Sunday, September 23, 2012

Rethinking Curriculum

This week my class was asked to consider whether we believe that curriculum is inflexible and unsupportive of optimal learning. I believe that older models of curriculum were created in societies where children’s family lives and backgrounds were more homogenous. Despite a few variations, parents raised their children the same way, certain family dynamics and roles were in place, and children belonged as much to the community as their own family. However, many can agree that that doesn’t appear to be the case anymore. If all students were typically developing and they all came from similar home lives, they might be served well under older models of curriculum (even this is not a certainty). With the diverse backgrounds that students bring to the background, curriculum needs to reflect those changes; it must be culturally responsive.

We were also asked to consider the benefits and drawbacks of focusing more on the weaknesses and strengths of curriculum than students. A benefit to this approach is that focusing on the curriculum is an opportunity for a teacher to remodel it to optimize student learning. Universally designed curriculum is of no use to students if the curriculum is unsatisfactory or outdated. The teacher has the chance to draw on their years of experience in the classroom, including successes and failures, and construct a curriculum that fosters innovation, creative thinking, optimal information processing, and other 21st century skills. On the other hand, a drawback to this approach could be that a teacher becomes so focused on the curriculum that they do not take time to get to know their students individually. In the end, they could continue to be curriculum-driven and curriculum-focused, a model which has not served education well to date.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Learning with Mr. Tully

One of the most valuable additions to my PLN over the last year has been Christopher Tully. Christopher Tully is a multimedia technology instructor at Middle Bucks Institute of Technology, adjunct professor, and trainer. By following his blog, Twitter feed, and seeing his presentations, I have learned so much about what it means to be an educator. I have learned strategies that have served me well in the classroom that I have been able to share with other educators.

These are a few of the gems I've gotten from him in the past year:

"Let students learn by failing." This is something that I am still processing and working through but I am learning that students can learn just as much from failure as they can from success.

Responsibility, time management and collaboration are important when using technology in the classroom. Using technology is about more than the tool itself. Teachers need to communicate clear expectations for appropriate use, set guidelines, and allow for collaboration with others to ensure that activities and projects run smoothly.

Career and technical education is so much more than most realize. Christopher Tully is a vocal advocate for career and technical education. Students in career and technical education are not academically challenged. They learn the same standards-required content as those in traditional educational settings but they are allowed to do it in a hands-on and project-based way. 

"Empower students to use technology. You'll never know what they do." Within every student, there is tons of creativity waiting to be unleashed. Giving them a tool plus the freedom to create with it can release that creativity and talents they may not have known they had.

"Teacher behavior impacts student achievement." Every student can remember a teacher that believed in them and helped them to achieve more than they imagined. It is those teachers that sincerely have the ability to change lives. A teacher's attitude, as well as their words, can have great impact on their students and shape how they view themselves as learners. 

Set higher expectations to maximize student potential. It is believed that demanding more from students is setting them up for failure. I disagree. I believe that when students are challenged, they rise to meet those expectation. Students are capable of more than they realize and with opportunities to prove themselves, they often will. 

Success for students should be doing their best work. In a day and age when we are driven by grades and test scores, the intrinsic motivation of learning can easily be lost. Instead, students need to be encouraged to put their best effort into everything they do.

One of my favorite talks he did was on creating engaged and motivated classrooms. I applied a lot of this when I was student teaching and it changed the way my students worked, the classroom environment, and my interaction with my students.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My Learning, My Style

Last week I took a learning style inventory to assess what my top learning styles were. Here were my results:

I have taken a few learning style assessments before so I wasn't surprised to see that my highest was intrapersonal because I am one who likes to reflect on experiences, set goals, and connect my prior learning to new situations. My second highest, linguistic, also made sense because I was an English major in college and I always had a love for how words communicate ideas, give things meaning, creates connections, and tell stories. The one high scoring that surprised me was the interpersonal. This was surprising to me because I tend to lean more toward being introverted. I was unsure how it had risen so much since the last time I had taken an assessment like this. But then I realized that over the course of building my PLN, that I had started to become a connected educator. Over the last two years, I have seen the value of learning with, learning from, and connecting to other educators instead of learning on my own. Through my collaborations with other educators, my need to learn in the context of community grew.

While discussing the outcomes of our learning styles as a class, one of my classmates mentioned that she noticed that she taught her students the most from her learning style. This reminded me of a conversation that I had with a professor in which she told me that many educators teach from their learning style because that is how they feel the most comfortable but it could alienate other students that are not strong in that learning style. As I reflected on my own learning, I realized that a lot of my teaching centers around reflection and writing, which serves my linguistic and intrapersonal students well but there is little instruction that targets naturalistic, musical, and visual-spatial students, which I scored low in. So what does all of this meaning for my teaching? That I need to step out of my comfort zone and remember that within a classroom, there are students that come with a variety of learning styles and I need to make sure that their learning styles are represented in my instruction.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Physician's Oath for Teachers

Image by James Vaughn

The other day I was watching one of those fictional doctor shows and they talked about the physician’s oath that doctors take before entering the medical community. It is an oath that commits all those that take it to a common code of appropriate behavior. This got me thinking: what if beyond uniform standards and teaching credentials there was an oath for teachers entering the education field, code of conduct that binds us all by our common desire to serve children and our communities above all else?

This is what my oath would look like:
  • I solemnly pledge myself to consecrate my life to the service of my school community;
  • I will give to fellow teachers, administration and parents the respect and gratitude which is their due;
  • I will practice my profession with conscience and dignity; the well-being of the whole student will be my first consideration;
  • I will maintain by all the means in my power, the honor and the noble traditions of the education profession; my colleagues will be my brothers and I will learn from and collaborate with them;
  • I will not permit considerations of religion, nationality, race, party politics, financial or social standing to intervene between my duty and my students;
  • I will maintain the utmost respect for the unique personalities, backgrounds and learning styles of my students, even under government intervention, I will not treat my students like a test score;
  • I make these promises solemnly, freely and upon my honor.

If you had to make an oath, what would it look like?