Knowing my students lays the foundation for my teaching. From the first day of class in my face-to-face environments, I try to gain meaningful information about my students: what they need to learn, important aspects of their background, and their learning needs. I revisit this information throughout the semester to stay connected with who my students are and what they need.
Throughout my courses, I try to get to know students as individuals. I chat with students before and after class. During small groups discussions in class, I actively visit groups, ask questions, and answer questions they have about me. I have bonded with students over a shared love of a given movie or by being with a student when he shared that he just learned of the suicide of a adolescent mentee of his. I build relationships so students can trust me to help them when they need.
When teaching, I am very conscious of scaffolding and the Japanese notion of miramoru (to attentively watch over). I try to offer the least amount of support that a student needs to learn. Some students need more one-on-one time or me finding different ways to ask a question or providing an example. Other students need help making connections. Still others need to be challenged to defend their ideas and arguments. I can do this because I get to know my students as individuals.
The following is part of an email from a student about her experience in my class in Spring 2018:
"Thank you so much for your kind words and acknowledging my growth as a student. You are an amazing instructor who genuinely cares and never gives up until a student understands the material. You made learning effortless and interactive and that’s the best way for a student to learn — organically. My peers were wonderful and I love how you gave us opportunities to socialize and learn material through communicating with other students."
My recent content was an introductory Educational Psychology course. Helping students engage with and understand the broad, survey course is challenging. We explore learning, development, motivation, and issues of culture all in 30 classes.
I believe that humans construct our own knowledge and that learners - students and teachers - need multiple opportunities to experience things in order to understand and connect new information to prior knowledge. Because of this, I aim to provide students with a variety of opportunities to engage with content throughout a course. I employ:
In a recent lesson about Piaget's operations, I taught in a way that relied on students' own construction of knowledge. I assigned pairs of students to unpack one operation and share with the whole class their findings. We did this while building a model of the operations that we mapped on to Piaget's stages. My students were used to having me provide much structure and support in their learning - clear tasks with clear objectives. For this lesson, I wanted to embrace the notion of constructivism and allow students to focus on the meaning they were making without my direct guidance. Some students were frustrated and did not understand my pedagogical choices. This provided an opportunity to discuss constructivism and the expectations of teaching and learning in schools. I was proud to employ different techniques and be able to support students making sense of both the content and the instructional decisions.