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,
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,
Four posts ago, I wrote something called The Superman Effect in Education. It discussed how teachers and students should be treated like they are super heros, meaning they should all be valued and appreciated. I received a lot of great responses on this post, and one in particular stood out:
“I always shied away from the whole “superman” analogy for teachers, because I think we shoot ourselves in the foot, when we don’t make it clear that we are only human (thus, the public’s unreasonable expectations of us).”–Bethany @ Journey to Ithaca
This is such a great comment because it reminded of something I talked about in another post called the Detachment of Education, in which I discuss the absolutely unrealistic expectations and burdens that are placed on teachers. Bethany’s comment was a reminder of that discussion and the dilemma that comes with treating teachers like super heros. Yes, I believe that teachers are indeed super heros. However, I also believe this:
1) Teachers = Humans
NOT Teachers = Robots or Teachers = Superhumans
As I said in my “Detachment of Education” post: “I truly feel that it is a common belief that teachers are supposed to be magical robots with no feelings or emotions, and that they are placed on Earth to only teach strictly from the text to magically and easily instill knowledge on their students who all magically receive it in the same way.”
Oh, and unless they are truly robots, they cannot honestly and efficiently grade 100+ term papers in one school night.
2) Teacher ≠ Parents/Guardians
Teachers are not responsible for educating students on manners and common sense, you know, all the things that parents/guardians should do. And yet…
So, here’s a trick question: Can teachers be treated as super heros without the expectation that they literally should be?
Here’s my answer: I believe that the basis to all of this is the need for all teachers to be treated with respect and understanding. Respect what they do, understand what they do. And for the parents and students, respect and understand that you are a vital part of a successful education as well.
Peace and Love,
In 2009 the Yankees won the world series against the Philadelphia Phillies…mostly because of Hideki Matsui. Now, this is just personal opinion, but I am not the only one that feels this way. That night, Matsui became the first Japanese-born player and full-time designated hitter in the history of MLB to win the world series MVP award. Matsui was my favorite athlete even before this happened, so I was of course extremely upset when the Yankees did not sign him the next season. And although Matsui played for other teams, he remained my favorite player, never forgotten by Yankees fans and non-Yankees fans. And it was yesterday afternoon that Matsui signed a minor league contract with the Yankees, officially retiring as one.
I sat teary-eyed through the entire ceremony not because Matsui is my favorite athlete but because of what he stands for. The best way to describe Matsui is quiet, humble strength. You see, Matsui is the only Yankee to hit a grand slam at his first, I mean first, at bat. He went 4-4 and 3-4 on his first two days back after returning from wrist surgery that had him out for several months. And through it all, Matsui remained humble and a true definition of a team player. He actually apologized for getting injured, and shies away from talking about himself. He has stated that he felt like he didn’t deserve the MVP award, and although most players would name this as their shining moment in their career, Matsui named a victory against the Boston Red Sox as his favorite moment because the Yankees won the game in a total team effort.
The way I feel about it is that one can be a great baseball player and have awesome numbers, but if your attitude sucks and you’re all about yourself then, to me, those numbers mean absolutely nothing. Besides his quiet strength and humility, what I like most about Matsui is that the man has a sense of humor. He is known for playing jokes on his teammates and every once in a while you could catch him making faces at the camera. Oh, how I miss watching him play!
So, how does this relate to education? Well, say there was this great teacher, and you asked him or her what their best/favorite moment was in their profession. What would you think if the teacher said, “Winning educator of the year” as opposed to “Watching my students evolve” or “Seeing my students light up when they understand something” or “One of my students telling me that I’m their role model”? Matsui represents greatness by being great through others. One is a great player and a great teacher through the action, influence, and aid of those outside themselves. With education being more and more about testing and numbers and treating students like they’re all the same, I know that it can be quite difficult to truly teach and help a student.
Matsui represents how a community should be. A community should be, well…a community. This simply means placing others above yourself and being there for them and actually caring. Matsui reminds me of who I am, who I want to be, and who I have to be in order to consider myself truly successful. I am only as great as the impact that my words and life has on others.
Thank you, Hideki Matsui. I hope and pray that one day I can share these words with you in person.
Peace and Love,