How can I become a better teacher? This question, although simple, is one of the most important inquiries made by a teacher, especially a new teacher. In order to answer this question, I sought to learn, practice, and reflect on the wisdom and experience of others. By adopting the idea of “teaching for appreciation” from Brophy (2010) in “On Excellence Of Teaching, I was able to apply this idea in my own classroom (p. 313). I saw a void in my instruction and realized that my students not only need to understand ideas but they also need to see purpose. This is a simple idea for a new teacher to grasp, but it is also easily overlooked. In the beginning, my classes would fly by, and I was not making an effort to connect what we were doing in class with my students’ lives. I wrongly assumed that my students would make those connections between what we learn and what they do. After implementing the idea of teaching for appreciation, I have seen a change in my student’s effort that they are putting into class projects. For instance, in my Technology Information Literacy class, students went above and beyond the expectations for the last project after I showed them that there were very good reasons for learning it. Once I connected the dots to how the assignment actually applied to their lives, the students then turned around and put their heart into completing the project.
As an incoming teacher, I knew that teachers play an important role not only in a student’s learning, but also in his or her personal growth as a person. However, knowing this was different than when I actually experienced it. Since I hope to lead students to grow into men and women of character, morals, and values, I see an important connection between these desires and Kohlberg’s (2009) moral stages explained in “Educational Psychology: A Global Text”. It was interesting to read how a person’s perception of values could change based on what stage of life they were currently in and how the definition of “good” can vary in so many different ways. Through this realization, I have found that I cannot rush my students through these stages or force them to make the decisions that I think are good. However, I can model what a moral person looks like and encourage students to rise to their potential.
During these stages of development, it is important for teachers to be looking for different learning styles in their students as students develop learning skills. I had previously heard about learning styles, but I was excited to learn more and apply the ideas in my classroom. At first, these ideas had me anxiously wondering, “How can I meet every learning style every class period?” In Educational Psychology: A Global Text”, Seifert and Sutton’s (2009) response to this conundrum is to remember that even though teachers need to support all learning styles when possible, is not necessary for every situation (p. 65). To go deeper into these ideas, I consulted Shannon’s (2008) article “Using Metacognitive Strategies and Learning Styles to Create Self-Directed Learners.” Shannon used the seven perceptual learning styles that the Institute for Learning Styles Research had catagorized: Print (written words), aural (listening), interactive (verbalization), visual (depictions), haptic (touch), kinesthetic (body movement), and olfactory (smell and taste) (p. 20). I applied this research to my classroom by using as many learning styles as possible in each lesson. Rather than simply verbally giving the students instructions, I also had the words written on the board alongside a visual example when applicable. What did I find from these efforts? The students that tended to get distracted easily were following directions! This was a breath of fresh air because my students are better understanding information and engaging with the subject rather than disengaging from the classroom.
In my research of learning styles, I also looked to see how Silver, Strong and Perini (2010) interpreted the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to explain the sources of student motivation in the classroom (p. 325-326). After learning about the four natural human drives, I began to apply this knowledge to my classes to see if the outcome would give me a different view than my understanding of the seven perceptual learning styles previously discussed. I soon saw that a large amount of my junior high students fell into the “mastery style” category and learned best through step-by-step practical instructions. On the other hand, my high school classes leaned closer to the “understanding style” because they liked working with comprehending larger ideas that they could apply in their learning. I see the self-expressive style in a few specific students as they take projects to a whole new level in their artistic creativity. These results interest me because I would naturally assume that a group of highly-social junior high and high school students would primarily tend towards the interpersonal style.
This new awareness of the four natural human drives in my classroom soon bore fruit. In the high school class, I introduced each unit with a larger overarching theme for them to grasp, and in return, my students showed a faster rate of comprehending the information. I also started implementing a few of the “Eight C’s” and soon found that it takes a large amount of effort and planning to include all eight in the technology classes that I teach (Silver, Strong, and Perini 2010, pg 326-329). However, this challenge does not mean that I should not try; it simply means that I need to deliberately motivate my students to engage in class. Both approaches to differentiated learning that I experimented with are similar but have allowed me to see different angles of this subject. I not only have tangible practices to use in class, but I also have a new awareness of student learning that has become second nature in how I communicate with my students.
After reading through Seifert and Sutton’s (2009) chapter on “Students with special educational needs”, I looked at my classroom and immediately saw behaviorism issues and metacognition failures (p. 91). With this newfound information, I decided to collaborate with the special education teachers at my school in order to establish a better learning environment in my class. My school has dedicated much effort to creating a stable system for students with 504 plans or IEP’s. In this system, we have these students interlaced throughout our classes, while they have specialists that they work with alongside our classes. After my first meeting with the SAS department at my school, I soon realized that the success of these specific students would not only be an outcome of my effort in the classroom but also the relationship that I had with the special education teachers. In this newfound collaboration, the teachers believed that the first order of action should be for me to see through my student’s point of view. These teachers had me observe their one-on-one learning sessions with my students to better understand the challenges that these students face. The situations that shocked me the most were the students who could not understand social interaction and could not attach meaning to communication. As I was able to see from my student’s perspectives, I soon realized where some of my blind spots were. To fill in the gap, I have started an open communication line with the SAS instructors of my students. I am constantly updating them on what is going on in class, so that they can then work one-on-one with the students to ensure understanding. These instructors are in return giving me feedback of what is working, what is not and what should be reevaluated in my classroom.
For students to learn, they must find some source of motivation. This was a challenge in my high school Technology Information Literacy class because the class was solely dedicated to teaching the Microsoft Office suite, which students had already labeled as boring. In this case, I have had difficulty getting students engaged with the subject matter. When we got to the Publisher Unit, I decided at try Seifert and Sutton’s (2009) “motives as interest” approach with both situational interests and personal interests (p. 113). In this approach, I created a project called the Apprentice: Parts I, II, and III that would grab student’s interest and feed into our other units. In Part I, students must create a personal business and design their brand identity in Publisher. In Part II, students will “pitch” their business to me, “Donald Trump”, through a dynamic Powerpoint presentation. Donald Trump will then agree to fund their business and the project will end in Part III where students will create an Excel spreadsheet of their needed expenses to get their business off the ground. Through this project, I have allowed room for students to engage with the Office Suite through their personal interests, and it is clearly evident in their newfound excitement for the subject matter. Concurrently, I also plan on creating situational interest in the classroom through use of video examples, visuals, and even props to explain how these computer programs can be effectively used.
How do I focus on keeping my students engaged in the classroom, motivated to learn and interested in the subject? To answer that question, Silver and Perini (2010) gave me a powerful statement that has stuck with me, “…if we do not design lessons and units that will strengthen student’s commitment to learn, then we cannot expect them to take an active or in-depth approach to learning” (p.324). Therefore, it is my responsibility as a teacher to design my classroom and instruction around my students’ needs, interests and personal growth. This information will continue to help me see a new perspective on students, focus my attention on honoring student diversity and development, and hopefully become a better teacher year by year.
Brophy, J. (2010). On Excellence In Teaching. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Seifert, K., & Sutton, R. (2009). Educational Psychology: A Global Text. Zurich, Switzerland: Jacobs Foundation. Retrieved from https://learn.spu.edu/webapp /portal/frameset.
Shannon, S. V. (2008). Using Metacognitive Strategies and Learning Styles to Create. Institute For Learning Styles Journal, 1. Retrieved from http://www.learningstyles .org