I hold a progressivist philosophy of learning. I was educated in an essentialist system of education, learning all of “the basics” and the cultural norms “necessary” for citizenship. I found most of this learning by rote memorization boring, repetitive, and pointless. I had to try hard to motivate myself to “learn,” even when I knew most of the learning did not have much value beyond the learning itself.
A progressivist philosophy seems to be much more “the way things are” these days, and I love it. I believe learning should be rooted in student’s questions and experiments. Students should be actively questioning rather than passively memorizing. The students, not the teacher, should be the focus of the classroom.
In terms of learning theories, my thought and practice falls somewhere between Constructivism and Humanism. I was an Ethnic Studies major as an Undergraduate at UC-Berkeley. The learning theory of department was very closely aligned with Humanism. I loved it and learned in a more personal and meaningful way than I had ever learned in my life before. I do not go so far as to agree with Rousseau in his Emile — I do believe in placing limits and structures around the student, and guiding them. I am more closely aligned with Lev Vygotsky and his idea of scaffolds. In fact, I strongly believe that this step-by-step, scaffolded approach is a highly appropriate approach to education given our current systems.
What I am trying to say, I think, is that I am, idealistically, somewhat of a romantic and a revolutionary. I love many of Paolo Freire’s ideas, which I studied in college. In reality, however, I believe one needs to have one’s feet firmly on the ground and work within the parameters of their given situation. That said, in reality, I work with more of a Constructivist model.
Applications in the Classroom
One way my romantic idealism shows this year is that I have based all of my lessons, in English and Advisory, around lesson plans from Facing History and Ourselves (facinghistory.org.) Facing History and Ourselves is a social justice website with incredible resources for self exploration and character building as it relates to creating a more just world.
I have built CCSS standards into those lessons to drive the learning process, and thus we have more complex, multi-layered learning. The students worked on a unit about identity, and simultaneously, on a standard about Theme in literature. Thus they read short stories about identity and learned how to search for important themes within them.
My purpose as an educator is to make learning meaningful. When I was a student, I spent way too many years wondering what this all meant. What was it for? Why should I care? I became a strong student, really, because I wanted to go to a good college. Don’t ask why! But the moral (or theme!) of the story is that I figured out that if I could make the learning meaningful to me on a personal level, I would learn more and enjoy doing it. Once that happened, learning was finally fun and homework was actually interesting.
As a teacher or Advisor, I strive to make all learning meaningful in that personal, real-life sense. I speak from the heart. I try my best not to teach a lesson unless I can stand behind the message of why it matters. How is this going to be useful, both now and later? Why is this fun to learn about here and now? Who is the message reaching?
I see this tying in to Constructivist theory in that when you model how to care — really care — about learning, it sets students off on their process of discovery like nothing else can.