two surveys that reveal reasons for attrition from the profession. CDA Essentials, 7(1), 10-12.
Egan K., & Ling M. (2002) We Begin as Poets. In Bresler L., Thompson C. M. (Ed.s) The Arts in Children’s Lives. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F0-306-47511-1_8
Freire, P. (1996). The pedagogy of the oppressed (New revised edition). New York: Penguin.
Hunter, T. (2020, June 30). Covid-19 contributing to already short supply of dental assistants. How to stop the departure? DentistryIQ. Retrieved from
Joseph, P. B. (2011). Cultures of Curriculum (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.
King, S. (2000). On writing – A memoir of the craft. London: Hodder.
Miller, S. M. (2003). How literature discussion shapes thinking – ZPDs for teaching/learning habits of the heart and mind. In Kozulin, A., Gindis, B., Ageyev, V. S., & Miller, S. M. (Eds.), Vygotsky’s Educational Theory in Cultural Context. Cambridge University Press.
Vygotsky, L. S., & Cole, M. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Harvard University Press.
A year ago, I began a self-study into the CDA shortage in Canada. There is also a shortage in other countries, however, I choose to look at domestic elements before I broaden my horizons. I liken it to looking at a micro environment to see if this is common only to Canada or if it is a systemic issue. I am learning that the critical shortage is worldwide. I use the word critical because the ramifications involve dentists hiring assistants ‘off the street’ and showing them to how take x-rays, etc., without formal education or certification – this is actually (an adverb was required here) happening! How would one know if the person taking their children’s x-rays or assisting in their surgery was an educated professional? Artefacts of the Oppressed – Part Two will (again) look at tools: motivational tools, and tools for advanced education for CDAs to be precise. I also plan to look at tools for the dentists to retain and motivate their employees. Liberation is a mutual process (Freire, 1996).