Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Pedagogy and the Classroom


Like others have articulated, I have not given a lot of formal thought to the pedagogical approach I use as an educator.  Over the years, I think I more or less cultivated a generic understanding of ways in which I wanted to create critical thinkers, and students interested in engaging one another in my classroom.  Several years ago I had the opportunity to take a faculty development course where we looked at this very issue.  Even then, I found myself thinking that I probably should have taken some education courses prior to teaching, in order to ground myself as I attempted to become a formal educator.   There is often the mistaken notion that because one has earned the doctorate in their field, that they have somehow mastered all of the elements of the discipline such that they can now teach effectively.  This is hardly the case.  To become a really good educator takes a tremendous amount of work.

Looking at the frameworks that we were exposed to, I would probably say that my leaning is towards Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory.   I would say that this was true even before I knew what Vygotsky’s theory was about.   His theory, which emphasizes how cognitive functioning is related to culture, community and historical context, truly reflects my orientation to both teaching and learning.  Vygotsky noted the importance of others as we attempt to learn.  That others, either more knowledgeable peers, or those senior to us who are more knowledgeable and learned, can support our own learning and gently guide us to reaching higher levels of knowledge.

I recall many, many years ago while a student in high school, I had a math teacher who clearly had a “sink or swim” mentality.  It was like she threw us into difficult concepts that we had to somehow figure out, and find a way to demonstrate, to her satisfaction, our understanding of Euclidean geometry.  Although I was a strong math student, I suffered under her hands.  The classroom environment felt extremely hostile to me, and it did not feel like a safe learning environment.  This occurred so many years ago, yet has stayed with me – for far too long.   This taught me a lot about learning and the need to feel supported in the process.

Also, when I think about how I have “learned best,” it has more often than not been when I have been able to “do.”   This notion of having learners do or practice, is embedded in Vygotsky’s theory.  For example, when I was in graduate school training to become a psychologist, I read so many theories about human development, psychopathology, treatment approaches and so forth, some of which interested me greatly, and others, not so much.  But it was not until I began working with actual clients (when I was able to “do”) did the learning take place.  The process of reporting back to my clinical supervisor, talking about what I did, and reflecting on how I understood what I did, allowed me to feel very active in the learning process.  I was now able to make use of very abstract theories with real people, and apply what I had taken in.  I was able to show what I had learned.  My clinical supervisor, in providing me feedback as I talked about my cases, effectively “scaffolded” me.  He or she would provide me with the necessary support to help me move forward, learn how to function as a clinician, to the point where I could work independently.  This training to become a psychologist provided me with the type of experience that Vygotsky spoke of in his work.  I was able to move through my zone of proximal development and realize my potential over time.

In my work as an educator, I feel it my duty to provide support to students as they move through their learning.   I also want my students to recognize that they are capable of learning from their peers and making use of those who are in many ways similar to them, but who may have a little more knowledge in an area that they can draw from. In this way, everyone benefits.  We create a more collaborative learning environment where students recognize other students as viable (and valuable) sources of information.  The professor doesn’t have to be the fountain of all knowledge and information.  Each student can learn and have more appreciation for their own, and others’ ideas.

While I am still learning about web 2.0 tools, I know that I want to make use of in class are the tools that foster collaboration and exchange of ideas.   I want my students to speak to one another; share with one another so that they may ultimately learn from one another.

7 comments:

  1. I identify with your experience in high-school math class. I had a similar experience with my Physics teacher in high-school.

    As a Math teacher I try to avoid generating in my students feelings of insecurity, fright or dismay. I believe that those feelings have been used by many teachers to cover for lack of knowledge (if your students are scare they don't ask questions). I also believe that it is the starting point of students math anxiety.

    I am firm believer that Mathematical Basic Skills are reachable for all, at different paces but we all can do it. I say that to my students, but I also tell them that it requires work, like any other thing requires discipline and work to be mastered.

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  2. I enjoyed your post, particularly when you discuss how working in your field in psychology brought you full circle through the learning process, from knowing to applying.

    I too (and I'm sure many if not all of our peers) have had educational experiences and teacher approaches that felt off, poorly executed, etc. I hold these life experiences with as much value as those experiences that were excellent; they have given a perspective of what not to be just as those who excel show us what to strive to become.

    Looking forward to getting to know you more!

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  3. I like your point about professors taking some basic education courses. I think that makes obvious sense. I didn't do it with the aim to improve my teaching but because it was specifically related to the research I was doing. But it's had obvious influence on my practical teaching methods.

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  4. I most definitely agree with the notion of "learning by doing." It is something that we struggle with in business, where there are so many abstract concepts we discuss in theory...Students often learn best by rolling up their sleeves and attempting to DO what they are learning about, but it is not always easy (or possible) to provide them with these opportunities . I am eager to see how the Web 2.0 tools will allow your students the opportunity to collaborate, and hopefully, to "do."

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  5. Students attempts at completing challenging tasksis often met with feelings of frustration and inadequacy. In reality it doesn't take much to lose a student early on in the semester, one that feels the work may be to difficult or is too embaressed to ask for assistance. Support is definitely key. Its good to establishing that in order for students to move through obstacles they must first become aware of what those are and from there with the assistance of you as the instructor can work towards the point where assistance becomes less of a necessity.

    Using online tools could be a good way for your students to comfortably express how they approach and interpret certain concepts while gaining tips and guidance from their classmates, slowly allowing the shift from instructor support to peer support.

    Students look to instructors for guidance and I do agree that;

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  6. Your post was so engaging because you related your teaching to your own learning both in school and professionally. A great model for your students (and for us!). I loved when you write:
    "There is often the mistaken notion that because one has earned the doctorate in their field, that they have somehow mastered all of the elements of the discipline such that they can now teach effectively." So true!
    "It was like she threw us into difficult concepts that we had to somehow figure out, and find a way to demonstrate, to her satisfaction, our understanding of Euclidean geometry. Although I was a strong math student, I suffered under her hands." It's amazing how these "negative models" stay with us and spur us to act differently in our own classrooms. (Did you read Sree's and Irwin's posts? They talk about experiences in similar pedagogical approaches.)
    You've expressed the potential of Web 2.0 beautifully here:
    "We create a more collaborative learning environment where students recognize other students as viable (and valuable) sources of information. The professor doesn’t have to be the fountain of all knowledge and information. Each student can learn and have more appreciation for their own, and others’ ideas."
    This post can be unpacked and expanded into a scholarly article about teaching and learning. Keep building on it!

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  7. Vanessa, so full of insight. It's great the way you are so mindfully using your own educational experience and what you have learned about yourself as a learner to inform the choices that you will make around web 2.0 tools - and I;m sure, to the approaches you employ to teach with them.

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