Philosophy of Teaching and Learning

Philosophy of Teaching and Learning

My teaching philosophy is grounded in the belief that teachers are active, collaborative members of a learning community that expands beyond the classroom. Few students can learn effectively as passive recipients of information in a one-way transmission from the teacher, so the teacher’s role is to create a learning community in which all students feel valued and connected to the material, thereby encouraging them to participate in their own learning. I implement my philosophy of teaching and learning as a partnership within a learning community through (1) deliberate community building in the classroom, (2) varied pedagogical practices and textual sources to integrate demographic and cognitive diversity, and (3) continual development of my own teaching strategies.

Because community building requires an active integration of students’ perspectives to course content and activities, I implement inclusive teaching practices that include: (1) diversity and collegiality statement, (2) classroom management guidelines, (3) community building activities, (4) regular formative assessment, and (5) active discussion techniques. To my mind, community building in the classroom means implementing strategies whereby each student feels they can contribute a valuable perspective to the course while developing a genuine sense of belonging to the learning community. As the 1989 study of French and German classes by Little and Sanders showed, classroom community building is essential to the success of communicative activities.[1] Therefore, a significant portion of the first class each semester is dedicated to community building activities and discussions, especially since several studies indicate that the tone set on the first day of class affects student motivation and satisfaction throughout the semester.[2]  To foster the sense that my students and their contributions are valued, all of my syllabi include a statement on diversity and classroom respect that I take several minutes of class the first day to read and discuss. My students also fill out questionnaires on the first day of class so I can learn about their personal interests, prior knowledge of the material, and pronoun/name preferences in privacy. By asking them several questions about their interests and experiences, then mentioning them later, I show my students that their unique perspective is valued and I care to know about them as fellow members of our classroom community. Varying discussion techniques (such as pyramid discussions and debates, speed-dating discussions, rounds in small groups, etc.), minute papers, anonymous Kahoot! quizzes and surveys are all ways in which each students can allow their voice to be heard, even those who feel uncomfortable speaking aloud in the class. The ACFTL Standards inform my teaching not only of my language classes, but also content courses as I encourage the communication, comparisons, and connections that will help them understand that our learning community extends beyond our classroom.

Part of encouraging students to feel their voice is valued means considering demographic and cognitive diversity in all aspects of course design and learning goals and objectives. In both language and content courses, it is important for students to encounter a variety of sources to encourage their engagement and personal connection to the material. This diversity simultaneously exposes them to new perspectives and helps their own point of view to feel validated within the classroom. While assessment of learning styles can never fully articulate students’ classroom experience, the Kolb Learning Styles Inventory serves as a useful resource while striving to vary the format and activities of my classroom. Dr. Laura Border’s interpretation of the Kolb LSI provides a wide variety of keywords indicating what “doing” means to different groups, and lesson-planning with the aid of that list encourages me to develop new approaches to teaching and directing activities, especially those which do not come naturally to my own learning style. Through assessments of my own teaching, I continue to improve upon my feedback-giving strategies; the data from the Student Assessment and Feedback Enhancement project have informed my development of probing questions and constructive feedback.[3] By developing these feedback practices, I encourage students to assume an active role in the discovery of knowledge so they do not become passive recipients of information. To foster this sense of shared discovery, I am careful to indicate to students when they have ideas or perspectives that have not occurred to me; this helps them understand that I too am a member of the learning community as I learn from my students every semester.

Since the classroom experience is a partnership between teacher and student, it is my responsibility to continually improve my pedagogical practices and methodology. As such, I am currently implanting the first of several planned Teaching-as-Research projects. After teaching content courses in French and English, it became apparent that hesitancy and silence in class discussions was caused by failure to comprehend the text or engage with the reading on a deep level. The hypothesis I am testing this semester is that by using Bloom’s taxonomy to organize and pre-load discussion questions, students’ reading will be directed and therefore more fruitful. Improvement will be judged on three factors: respondent diversity, silence length, and on-line reading comprehension quizzes compared to the same quizzes from the previous semester. Through the implementation of this personal project, I hope to improve the students’ experience during class discussions and their performance on summative assessment. I intend to continue TAR projects in my classrooms as a way to pointedly measure and improve my teaching effectiveness.

Maintaining this philosophy of partnerships within a learning community means that I hold students accountable for their own learning. My role is not only to teach students French and an appreciation of literature, but to help them develop skills that will help them become life-long learners and productive members of their future fields as their learning community expands throughout their careers.

[1] Greta D. Little and Sarah L. Sanders, “Classroom Community: A Prerequisite for Communication,” Foreign Language Annals, Vol. 22, Issue 3, May 1989, pp.277-281.

[2] Janie H. Wilson and Shauna B. Wilson, “The First Day of Class Affects Student Motivation: An Experimental Study,” Teaching of Psychology, Vol.34, No.4, 2007, pp.226-230.

A.D. Herman, D.A. Foster, and E.E. Hardin, “Does the first week of class matter? A quasi-experimental investigation of student satisfaction,” Teaching of Psychology, Vol. 37, 2010, pp.79-84.

[3] David Carless, Diane Salter, Min Yang, and Joy Lam, “Developing sustainable feedback practices,” Studies in Higher Education, Vol. 36, No. 4, June 2011, pp.395-407.