Beginning Thoughts on a Teaching Philosophy

“I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”

― Albert Einstein

I heard the above quotation while watching a rerun of Criminal Minds (to be exact, “Zoe’s Reprise,” S4 Ep14) and found it resonated with me. This, this is what I attempt to do in the classroom; really, I think it is all any instructor can do. We “provide the conditions”: a space that encourages exploration and questions, the information students need to acquire necessary skills, the guidance and feedback that motivates and encourages progress. (I know I’m repeating the word “encourage” but I can’t think of a better one at the moment.) But no matter how much effort I put into creating the ideal learning conditions for students, it is ultimately up to the student to LEARN, just as what exactly they learn or take away from the course is ultimately up to them as well.

“encourage students to take responsibility for their learning through reflection–>repeated student feedback and reflection opportunities in class help students become more self-aware regarding their learning needs, skills to be improved upon, habits to change, etc., which will help them throughout their lives

evaluate and adjust/adapt”

I jotted the above on a Post-It in a moment of teaching philosophy inspiration, similar to that I experienced while watching Criminal Minds. I absolutely believe that students need to take responsibility for their learning. I cannot anticipate the ideal learning conditions for the individual students that make up each distinct class, and I therefore am constantly evaluating each class’s overall learning needs and making adjustments in the schedule and/or adapting class activities and assignments. But my evaluation can only see so much, and I have found student self-evaluation and feedback to be particularly useful in making such adjustments necessary for the occurrence of the maximum level of student learning and progress.

One pedagogical practice that I have readily researched and implemented within the classroom is that of reflection (or metacognition). I have found this practice to be useful in my own learning, as after almost ten years of higher education I have finally developed my own personal “best practices” when it comes to learning, reading, writing, etc. It is, of course, always in fluctuation, but then reflection is a continuous practice, not a one-time deal. In the classroom, I periodically ask students to reflect on learning:

  • Is there anything you still have questions about and/or would like to review in class?
  • What are you confused about?
  • What classroom activities have proven most/least helpful to your learning?
  • What are your thoughts/feeling on the course theme (or a specific text) and has this changed as the course has progressed?
  • What skills do you think you have achieved?
  • What skills do you need to continue working on?
  • What would improve your learning experience in this course?

Similarly, I ask students to reflect upon their own works-in-progress:

  • Do you have any questions regarding the assignment?
  • What do you need to do to complete the assignment successfully?
  • What steps have you completed? What still needs to be done to complete the assignment?
  • How much time do you have to work on the assignment?
  • How will you prioritize the work still to be done?
  • What is your planned work schedule?

These latter reflective activities require less action or response from myself as the instructor; they are directed more towards the students’ self-identification of learning needs (such as spending more time on the assignment, asking questions about the assignment) and uneffective habits (such as procrastination). This metacognition encourages students to succeed not only in my course, but in their other coursework and more general endeavors; knowing how to assess a situation as objectively as possible and make appropriate changes to improve the situation are skills that will serve my students long after they graduate and enter the workforce.

PS: I think creating a teaching philosophy concept map, like this one, would also be a good and fun idea.

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