My Goal as an Educator
Let’s imagine a scenario where I encounter a student after they graduate and the conversation somehow stumbles toward the topic of what they learned from taking my class. In this instance, let’s suppose they took an English class.
Maybe they’d thank me for teaching them how to properly write an essay, or for testing them on literary devices. Maybe they would appreciate how much we went over proper research techniques or that we didn’t just focus on literature but that we explored current topics – topics that they felt informed them of the world they were about to enter as adults. All of these things would be great but they’re not necessarily what I’m hoping to hear.
I’d love it if they said they learned how to be persuasive. From the experience of taking my class they’re not afraid to ask questions, whether it’d be to ask for help, to challenge their instructor or respectfully challenge authority. I want them to say they found out they’re creative, or even better, that they found new ways to be creative. I would hope they’d tell me that they learned new things about themselves as a result of taking my class. I’d also hope they not only felt this way about my class but from every class they took in the school.
When I’m introducing something, a concept, idea, subject, course content — whatever it may be — I’m going to show personal enthusiasm for the material.
Learning in a classroom is a collaborative effort. Teachers have to get to know the students and students need to get to know each other and the teacher.
But the backbone of my approach is the philosophy that learning should be put in the hands of the students. The teacher merely structures a course, enabling the students to work within a space that invites them to question, think, and explore.
Rubrics that clearly outline assessment expectations are a teacher’s and student’s best friend. While they can vary depending on the outcome my general rule of thumb is the following, with five being the highest mark:
5 — Student demonstrates the ability to bring both their own ideas along with ideas from outside of the classroom to the coursework. For example, a student may bring a poem or scientific article on love to relate it to what the characters in The Great Gatsby are experiencing.
4 — Student demonstrates the ability to develop their own thoughts and ideas on a subject with competency along with solid understanding of the coursework.
3 — Student demonstrates basic capabilities to work within the space of the coursework. For example, they understand the idea of class structure in The Great Gatsby, however, they aren’t exactly at the point where they can relate it to their life or other material.
2 — Student is not able to work within the space of the coursework. They show signs of trending that way, but an alternative approach should be explored with these students.
1 — Students deeply struggle with coursework. Alternative approaches must be explored.
Now, here’s the thing. I think it’s unreasonable to assume that every student will achieve a 5. Ideally, by the end of the semester I’d love to have every student to develop the ability to do so, however life often gets in the way. A classroom often has students at varying stages (not abilities) of learning. Some simply aren’t ready to trend toward a level 5.
So, this is what I like to do. When I hand out an assignment I also hand out the rubric and thoroughly explain it. I ask the students to set a goal for the assignment along with an explanation of why they chose it. Do they want a level 5, 4, or are they struggling in school, at home, and having a hard time in class so much so that they just have to focus on what they need to do to pass before they move to the next step? These are realities we can’t ignore.
Most major assignments have some sort of drafting process. If they don’t, they should. Even a practice test would suffice. Here we’re able to check in with the student and refer back to their goal. Are they there yet? Are they exceeding expectations? If they’re exceeding expectations, are they challenging themselves enough, or do we need to take a different approach with them in order to challenge them through the coursework. If they’re behind, we must explore why and work to fix it. This is where the teacher’s ability comes into play. Identify what needs to be done, make sure it’s feasible (works for the student), and install the strategy or tactic so the student can take ownership of their learning. Providing a clear path for them to reach their goal is key.
My major is English. However, when I teach an English class I find it quite unreasonable to assess students purely through essays, short answer, or comprehension questions. They’re too limiting for both those who excel at this type of question and those who do not.
Ideally, I’d like to ask students how they would like to express what they have learned. Do they want to create a video? Maybe they’d like to create a game for the class, or present a play. If you ask a class of 25 grade ten students this question, they’ll often say nothing. They’re not used to (at least not yet) this question in their classroom. So, I give them options.
I understand that there are learning objectives and expectations at each grade level and that we have to ensure that our students are progressing to the competency standards we set forth. However, competency in literacy is well-rounded. The term literacy in general has changed. I’d like students to be able to competently tell me what they see in a painting or a youtube video, maybe a blog post, or a short story. They should be able to make sense of what we’re examining, discuss this competently in a group, view it critically, and of course use language to express themselves. These terms are those taken directly from the new Manitoba ELA curriculum.
By differentiating learning, assignments, and instruction, we give each student in the classroom an opportunity to learn and to discover what they excel at. This breeds a better student and a better classroom community.