I am wrapping up the fall semester and have a final project due in my non-emerging tech course. For this assignment, we were tasked with using a creative outlet to present our final views on learning theory: what our views are, how we want to achieve them, and how we want to ensure our students succeed.
When I first started teaching, I had grandiose views of how things would work. It was great to imagine these ideal classroom situations; they quickly disappeared the first time a student got jumped outside of my classroom, or maybe it was the time a student ran through the halls after lighting his backpack on fire, or maybe it was one of the drive-by shootings that took place just steps away from the front doors. My ideological ways certainly shifted but much of them remained in-tact. I learned that I needed to adjust my understanding of my students to ever have the true gist of how to teach them, guide them, and learn from them.
That is what I did. I opened my eyes and I opened my ears. I looked for cues students put out into the universe; I listened to things students said in passing as they walked by my classroom; I read their papers and focused on their text:self connections; I heard them. Admittedly, I grew up in a stable environment and have lived (and still do) a largely privileged life, so figuring out what to do with all of the information I was taking involved quite the learning curve, but I figured out how to address students social-emotional needs in such a way that made academic progress possible.
My first year of teaching was rough: I was 25 and had no experience working with youth. I also had no exposure to the school I was in. I was given a reading textbook and basically told ‘good luck’ — from there, I created an entire reading guide for both ninth and tenth grade ELA and was part of a two-person team to design DC-CAS pretests and preparation that led to the highest scores our tenth graders had seen in years (sadly, still underperforming AYP).
It’s hard to think that was over 10 years ago. When I first took human development classes, I was in so far over my head that it all felt like words flying at me. Nobody addressed the issues going on with my students. Today, I am in a much different position: I’m a parent; I’ve had the exposure of teaching for the last 12 years at both the secondary and post-secondary levels; I’ve welcomed foster children into my home and have had a new outlook on trauma and social-emotional struggles. I feel like after these experiences, I’ve been better able to digest and connect to the information I’ve read in class this term.
A few weeks back, I wrote about crying when you get home— this is something that happened to me regularly in the school settings I’m used to teaching in. As I look to pivot to a district with a bit more stability and support, I want to keep in mind the theorists that influence my teaching style the most and the educational theories I mostly relate to:
Humanism is a theory I believe I employ most in my classroom. I love the idea of students learning from one another and often encourage discourse in both the small and large-group settings. “It assumes that students will be highly motivated to learn when the learning material is personally meaningful, when they understand the reasons for their own behavior, and when they struggle” (Jack Snowman & Rick McCown, 2015, P483). This approach offers students the opportunity to support their own learning through understanding themselves as learners and people first. Such a big part of my beliefs as a person and an educator centers on students understanding their needs so they can best advocate for themselves and achieve their goals in education and beyond.
I’ve always found behaviorism to be fascinating. I remember sitting in my high school psychology class and learning about BF Skinner and Ivan Pavlov. After years of working in education and around others, I try to keep in mind how behaviors have an effect on nearly all other facets of our lives and I work to relate that to the needs of my students. I feel strongly in using positive reinforcement as opposed to negative and feel this something vital to the development of young people be it in the classroom or otherwise: “… the fact that many of the voluntary responses of humans are strengthened when they are reinforced and weakened when they are either ignored or punished” (Jack Snowman & Rick McCown, 2015, P239). The tenet of this aligns solely with my philosophy of education.
The cognitivism approach to learning is one that also aligns with my beliefs: “Using information can mean experimenting, questioning, reflecting, discovering, inventing and discussing. This process of creating knowledge to solve a problem and eliminate a disequilibrium is referred to as constructivism” (Jack Snowman & Rick McCown, 2015, P40). The reason that I can appreciate this methodology centers on my constant attempts at meeting students where they are, helping them to access prior knowledge and make connections to both that and what they are learning, and then elevating their thinking through an idea or concept based on lecture and class-based activities and assignments. I feel that moving through the discomfort of not knowing and coupling that with the behaviorism approach listed above (positive reinforcement) allows students to grow and best understand their learning styles and learning strengths (and weaknesses).
The last of my interested views is the constructivist approach. This approach is lesser-used by educators who teach in the typical lecture-drill capacity and thus, I feel it suits my teaching style and philosophy of education perfectly. When teaching, I focus my efforts on appropriate scaffolding and modeling because I feel these elements to be effective methods in the classroom. While I still use direct instruction/lectures, I focus my efforts around collaboration, checks for understanding, and mastery demonstration through projects and discussion. I have worked in a project-based school and thus have had school staff support the ideologies that put projects above exams and have seen first-hand the benefit to students from such an approach: “A constructivist classroom, on the other hand, is characterized by inquiry, collaboration among students, use of the teacher as a resource, explanations of points of view and solutions to problems, and attempts to reach consensus about answers and solutions” (Jack Snowman & Rick McCown, 2015, P479). Further, in my library media coursework, I have learned so much about integrating technology and how to work with school staff and content-area teachers to do so in such a way that benefits students’ curiosity and creativity.
Because of my work in an alternative school that employed school-wide project-based learning initiatives, I have a soft-spot for such promotion of thought, teaching methodologies, and assessments that push students beyond multiple choice with a side of essay question. As an ELA teacher, my inclination was to always assign written essays or projects as a means of assessment; as a future librarian, I won’t have many opportunities to assign specific deliverables but I will be in a position to work with students as they strive for success in their content-area courses. I will also be able to work with school staff to develop means and methodologies to support students in the classroom and beyond.
Taking everything learned about theorists and their research, lesson planning, assessment, and classroom management into consideration as I spent time in the library classroom is one of the many facets of adaptation I look forward to as I bridge the gap between being a stay at home mom and working back in a school environment.