Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Teaching Philosophy of a Non-Traditional Learner

My education has not followed a traditional model; and I take the lessons learned from training as an actor/dancer,using drama as an interactive tool for teaching behavioral change, and additional learning most recently at Goddard College to frame my pedagogical approach.

As a learner I have always benefited from demonstration, experience, and practice - and carry this forward in my teaching. I try and provide information and opportunity for learning in many forms: reading, didactic, visual example, and experiential.

As a student at Goddard I was heavily influenced by John Dewey as a framework for research and learning. Goddard was founded by Dewey and established as a school to bring his theories to life. Goddard is constantly asking the learner: "What are you passionate about? and What is the burning question in your soul?" I found this an amazing approach for research and applied knowledge. I was encouraged to ask a question - seek an answer - use all tools available for investigation - and demonstrate my learning. Through this method I had to use all disciplines to answer my own question. I needed language skills to read and write. I needed research and critical thinking skills to gather information. I needed to use quantitative as well as qualitative research to argue a position. This approach taught me the value of working cross discipline. It made me seek the skills needed to answer my question rather than feeling forced to learn basic skills without a solid reason for learning them.

I spent 20 years working with PACT Training using drama as a tool for experiential learning. Through the PACT approach I grew to understand the value of practicing skills in a safe environment before testing them in the real world. This approach introduced me to frameworks like Bloom and Freire. Greatly influenced by Boal and Theatre of the Oppressed I've used all types of learning and demonstration to work for Social Justice. I've learned I cannot change a person's attitude, but I can help change their behavior. Hopefully changing a behavior will influence their attitude to a way of thinking beneficial to society.
As a diversity trainer in the 1990's I watched organization after organization struggle with how to build respect in the workplace for all types of people. I observed the "traditional white male" being forced to accept as equals people of different gender, race, belief, and eventually sexual orientation. I watched new behaviors forced on them in the workplace. It didn't change the way they thought - at first - but it did change their behavior. Eventually I started to observe behaviors outside the workforce change until ideas we taught changed attitudes, and the way people thought. This drove me to my own burning question: "When does an idea reach critical mass?"
As a teacher it drove me to understand my duty is leading others to information with as many styles of learning as possible; and provide a safe environment to discuss, practice and experience what is being learned before setting the learner free to fly.

8 comments:

  1. I have to say that I had never get the point of Pyramid diagrams, like in the Dewey's framework. But I am looking forward to start reading more about it and getting the point.

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  2. I meant to say Bloom's pyramid...

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    1. Milena - I'd say it is a tool for teaching like any other. Sometimes they are relevant and other times not so much.
      Pyramids started making sense to me the first time I was introduced to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. That was such an AHA! moment for me I started visioning "everything" in a pyramid. I think i have cured my self of that affliction. I do like having a visual in my head though. The pyramid helps me there.

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  3. Pyramids are more useful for some, depends on how you might learn best I suppose. With Maslow, each tier is dependent on the lower tier being fulfilled in the hierarchy, and in some ways that approach applies to Bloom as well.

    In the end, I suppose its just another way to say, to achieve the more complex, the fundamentals must be in place. :)

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  4. Steven, I am intrigued by your Goddard experience, and most especially by the fervor with which you embraced questions like "what are you passionate about" and "what is the burning question in your soul?" Those questions have guided me throughout my life, consciously or unconsciously, and I believe likely drive most of us who pursue academic careers. That being said, I wonder if all the students at Goddard responded as you did? I ask this because I am struck by the inability of most of my students to answer any of those questions.

    I begin the semester in my public speaking classes with a small, two-minute speech in which students are asked to address the following: If money were no object, if education were no object, if you could simply snap your fingers and be living your dream, what would that be, what would it look like, and why is it your dream?

    I am struck by the number of students who are simply incapable of answering this question. Students don't have dreams? Young people don't have dreams, passions, burning questions in their souls? Really? Or is it, rather, that we simply don't encourage our youth to explore such questions in an attempt to pound "reality" into their heads?

    It seems to me this is an important aspect of teaching, of any pedagogical approach. My teaching philosophy ends with the following: "I hope I have sparked the same love of learning in my students that I have always had, and will continue to have throughout my life. I dare say that I have had an impact on students. I can only hope the smoldering embers of interest ignite into a flame that sets their intellectual desires and curiosities on fire." This is what I try to do when I teach, to convey my own passion for learning and questioning and exploring in such a way that it becomes contagious and that students embrace the same passion. It starts with the speech. And it's like pulling teeth.

    Which brings me back to Goddard... Do students attend Goddard because they already have that passion and so are attracted to the institution, or do they develop the passion as the result of attending the institution? If it is the former, I wonder why more students don't have the passion. If it is the latter, I am interested in how Goddard encourages the discovery and development of the passion.

    I'll refrain from commenting on the pyramid, though I do approach most things in my life from a visual perspective and the pyramid is visual. But my brain hurts now. :)

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  5. Lisa, "we" do pound reality into their heads, or perhaps their construction of reality is based on where and what backgrounds or past experiences required them to endure (or not endure) has left them with only one question: How do I survive? Or not... Do you follow up and ask them why they don't have dreams beyond their future here?

    Steven, I would love to hear more in detail about Goddard as well. Lisa asked some very good questions. I would also like to know how these burning questions and performance can be integrated online. Do you envision multimodal compositions? And do you think about online personas? I'm sure everyone ends up Fernando Pessoa at some point or another. Do we need students to be genuine? Or does that not matter? Does their creative/academic persona contribute to their construction of new knowledge?

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    1. Great questions! Who is Fernando Pessoa? (Guess I could Google that...)

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  6. Wow:
    "What are you passionate about? and What is the burning question in your soul?" I found this an amazing approach for research and applied knowledge."

    "This approach taught me the value of working cross discipline. It made me seek the skills needed to answer my question rather than feeling forced to learn basic skills without a solid reason for learning them."

    Want to know more:
    PACT approach?

    "I've learned I cannot change a person's attitude, but I can help change their behavior. Hopefully changing a behavior will influence their attitude to a way of thinking beneficial to society."

    "This drove me to my own burning question: "When does an idea reach critical mass?""

    Beautiful, Steve! (I want to read the next 200 pages!)

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