Wednesday, May 14, 2008

My teaching philosophy

Teaching Philosophy

In presenting my teaching philosophy, I turn from the research-based and somewhat reductionist approach required by the Pedagogies Framework, to a more value-laden, holistic expression of the principles guiding my work as a teacher. Some are principles that I have held since the beginning of my teaching career, while others have developed through interacting and learning from and with fellow learners and teachers. As with the Framework, I consider it a lifelong work in progress:

Education is … constantly remade in the praxis. In order to be, it must become. Its “duration” is found in the interplay of the opposites permanence and change… problem-posing education – which accepts neither a “well-behaved” present nor a pre-determined future – roots itself in the dynamic present and becomes revolutionary (Freire, 1970, p.72).

Know myself
Until recently, my first principle would have been to “know my students”. Through recent experiences and study, I have become aware of the fundamental importance of first understanding how I have come to construct myself as a teacher from my own educational experiences and my location in a specific time, place, and cultures. This is not a simple task; it is demanding of ongoing problem-posing, critical self-reflection, and the positioning of myself as lifelong learner. However, continuing on this journey of understanding is pre-requisite to engaging in dialogue with my students.

Ironically, this position may itself be at odds with the conceptions of teaching and learning of my students. Nevertheless, it puts the onus on me as teacher to understand the positioning my students, to depersonalise any resistance they may display to my teaching methods, and to engage with them in a dialogic pedagogy.

Know my students
In my job role, I design curricula for diverse groups of students. Through student profile forms and correspondence with a group’s coordinating teacher, I try to obtain as much information as possible about the ages, gender, educational background, needs, and interests of these group members prior to their arrival. However, I mostly need to rely on my generalised knowledge of the cultural and educational background of students from a particular country. This is easier when the students are from an educational system in which I have had some experience (e.g. Japan), but problematic when the educational system is relatively unfamiliar to me (e.g. China). This is another reason that the use of dialogic pedagogy is imperative; I need to position myself as a learner of cultures and languages, and my greatest resource in doing this are the students themselves. Obviously, research into differing educational systems is of help, but dialogue with students is far more personalised and specific.

Having outlined a curriculum that I think will be suited to the needs and interests of students, I work to attune myself to implicit feedback from students (e.g. engagement with tasks, facial expressions, body language) as well as seeking explicit feedback as to how better to incorporate their actual needs and interests, according to their proficiency, personalities, learning styles, and self-images as users of English. As most of the courses are of a relatively short duration, I seek to build the confidence of each student by scaffolding activities that provide them with experiences of using English for authentic communication, with the aim of facilitating the construction of themselves as successful users of English.
My philosophy of course design is that every course should be constructed for the particular needs of students; courses should have a clear structure and employ a variety of activities to keep student interest; and every lesson should have clear objectives which fulfil the goals of the course.

Create a positive and stimulating learning environment
In order to facilitate learning, I work to create an environment that is supportive, interesting, and organized. My goal is to make students feel comfortable enough to interact freely with me and with their peers. I endeavour to incorporate fun, humour, and social interaction into my lessons, while remaining sensitive to the individual personalities and needs of students. I feel a great satisfaction when my classroom exhibits a group spirit, and an atmosphere of mutual assistance and enjoyment.

A good teacher is also a motivator, so before every activity I try to present information in ways that is interesting and engaging. Students also need to understand why they are doing an activity and how the task or knowledge is important to their lives and to the real world. Students learn by thinking and doing, so my goal is to have them actively involved in the lesson at all times. I seek to activate students’ background knowledge, monitor their comprehension, and seek their input and questions. I try to lead the students from activity to activity at pace which leaves no one behind, but that is quick enough so that the lesson does not drag.

Support the personal agency of the learner
Classroom time will never provide sufficient opportunities for learners to develop themselves as proficient users of English. Classroom time is where I can provide them with tools to assist them in their interactions with the world outside the classroom: by supporting their self-identities as both users of English and human beings with something to contribute to the world; setting up tasks, projects and independent research that involve them with the world outside the classroom; and by instructing them in the use of language learning strategies that help them exert agency over their own learning.

Develop and reflect upon my professional understandings of SLA principles and praxis in collaboration with others.
Language is learned by comprehending and conveying meaningful messages. Meaningful language use is language use that is connected to real life and genuine human concerns. Meaning-focused lessons encourage students to think in the target language and tend to be intrinsically motivating because they have an authentic purpose of learning and exchange information. In order to be meaningful, language needs to be taught in linguistic, situational, and cultural contexts that are of value to the learner. As a teacher, I need to engage with SLA research, be prepared to travel out of my comfort zone from time to time to put into practice untried techniques and strategies, and to critically evaluate and reflect upon my teaching practice. Further, this points to the true nature of teaching as collaborative and communal, as a person cannot develop their teaching practice without heeding the input of others, be they students, colleagues, researchers, or community members. For me language teaching is endlessly challenging and creative, and privileges me in that I learn with and from a wonderful diversity of human beings.

There is no difference between living and learning . . . it is impossible and misleading and harmful to think of them as being separate. Teaching is human communication and like all communication, elusive and difficult...we must be wary of the feeling that we know what we are doing in class. (John Holt, 1970, What Do I Do Monday.)

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