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Challenge #1

August 7, 2011

I posted the challenge, so  I suppose I should talk-the-talk and answer it. I guess I would call this a bit more than my classroom philosophy – this is something of a classroom manifesto. In any case – maybe you’re thinking about these questions too, or maybe you’re trying to find the words to answer them. Hope this is helpful to you, or helpful for you to see what’s happening in my head.

Challenge #1: Answer each question in 3-5 sentences.

What are your beliefs about how students should grow in your class (academically, socially, personally)?

I am most interested in personal and social growth in my classroom – I want students to develop a playful curiosity towards the world around them and a healthy dose of confidence and personal responsibility. I hope to create these results by challenging them mathematically and creating a classroom with a structure that will allow them to collaborate with peers, take ownership of their learning, and feel rewarded for working hard and holding themselves to a higher standard. I also believe that personal growth is necessary to facilitate academic growth – in fact, that the two are inseparable if I want to encourage higher-order thinking and retention of the material in my classroom.

What are your beliefs about the best way for students to learn?

I strongly believe in the notion that knowledge is constructed, that students need to be challenged, and that content must be made relevant (either socially or personally). Knowledge is retained when students take ownership of the material – the best way to do this is to reflect on their own learning, to teach the material to others, or to create something with the content. Students need time to process and practice – they need encouragement and validation – guidance until this knowledge becomes assimilated as intuition and they lose their sense of self-doubt. Students learn best in an environment where they are unafraid to make mistakes – they are part of the learning process. The hardest things to learn are new skills and habits of mind rather than new content – however, these skills and habits are the most important aspects of my classroom.

What are your beliefs about your role as an instructor?

I am a facilitator and model – I create the structure within which students can flourish. My role as an instructor is limited to constructing their intuition – setting the stage with definitions, postulates, basic relationships, basic procedures – modeling how to use these new tools, then finding the structure or questions for them to build from this foundation. I should present my students with challenging problems or situations and consciously model new problem-solving techniques and habits of mind. I should never say anything a kid can say. I provide consistency, order, firmness, personal care and compassion. I model what it means to be respectful and responsible and unabashedly passionate.

What are your beliefs about how students should interact with each other in the classroom?

Learning is social – students are social – they should be allowed to constructively interact with their peers. They need structure and guidelines to do this – social norms which I may take for granted but they may have never seen before – and these guidelines need to be explicitly taught and practiced. A classroom should be inclusive and respectful and students should be aware of these guidelines because they take ownership of them. On-task, academic discussions should be encouraged in multiple group settings – partners, small groups, classroom discussion – and students should be given the freedom to present their ideas and opinions to their peers.

What are your beliefs about ways to create positive change in struggling/unmotivated students?

Every student is capable of change and growth – the challenge is finding their particular starting point and the best way to create growth from that point. Positive encouragement, truly caring about these students and understanding their personalities, and never giving up is essential to their success. My ultimate goal is mastery and achievement – as such, it is sometimes necessary to make lofty accommodations so these students have the time and support to reach the level they need to be at. In my classroom, learning and self-worth are the constants, not the time it takes to master the material; as long as a student is successful and feels successful by the end of our time together, I will be satisfied no matter how long it takes.

What are your beliefs about the purpose of grades in your classroom?

Grades should reflect mastery of content and, to some degree, a level of responsibility in participating in their own learning and the learning of their peers. Grades should not be punitive; they should not close doors for students that cannot be reopened, nor should they be the sole factor of motivation for a student to learn the material. I must differentiate how I grade assignments which are for practice versus formative versus summative. But most of all, I must make my philosophy of grading transparent to the students, consistent, and truly representative of their level of accomplishment in my class.

What habits of mind are most important for your students to learn?

I want my students to be curious and resourceful and unafraid when they find themselves unsure of what to do with an unfamiliar problem. I want to create a sense of confidence in their problem-solving capabilities and a comfort in trying new things and being incorrect some (if not most) of the time. I want my students to question everything and be looking for that ‘next step’ – how can I use this? Where have I seen this before? What comes next? I want my students to be reflective and analytic of their own behaviors and processes in which they learn – to be aware of what the best environment is for them to learn in, of how to best study and retain the material, of how they need to take notes in order to refresh themselves later. I want my students to be reflective problem-solvers and curious life-long learners.

One thing I’ve noticed in the world of education is that what a teacher says and what they put into practice can portray two completely different ideologies. Hopefully the tangible aspects of my classroom will live up to this philosophy…

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