In part 2 of sharing my visitation experience at my local high school, I want to discuss a method of teaching that I not only witnessed, but was a part of. Mrs. Carey, the journalism teacher of the three classes I visited, conducted something called student-centered teaching. She of course has a curriculum, but she has her students give input on how they want the course to look like. She even allows them to provide feedback and give suggestions. Before I visited her classes, I was nervous and even slightly uncomfortable with the thought of lecturing in front of her students. I had even prepared a powerpoint. However, my experience was anything but and the powerpoint certainly was not needed.
The structure of my visit was very student-focused. I don’t like to talk about myself too much, so I was relieved when Mrs. Carey told me that it would be a very laid back conversation that was driven by the questions I would be asked. So, instead of standing in front of the students and lecturing to them, I sat amongst them and talked with them. It was of course more comfortable, but it was also much more personal and effective. The students were free to ask what they wanted to know and for those who had other responsibilities, they were free to work on them solely or simultaneously while listening to me.
What I love about this teaching method is that it gives students some control over what they should control: their education. Administers may see students as children, but for the most part, especially when they’re in high school, students know how they want to be taught and what works for them as well as what doesn’t work. The best thing about this method is that it signifies how teaching is indeed a partnership. A teacher may believe they have the best teaching method around, but if it’s not working for the students, then it’s not working. A teacher needs to understand their students and work with their students in order for education to be successful.
So, if student-centered teaching is so great, why isn’t it used more often? Why are policy-makers more interested in result-focused education instead? There are of course plenty of reasons, and I believe one of them to be an issue of control and power. I believe it correct to assume that some feel student-centered teaching to be a relinquishment of power and control for teachers and policy-makers. On the contrary, I believe that if students are spoken to, spoken with, and most of all, if they are heard, the teacher in turn gains much more respect and power in the classroom. The students that I visited were anything but out of control and disrespectful, and this does not mean that they don’t get unruly like all students do. Their education is just a matter of understanding the following principles:
1) Students have a voice that need to heard.
2) Education is a 3 way partnership: Teacher and Student, Student and Parent, Parent and Teacher
There are, of course, other successful teaching methodologies, but I believe this one to be one of the best. To Mrs. Carey and all the other student-centered teachers out there, you’re doing a great job!
Peace and love,
I firmly believe that our souls are constantly speaking to us, especially when it has a connection or bond to another. I was reminded of this on Sunday when thoughts and memories of my high school dance teacher kept entering my mind. She was a petite Japanese-Canadian woman that possessed an aura of power, intimidation, kindness, and grace. The best way for me to describe our relationship is that it was the epitome of teacher and student. I looked up to her, I learned from her, and I admired her.
So on this particular Sunday, I thought about the wonderful memories I had of dancing for her and beside her. That night, I felt compelled to visit an old friend’s Facebook page, which is something I do once every two months, and there it was: After twenty years, Karen Koyanagi (or K2 as she was called) was retiring as the dance teacher of Binghamton High School and her final performance was that night.
I was then hit by a strange feeling that is hard to put into words, even now. I of course felt sadness that was not due to me missing her seeing as I have not seen her in years, but it was instead due to the missed opportunity that will result from her retirement. I found it quite rare that a high school would have a dance department, let alone, an excellent teacher in it. And students after her will never be able to experience that joy. Reading about K2’s retirement also made me aware of perhaps a naivety that I had in believing (and even hoping) that the teachers I held near and dear to me would teach on forever. And I guess in my eyes, K2 will leave too soon.
In thinking of K2 that day, two of my favorite memories of her came to mind. The first was the week that my great-grandmother had died, and I was having trouble assessing my feelings in dealing with the death of someone in my family for the first time as well as the fact that I barely knew her. K2 had noticed the change in my behavior and had sat me down after class to talk. And it was in the sunlight classroom that she withdrew from me words that I had bottled up inside and emotions that spilled from my eyes and onto her shoulder.
The final memory that I will share with you happened at my high school graduation. Mine was structured in a way that when a student’s name was called, they were greeted by someone who handed them their diploma and the student then proceeded to say their goodbyes to all the school administrators waiting in a line before them. When my name was called, I was greeted by a wonderful teacher who was to retire that year or the year after. Holding back tears, I took the diploma and gave a hug to every administrator that stood before me and at the very end of that line stood K2. In remembering that day, her presence took me aback a little. It wasn’t because she was not an administrator, but because of how and where she stood. All the administrators had stood side-by-side, facing the audience as the students said their goodbyes. But K2 stood about five feet away from them and her body was turned to face the student as they made their way to her. As I approached K2 that day, the same feelings that resurfaced on Sunday came to me for this woman, this teacher, this wonderful and supportive educator. And on days like Sunday when memories of her creep into in my mind, I’ll smile and think of what I said to her on graduation day when I held her close: “I love you, K2.”
Once again, my friend and follow blogger, Vera of Verawrites.com recommended a very interesting blog post. This time, it was by Beth Byrnes titled “Cherchez la Faim.” Like some of my blog posts in the past, this article focuses on education and discusses the absurdity of placing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education above the humanities.
I particularly enjoyed this article because it’s such a wonderful feeling to know that I am not the only person who sees the many flaws in the education system. Beth actually states that “We cannot put the humanities, i.e. art and literature especially, on a back-burner.” No, we CANNOT. Some of you may remember previous blog posts of mine in which I discuss the difficulties that students have in writing a simple 5-paragrah essay or how grammar is a significant issue even amongst adults.
Beth talks about an example from historian Adam Gopnik in which he credits Apple’s success to not just great engineering but awesome creativity. Now think about that and then think about the significance of language and words as it relates to business and beyond. For example, did you notice how “Global Warming” suddenly became “Climate Change” or how people take notice to the word “Free” in sales ads? Where would businesses and technological corporations be without the power of language and creativity?
It is unacceptable to believe that society can thrive on STEM education alone. The humanities need math and science, and math and science need the humanities. And Beth’s article provided another excellent example when she told us about how her niece’s love of signing, acting, painting, and knitting prepared her for a career as a scientist.
Although Sooryan is a fictional kingdom, much of its design pertains to a reality that I wish to have in education. My book’s concept of multidimensional learning takes subjects like math and history and “combines” them with other subjects to make educational more meaningful and exciting. The purpose of this teaching strategy is to not only show that every course is significant but that each subject can relate to the other in some way. Multidimensional learning is seen when a teacher incorporates math and art or when an in-depth study in English class discusses a novel’s historical significance as much as its literary.
Towards the end of this wonderful post, Beth discusses the argument by Gopnik that “We are impelled to study the humanities because we are human” due to our desire for understanding of ourselves, our history, and the world around us. The example that she provides pertains to the significance of studying 19th century literature and how it relates to our current issues.
For me, I see Gopnik’s concept a little differently. I believe that we need to study the humanities because of how we live as humans:
We Think: The humanities teaches us to analyze
We Speak: The humanities teaches us how to articulate our words properly. Am I the only person who cringes when someone says “omg”?
We Write: We cannot downplay the importance of writing and grammar. Most adults may not have to write essays or reports on a daily basis, but knowing how to properly write an email is certainty not that common.
We Read: We must never take literacy of the English language for granted.
We move and we are moved: Words and art give us the power to impact, influence, and touch the lives of people we may have never seen or spoken to.
Education of the humanities impacts how we see ourselves and the world, and how we interact overall. So tell me, isn’t this just as important as learning the basics of math and science?
Peace and Love,
For educators to teach and students to learn and all to be heard for
Fires of greatness will rage and burn
For they will no longer be quelled and
Flying and soaring will be their minds and hearts when you are
Finally and truly
Last week, Vera, a long-time follower of mine and a wonderful blogger, recommended that I read a blog post from A Holistic Journey titled Praise, Smarts, and the Myth of Self-Esteem. As the title suggests, the article discusses the theory and the author’s belief that it is more effective to praise a student’s efforts as opposed to their smarts.
Before I tell you my opinion about this theory, I will share a bit of my background in education. Before I even started school, my mother made sure I was well prepared…very well prepared. Before I even started kindergarten, I knew how to read, write, and spell at a level well above kids my age. When I was not in school, I studied and read, and I read and studied.
In middle school, my mother did set a standard for grades: I was to get As and some Bs. Did this stress me out? No. Because ingrained in me was something very important: if you work hard, your efforts will be rewarded. So each time my mother read my straight A report card, she would say “keep it up,” or “if you keep it up, maybe you’ll get a scholarship.” It was not “keep being smart” or “if you stay as smart as you are now, you’ll get a scholarship.” Because the concept of hard work was ingrained in me, I believed I was smart because I worked hard, and because of that, I believed everyone had it in them to get the grades I did if they worked as hard as I did. And yes, I received multiple scholarships.
Do I Agree?: Yes and No
Diana’s post states that “when we praise children for their intelligence, we tell them that this is the name of the game: Look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.” This is something I respectively don’t agree with fully. I think parents tell their children they’re smart because 1) they truly believe it and/or 2) they want their children to believe the same. There also needs to be a distinction between praising and complimenting. Why shouldn’t we honestly compliment our children and students for being smart? Everyone likes to feel good and should always feel that way.
Setting up for failure:
When it comes to praise, feedback, and the like, there is a BIG difference between the realistic and the ridiculous. For example:
1) I believe that girls should not be told they’re princesses. I’m not talking about affectionately calling a child a princess (every girl is a princess), but instilling in their heads that they are indeed royalty above everyone else. There has actually been a study done about the negative personality effects of this. I’m sure you can imagine; however, see the “Not every child is the same” section.
2) Students are told at a young age that college will get them anywhere, that a college grad is superior to one who is not, and so on. Yet, when we look at the percentage of unemployed and heavily indebted college grads, what should we think? Yes, college grads should of course be praised, but they must be prepared with a realistic view of the world.
3) Parents need to teach their children that they are not the greatest in the world, that there will be someone out there who is better at something, that they will be competing against many, many other people, and that the only way to be truly successful is honest, hard work. I will never forget the story about a teacher’s graduation speech that discussed these very same topics and the backlash he received from parents who were blind to the reality of the world.
Not every child is the same:
Diana’s post states that praising a child’s smarts can cause stress and pressure. This may be true, but I believe that the way praise and feedback affects a child depends on their personality. Yes, some may feel pressure, while others may just let it roll off their shoulder, and others may take it humbly or to the head. Isn’t the lesson of humility, maturity, and comfort with one’s self all part of growing up and getting older?
I cannot stress the significance of individuality. And what I mean is, not everyone who works hard will receive the same results. This was something I learned the hard way. Before I was an English major, I was in pre-med and no matter hard I studied, cried, and prayed, I got Ds, Cs, and Fs. Up until that point, I always got As because of my hard work. And it took some time to understand that no matter how hard one may try at something, if they’re not good at it, they’re just not good at it. Another way to put it is like this: I have a horrible singing voice. No matter how hard I may try, no matter how many lessons I may take, I will never be able to sing beautifully.
As Diana’s post states, “I absolutely believe in the inherent worth of every individual, and that no child should feel unloved or unworthy – because there is no higher glory than that we bear the very image of God.”
Yes, I do believe that it’s more effective to praise a child’s efforts. I also think that it’s okay to compliment a child on their smarts, being realistic about it and their future. We are all not the same. Not everyone who goes to college is smart, and not everyone who doesn’t go to college is stupid. We are all capable of doing great things…in our own way, in our own time.
Peace and Love,
Two blog posts ago I discussed the words that came to mind when I saw two men giving free education to impoverished, homeless, and orphaned children in India. As promised, I would like to continue the discussion.
Take a look at the first picture and the ones below. Then ask yourself this: “What is the true meaning of education?” “What is a ‘good’ education?”
Before I answer these questions myself, I will say that some of the greatest discussions and lessons have been in group circles with nothing but chairs. I actually remember being in my college poetry class and how my colleagues and I were so excited whenever we were able to have our session outside the classroom with nothing but the grass as our seats and our laps for our desks. Now I say, “whenever we were able” because we were not the only class with the same desire.
When I was a volunteer ESL teacher last year, I had nothing but flashcards, a 4 x 2 whiteboard on a pedestal and barley working markers. My classroom was in a small cafeteria with 15-20 students who I shared one bathroom with. And you know what? I couldn’t have been happier. And most importantly, they couldn’t have been happier and they couldn’t have learned any more than other students who were more “fortunate.” We were satisfied because the job got done.
So this brings me to what many may argue but what I believe in my heart and soul:
Education does not need technology
Education does not need desks
Education does not need rigorous and pointless testing
Education needs teaching from teachers, not computers
Education needs passion and compassion
Education needs care
Education needs teachers to be judged by the difference they make, not by test scores
Education needs love
Education needs individuality
You know, I sometimes feel that if we come from less, things that others take for granted will be worth so much more.
So, if you’re wondering about what makes a “good” education, just take a look at the faces of those young children and you’ll know.
Peace and Love,