Through my experiences in the classroom, both as a student and a teacher, and my following of educational theory, I have developed my personal philosophy of teaching and learning. In my students, I will work to foster learning as a life-long practice. Through creating a democratic, learner-centered classroom, I will work to inspire my students to make learning a part of their core being. Vito Perrone, an eminent social justice advocate, asked in 1991, “what if our students learn to read and write but don’t like to and don’t?” I will work to teach my students to “like” the things they learn. Through creating a classroom of individuals who are open to speak their minds and learn from each other, and through teaching my students in an individualized way, students will feel inspiration and excitement in developing skills and knowledge. I want my students to be excited to come to school and to learn each day. It is my hope that this type of classroom will foster a relationship with learning for the rest of students’ lives.
Student Centered Learning
My classroom will be student-centered, focusing on the belief that “education at its best is first and foremost a moral and intellectual endeavor, always beginning with children and young people and their intentions and needs” (Perrone , 1991). The intentions and needs of each of my students will drive my classroom forward in education and will help to develop each lesson I plan. I would like for my students to have meaningful learning experiences through fostering high levels of student power and discovery. My 2nd grade teacher, as an introduction to a unit on discrimination, tied ribbons around half the students in the class’ wrists upon entrance, and proceeded to treat these students much better throughout the morning. When she later explained why, we understood segregation firsthand, and probably learned it better than any book could teach us. It is lessons like this that still stand out 16 years later, and lessons like this that I want to reproduce daily. My students should feel they are all equals in my classroom and are open to ask questions and share thoughts. I will work to make the content I am teaching meaningful for my students. By answering “why?” we are taking on each lesson, my students will begin to understand the meaning and reason behind each bit of knowledge. The lessons I teach will be driven by the needs and wonderings of my students. I will work to consistently make ties to the adult world or real-world connections.
Lessons should vary in type and allow all students to actively participate. Differentiated instruction and multiple assessments should be used to provide each student with an equal education and opportunity to succeed. Students in my student teaching classroom at the beginning of the year told me they were “bad at math.” I was quick to explain to them that they were not in fact “bad at math” but maybe thought about math in a different way than the way their previous teacher taught them. I tried varied approaches to teaching math with these students and differentiated my instruction so they were able to show competency and succeed in their own way to the best of their abilities. As my time with this class came to an end, many students’ feelings surrounding mathematics had completely changed. They were proud of their work and no longer expressed that they were “bad at math.” These students were more engaged in my math lessons and worked harder in class. The fact that each student learns and thinks in a different way will be praised. I will work to not see “deficits” in my students, but instead look at my students’ strengths and to be aware and sensitive to their unique thinking and learning patterns. Each student should have available individual attention. I will pay great attention to student interests and to finding ways to incorporate these interests into every day lessons. My lessons should focus on creativity, originality, and flexibility, allowing and promoting student choice. This might mean allowing my students to choose a book to read for a book report, or assessing my students on a subject through an exam, a written paper, and a creative presentation, or allowing them to choose only one of these methods as their assessment. It will also mean tailoring each lesson to fit the needs of my students.
This student-centered, life-long type of learning is created through a classroom modeled after our democratic society. There needs to be mutual respect between the students and the teacher, and a mutual agreement on how the classroom is going to be run. I will work together with my students to generate rules and policies for both the students and the teacher that will be in effect for the school year. Just as our forefathers agreed upon a constitution and signed and agreed to it, once created, as a unified group, each member of the classroom community will need to sign the contract, or classroom constitution, agreeing to abide by the terms. The creation of the rules in this way allows for the students to understand where the rules are coming from and why they were developed, rather than a list of rules generated only by the teacher for which they may not feel connected to. These rules call for mutual respect to play out throughout each day and each lesson. The fact that my students helped to develop these rules calls for the ongoing idea of student responsibility. They will feel more tied to the rules that they helped to develop and, thus, will take the rules closer to heart. I proudly smiled when I heard a student, in an authoritative voice, say, “Don’t break the classroom contract, Joe. Those are our rules.”
I would like for my students to learn from and learn with one-another. This practice of working together to develop knowledge will prepare students to continue to ask questions and learn throughout their lives. Allowing more peer interaction in the classroom, as opposed to a teacher-centered lecture or discussion, allows for the lesson to develop around student thinking. Students’ thoughts are challenged and their minds expand not only from the words of the teacher, but also from discourse with classmates. I will work for my students to reach the level of exploratory talk. I will work for my students to engage critically but constructively with each other. Walking around my 2nd grade classroom and witnessing students challenging each other’s ideas, asking each other questions, and working through something together is remarkable. The students are able to take on such mature interaction if the discourse is modeled and supported by a teacher. According to a Chinese proverb: “Tell me something and I will forget it, show me something and I will remember it, let me do it myself and I will understand it.” It is an important part of learning and teaching to allow students to work through difficult material on their own, developing an individual way of understanding. Discourse with peers and collaboration with peers is an excellent way to support this “do it yourself” attitude. This type of discourse is the framework of our democratic society and thus will be preparing students to function actively as a part of society.
One of the most important factors in creating this student-center classroom is to emphasize the importance of words and ideas my students come up with each day. I find myself to be most influenced by the ideas of educational psychologist Eleanor Duckworth, particularly with her focus on “the having of wonderful ideas” or the “a-ha!” moment. The student is able, in the right setting, to come up with these ideas on their own, making them all the more meaningful for the student. Duckworth claimed, in 1996, that these wonderful ideas are “the essence of intellectual development.” In order for a student to come upon these ideas, the student must have enough self-confidence to try out ideas, willing to fail until it works. I remember quite vividly the moment, in Mrs. Taylor’s 3rd grade class, where I finally realized that multiplication was the same thing as repeated addition. Mrs. Taylor had not come out and just given me this formula but instead let us explore repeated addition and the idea of multiplication. When I finally had my “wonderful idea” that multiplication was the same thing as repeated addition, I was so intensely proud. It took time, and many wrong answers, before I came to my “ah-ha!” moment, but that moment was so powerful I am still able to remember it today. As a teacher, I must work to create a community of students who are accepting of each other. I need to build confidence in my students by being “willing to accept children’s ideas” and by “providing a setting that suggests wonderful ideas to children… as they are caught up in intellectual problems that are real to them.” The more opportunities I am able to provide for my students to generate wonderful ideas, the more chances there will be for these ideas to happen.
The concept of creating an environment that is open for wonderful ideas brings me to think about the importance of fostering a classroom community that is aware of and accepting of others. Culture, race, disabilities, and individuality will need to be on-going topics of discussion in my classroom. It is essential to an accepting learning community for the teacher to practice instruction that is well informed, taking into account disabilities, learning preferences (visual, hands-on, lecture, etc), culture, family/home, abilities, etc. As Urie Bronfenbrenner also suggested, it is not only cognitive development that is going to affect our student’s education, but also personal, physical, and moral development. These topics needn’t be discussed only during Black History Month, for example, but must be continuing practice each day, throughout the school year. It is part of a teacher’s responsibility to help develop the character of students. Acceptance is a pivotal portion of character development.
A democratic classroom will address the desire to develop learning as a life-long skill for my students. I will advocate for my students unique ideas, asking students to think harder and deeper about subjects. I hope that students will find joy in learning through allowing their education to be tailored to each individual. Education in my classroom will be about self-discovery and cognitive maturation at an individual rate. I will understand that “the more we help children to have their wonderful ideas and to feel good about themselves for having them, the more likely it is that they will some day happen upon wonderful ides that no one else has happened upon before” (Duckworth, 1996). It is through teacher assisted self-questioning and self-discovery that our students are going to work their way through Piaget’s idea of cognitive maturity.