This is not the first time I have written a philosophy of teaching, but with each new version something always changes because I have changed and grown as an educator. I have been told that beginning teachers, like myself, tend to be idealistic in their philosophies and that is probably true with me. I tend to have a philosophy that is idealistic, but not always put into practice because I reach so high. I would hope after years of fieldwork and two student teaching internships I would be a little more practically honest in this philosophy of teaching, but since it is my first time addressing the online learning environment no promises.
First, I would have to align myself most closely with the constructivist theory of learning and teaching. I want to be more of a guide, but I know from my own experience I do not always practice this in every lesson I teach and design. In constructivism students are active learners creating knowledge and reflecting on their learning process (Ally 2008; Siemens 2005). Learning should be a journey of exploration and discovery. Collaboration and cooperation is also important to me as en educator, but in the online learning environment I found it difficult to meet this aspect of my philosophy. In the physical classroom I use Kagan cooperative learning to help manage the classroom, but in the online learning environment this is more of a challenge. Swan, Garrison, and Richardson (2009) support the idea that collaborative and cooperative learning is essential to the online learning environment and is worthy to pursue in order to foster successful and effective learning experiences of students. By using discussions and peer feedback on assignments seems to be the way in which I choose to practice this aspect of my philosophy in the online learning environment. I need some more practice and guidance, but in my future in online teaching I look forward to improving my practice of this aspect of my philosophy and exploring the community of Inquiry framework described by Swan, Garrison, and Richardson (2009) to better improve the collaborative features of my online teaching.
With all that said it is also important to me that I prepare my students for the real world by allowing students to experience learning in authentic and place-based ways. In the online learning environment I found the best way for me to practice this was through personal connections and creating a community of learners that share their culture, beliefs, values, and ideas through introductions, discussions, and their projects that are connected to where they live. Even though distance may separate the student and the teacher in the online learning environment that is no excuse not to utilize the students’ unique sense of place, which has only been enriched through the online learning environment. This is where I draw on facets of the connectivism theory, where a student’s sense of place in the online world is continually changing because new information is being added constantly. The online landscape is being changed by others, but most importantly the students are making their own contributions to it; they are learning “to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information [which] is vital,” and their “…ability to recognize when new information alters the landscape based on decisions made yesterday is also critical” (Siemens 2005). This is what I like about the online learning environment students can easily add to it and shape it. Students are active learners and doing things, as Fink (2013) would describe it.
One aspect of my philosophy that has become stronger is my belief in the power of metacognition and reflective learning, which both Fink (2013) and Ally (2008) emphasize in their writing on the learning process. I have learned the importance of my learning activities need to all work together to help guide students through a learning process that is reflective. If students are to become critical thinkers and active participants in this world they need experiences that allow them to think about their thinking and the thinking of others. This is why I like to have class discussions both in the physical classroom and online learning environment. Discussion encourage students to communicate their thoughts and then reflect on those thoughts after being exposed to others thinking on the same topic. Learning is cyclical and discussions are a nice visible manifestation of this characteristic of learning. Learners need other learners in order to deepen their metacognitive and reflective learning experiences. This connects to my strong belief about having a cooperative learning classroom management style, learners working together to learn.
Finally, no philosophy would be complete without mention of assessment. For me assessment starts with McTighe and Wiggins (2004) Understanding by Design framework. Beginning with the end in mind first always helps to refine my assessments because my outcomes are clear. I do not always faithfully start at the end, but I always find myself going back to it to get my lesson planning on track. Whether it is formative or summative assessment reflection is an important component of the assessment process. Students should be continually reflecting and assessing their own learning. This is done through reflective writing, discussion, and self-assessment. Assessment is not just for the teacher. Assessment is just as important to the students because it informs the next step in students’ individual learning experience. Formative assessment is best at accomplishing informing both the teacher and the student about where the learning path is going and how students are progressing toward meeting learning outcomes and the K-12 Alaska State Standards. Timely feedback is a big part of successful formative assessment. Feedback needs to be encouraging and constructive. Most importantly formative assessment informs and shapes instruction. It is also meant to lead students to be successful with the summative assessments. I prefer to have project based summative assessments where students are creating. I see summative assessment as a means for students to try out different roles and create something based on the role they are playing whether it is an author, poet, historian, researcher, etc. Summative assessment should show what the student has learned and what they can do with it now. Successful teaching cannot be done without solid assessment because it is not only a reflective learning experience for the students, but also for the teacher. Teachers cannot improve and grow without utilizing assessment and reflecting on it themselves. Assessment is a vital cog in the wheel of the learning cycle.
In conclusion, it is my ultimate goal as a teacher to spread the joy of learning and to help guide students to their passions and encourage those passions to grow. It is also a goal to help students become critical thinkers that are active in doing, so they do not become passive citizens. Everything in my philosophy of teaching is meant to lend itself to these goals, maybe not completely, but I am learning too. My teaching philosophy will never be totally completely. I will always be reflecting on it and continuing to learn new things that will shape me and hence my teaching philosophy.
Ally, M. (2008). Foundations of Educational Theory for Online Learning. In Theory and Practice of Online Learning (2nd ed., pp. 15-44). Athabasca University.
Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (2004). Understanding by design: Professional development workbook. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning 2(1).
Swan, K., Garrison, D.R., & J.C. Richardson. (2009). A constructivist approach to online learning: the Community of Inquiry framework. In Payne, C.R. (Ed.) Information Technology and Constructivism in Higher Education: Progressive Learning Frameworks. Hersey, PA: IGI Global, 43-57.