My Teaching Philosophy

September 11th, 2011

 

When I was in school I always found I learned best when I was able to “see” the information. Writing notes was helpful, but I did much better if I was able to graph out the information in a way that made sense to me, preferably with pictures. Judging by the number of “graphic organizers” I see used at work each day; I am not the only person who learns well this way. When researching how to identify the different ways students learn; there is no shortage of models. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assesses people by using scales from Jung’s Theory of Psychological Types and addresses people as “extroverts” or “introverts”, amongst other indicators. Another popular model is the Kolb’s Experiential Learning Model where they evaluate how people take knowledge in and how they process it.  In a test adapted from Instructor Magazine these models, and others, are simplified into three main types of learners; the visual, the auditory, and the kinesthetic.

Take the test here : http://people.usd.edu/~bwjames/tut/learning-style/

The visual learner learns best when they see in the information; in notes, in written form, or in graphic examples. The auditory learns by hearing and verbalizing what they learn. The kinesthetic learns by doing experiments or other hands-on activities (Instructor Magazine, 2009). The problem is, in a class of twenty-five plus, the chances that you have students that all learn the same way is almost impossible. In fact, R.M. Felder (2005) states, “the problem is that no two students are alike. They have different backgrounds, strengths and weaknesses, interests, ambitions, senses of responsibility, levels of motivation, and approaches to studying.” (52). This is certainly true and, with just one instructor, it would be difficult to accommodate each “style of learning” fully. Therefore Felder continues, “It follows that if completely individualized instruction is impractical and one-size-fits-all is ineffective for most students, a more balanced approach that attempts to accommodate the diverse needs of the students some of the time is the best an instructor can do.” (52)

With this balance in mind, a diverse approach to classroom activities is needed. In my personal philosophy as a teacher, I seek to provide a balance in the ways I present my material (a combination of lectures, student led research, media, etc.), the ways I provide students to process this information (debates, notes, research, projects, ect.), the way I assess my students knowledge (tests, projects, small groups, ect.),  and the way I interact with my students.

A few personal beliefs that translate into my teaching style;

  •  Everyone has the right to their own point of view.
  • I believe in the importance of debate, acceptance, and the ability to disagree intelligently and peacefully.
  • I believe in the importance of understanding other cultures, genders, lifestyles, and backgrounds.
  • I believe comprehension comes in many different forms.
  • Regurgitation of information is not an adequate judge of mastery of material.
  • While not all students consistently seek to succeed, all students seek someone to believe in them.
  • I believe students will rise to a challenge.
  • The natural curiosity of children should be preserved.

Presenting material is an incredibly important part of teaching. Oftentimes, I’ve noticed that students consider themselves “dumb” or “smart” and believe they will continue to be that way. Bacanu and colleagues (2000) stated that, “genetics account for almost half of all student learning and intelligence.” (33). However, though genetics play a large role in intelligence, that leaves the other half of student intelligence and learning open for influence and growth in the classroom. To begin with, I would include in my teaching style the use of a variety of media and tools. Lectures have a place as part of material presentation. However, lectures can benefit greatly from tools other than spoken word. Technology, when resources are available, enables teachers to bring to life their subjects. Tileston (2003) lists these reasons for technology in the classroom,

  •   Technology is not limited by the classroom walls.
  •  Technology does not know or care what the student’s socioeconomic status may be, and thus helps to level the playing field for these students.
  •  Technology provides an equal opportunity for everyone to learn.
  •  Technology is more in tune with the way our students learn today.
  •  Technology is so much a part of the real world that to limit its use in the classroom is to limit our students’ ability to compete in the world.

History and Dramatic Arts are the subjects I most want to teach, and nothing brings these subjects to life more than pictures, film, or sound. The description of Pearl Harbor is enhanced by the visual of the actual bombing.

Students also have a place in presentation. The old adage is that you learn better when you teach something to someone else; so let students research and present material in addition to teacher led classes.

Secondly, I would include several means of processing the information presented. Notes, in the traditional sense of translating a lecture, can be varied by the use of graphic organizers. In a study by Meyen, Vergason, andWhelan (1996) graphic organizers are “visual displays teachers use to organize information in a manner that makes information easier to understand and learn” (p.132). In addition, comprehension can be demonstrated by using different assessments; instead of a worksheet, have  student-made powerpoints or small group debate.

Along with processing the material, I am a believer in meaningful repetition. It has been a long-held belief that repeating something makes it ‘more engrained’ into our minds. Seth Brotherson (2005), in a NDSU study, states,  “Provide lots of time and opportunities for practice and repetition. Few things build a child’s brain and open opportunities for learning more than consistent repetition of healthy activities or experiences.” (611). However, as I perform on stage for my “other career”, I can attest that even repeating the same lines over and over for months, I cannot remember them now.  Huitt (2003) collaborates, “Repetition or rote rehearsal is a technique we all use to try to “learn” something. However, in order to be effective this must be done after forgetting begins. Researchers advise that the learner should not  repeat immediately the content (or skill), but wait a few minutes and  then repeat.” (1).  In his study, Svinicki (1991) also states,“During learning, learners act on information in ways that make it more meaningful.
Implication: Both instructor and student should use examples, images, elaborations, and connections to prior knowledge to increase the meaningfulness of information.” (27). Therefore, I would include repetition of the material in class by using different activities over an extended period of time with several opportunities for review as we continue through the material.

While presenting and processing the material, I am also a believer in “teachable moments”. In a sixth-grade history class I observed, the teacher would go on small tangents to answer a student question. Some teachers  might consider this a waste of instructional time, but my personal feeling is that it encouraged the students to make their own connections to the subject matter, to express curiosity, and find relevance to their own lives. According to a study done by McKeachie and colleagues (1990), “Both groups also stressed the importance of teachers being intellectually expansive and intelligent and open to students’ questions, class discussions and for the course material to be valuable, useful and relevant.” (p. 103). If a student finds an interest in a topic, they may be more likely to remember it or look further.

I also believe in student accountability.  Providing a challenge, expecting their best effort, and accepting the job of holding them to the rules is an important, and difficult, aspect of teaching. In my experiences in the classroom it is often difficult to be proactive in student accountability. It is often easier, and less time consuming, to let small behavior go. However,  messy handwriting, low effort, lost papers, or frequent distractions all add up over time. Staying firm on the student’s need to stay on top of their work and to be responsible for their actions builds stronger, more successful individuals. Deborah Stipek states,

“Being a caring and supportive teacher does not mean coddling;  rather, if means holding students accountable while providing the  support they need to succeed. One adolescent in a low-income, high crime community in California told me he liked his high school because the teachers “sit on your face”. He explained that when the teacher’s weren’t sure that students really understood something, they stuck  with them, got them help, or gave them some material to help them  figure it out.” (47)

Along those same lines, I believe in being involved with student issues and interests. Davidson and Phelan (1999) explain “Adolescents report that they work harder for teachers who treat them as individuals and express interest in their personal lives outside school. Caring teachers, they report, are also honest, fair, and trusting.” (233).

In seeking to provide a diverse, supportive, and creative learning environment by varying presentation, material processing, and assessment I have developed the following goals for my students and myself.

  • Students become responsible for asking their own questions and becoming proactive in seeking their answers.
  • Students make connections with subject material that they can use in a practical sense.
  • Students understand the importance of representing themselves to the best of their ability at all times.
  • Students are accountable for their own actions.
  • Students learn to become organized, effective learners.
  • As a teacher I take responsibility to encourage and stimulate student creativity and curiosity.
  • I accept the responsibility of holding students accountable for rules and their actions.
  • I provide divergent points of view; seeking to encourage a personal debate in the student that requires them to critically think and evaluate their opinions.
  • I seek to understand the students varied levels of achievement and provide them with conditions to achieve success and progress at their own pace.
  • I allow students to provide input for their assessments and provide them a variety of ways to express what they have learned.

 

To judge my effectiveness in meeting my goals, the following are preliminary criteria of student success.

 

  •   Students will ask questions and make connections between subject material.
  •   Students will perform well on assessments.
  •   Students will be able to summarize material.
  •   Students can answer a critical question on presented material, one that requires forming an educated opinion.
  •   Students are able to take opposing sides of an argument and create defense for both.
  •   Students are able to understand and implement an ever-increasing level of vocabulary.
  •  Students are able to research and provide relevant information, media, and references.

 

Huitt, W. (2003). The information processing approach to cognition. Educational Psychology Interactive. Retrieved from, http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/cognition/infoproc.html

Brotherson, S.(2005). Keys to enhancing brain development in young children. NSDU Extension Service. Retrieved from: http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/yf/famsci/fs611w.htm

M. Svinicki, (1991).  College teaching: From theory to practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Davidson, A., & Phelan, P. (1999). Students’ multiple worlds. In Advances in motivation and achievement: Role of context, Vol. 2 (pp. 233-283). Stamford, CT: JAI Press.

Stipek, D. (2006). Relationships matter. Educational Leadership, 64, 46.

R.M. Felder and R. Brent. (2005). Understanding Student Differences. Education, 94, 57.

2009. Three Different Learning Styles. Instructor Magazine. Retrieved from: http://people.usd.edu/~bwjames/tut/learning-style/

McKeachie W., Pintrich P., Yi-Guang, L., Smith, D., & Sharma, R. (Eds.), (1990). Teaching and learning in the college classroom: A review of the literature. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan.

Meyen E. L., Vergason, G.A. & Whelan. R. J. (1996). Strategies for teaching exceptional children in inclusive settings. Denver, CO: Love.

Tileston. (2003). The Importance of media in the classroom. Retrieved from: http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/6635_tileston_9_ch_1.pdf

Jensen, E. (2005). Teaching with the brain in mind. Alexandria, VA, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

 


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