I believe learning is a continuous, iterative process. When one learns something, they are forever altered by that experience. Learning in the classroom should be a foundation from which other types of learning will occur—thus it is incredibly important for the teacher to make that experience right. An effective teacher not only helps their students learn concepts but master them. In mastering a concept, a student has broken it down into its components. The student understands each part and where it fits into the “whole.” For me, teaching is an engaging, illuminating process towards this. A good teacher both “guides” and “builds muscle mass” within the student. I show my students how A leads to B, B leads to C. When a student connects A to B, they build muscle mass. This makes it easier to connect B to C. The goal is to empower them to connect C to D on their own, with me in the background to provide support when needed.
Students need to feel comfortable exploring concepts, and this is why classrooms (and office hours) are important. The atmosphere of a classroom should be a safe, inviting one. It is important everyone inside its walls feels valued and respected. Classrooms should inspire students to push towards their objectives and expand horizons. Students should show up to class wanting to put in work. Students should be inquisitive, welcoming and respectful of differing viewpoints. It is my responsibility facilitate all of this and to engage students on their level. I strive to work with them in figuring out what strategies works best to master the course material. This relationship is not just about the subject material du jour. I strive to provide helpful guidance for their overall goals and walk alongside them towards this end. This means subject material should always be relevant. I like to begin this relationship by asking each student why they are taking a class, where they hope to be at the end of the semester and any worries they have about getting there. Expectations and learning outcomes will then be made clear. Similarly, rules of conduct for all will be discussed and agreed upon. Grading rubrics, and previous examples where feasible, will be clear for each assignment so students will know ahead of time what they need to do to succeed.
Every student has their own processes for learning. A good teacher must employ multiple strategies to reach students. Here are mine:
1. Visualization: Lectures and words on a PowerPoint can only go so far-- especially with different types of learners. Activity and exercises help connect theory and concepts to life outside the classroom.
2. Cooperative Group Learning: Students have mixed abilities. Often times it is difficult to see the whole picture by yourself. Working together in small groups students, can share ideas, complement each other’s abilities and gain a broader perspective.
3. Inquiry-based education: Encouraging students to ask questions and investigate their own ideas helps improve their critical analysis and problem-solving skills as well as gain a deeper understanding of academic concepts. Thus, before/at the beginning of a lesson, it is important to explain why we study the subject matter.
4. Error analysis/show bad examples: Many teachable moments begin with some sort of failure. Learning what not to do and why can often be as important as what to do. Sometimes we fall so that we can learn to pick ourselves back up again. However, it is important that this never be used in a way to shame students or create incentives for students to shame each other—inadvertently or not.