Running across an alligator pit? Jumping from scaffolding hundreds of feet in the air? Gunning down assailants while skiing?
Sorry, Mr. Bond. But I’m not impressed.
I’m a teacher.
James Bond can’t begin to fathom the challenges I have to face everyday.
Creating lesson plans that meet the diverse needs of students? Engaging students that are affected by so many factors (family life, friends, socioeconomic factors…)? Being a parent, teacher, coach, tutor, mentor, and counselor everyday?
I should be in those movies. As a matter of fact, every teacher worldwide should be in those movies. All people need to have a sneak peek into our lives to see that our gig is not easy.
What’s all the more daunting about it is that one never really masters it. Every year, a new set of students bring a new set of challenges. I can’t tell you how many times I figured out a new way to teach a lesson I’ve taught a ton of times before.
We must understand as educators we never stop learning.
I know that I’ve learned a lot in this class about Cognitive Science of Teaching and Learning. From learning about the role of emotion in the classroom to uncovering the hidden games of teaching, I’ve gained a lot of knowledge.
Just recently, I learned about three concepts from this class that I feel will influence my teaching. I want to talk about those three concepts in in this blog post.
They are as follows: Learning in a Social Context, Microsystems, and Technology Extending the Brain
I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends
Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky suggested that knowledge is constructed in the midst of our interactions with others and is shaped by the skills and abilities valued in a particular culture (Darling-Hammond et. al, n.d.)
I couldn’t agree with him more. I think that this is even more so the case in language instruction. Speaking a language is such a communal activity; social interactions develop language (Darling-Hammond et. al, n.d.). Thus, to effectively teach it without having students interact is unfathomable to me.
Vygotsky offers five principles of effective pedagogy:
- Having teachers and students produce work together
- Developing language and literacy across the curriculum
- Making meaning; connecting school to students’ lives
- Teaching complex thinking
- Teaching through guided conversation
I think the two principles that stick out the most for me are numbers one and five. It’s important for teachers to commuicate to studens that learning is NOT a process they must do alone. Moreover, it is not a process in which the teacher just dumps irrelevant, uncontexualized knowledge onto them in an unmethodical way.
Rather, it is an experience that both the teacher and student make together. I don’t believe that students should feel like their teachers are just deliverers of content. Contrarily, students should feel as if their teachers are partners in their journey to learn.
Vygotsky saw this a long time ago and I think it imperative for teachers to see that today.
Product of Your Environment
Never had I heard of the term “microsystem” prior to this class. Microsystems refer to all the settings in which a child personally interacts and is influenced (Bronfenbrenner, n.d.). Examples include family, school, friends, doctors office and many more environments (Bronfenbrenner, n.d.)
I think it goes without saying that these microsystems affect the child. Furthermore, it’s not too big of a leap to assume that these microsystems affect the child in the classroom as well. Instuctors must be sure to consider microsystems in an effort to instruct more effectively.
One microsystem I feel has a huge affect on students success/failure is one’s family type. In some recent research that did a study on over 230 families over the course of three years found that there are three different psychological types of families: Cohesive (characterized by emotional warmth), Disengaged (characterized by cold, controlling and withdrawn relationships), and Enmeshed (characterized by moderate warmth and emotional involvement, but also hostility and meddling) (Jayson, 2010).
Children from families characterized as disengaged had the most problems; they started out in school with higher levels of aggressive and disruptive behavior and had more difficulty focusing and cooperating (Jayson, 2010)
Children from families described as enmeshed entered school with no more disciplinary problems or depression and withdrawal than their peers from cohesive families, but later began to suffer higher levels of anxiety and feelings of loneliness and alienation (Jayson, 2010).
On average, children from cohesive family showed fewer problems (Jayson, 2010).
So, how does all this information about different family types help the teacher?
Well, honestly, we as instructors may never know about the microsystem from which a student comes. We may have an idea based on how he/she behaves but that’s about it.
In any event, we must go in with the mindset to be supportive of students’ development. We are not in control of the microsystem from which a student originates but we are in control of how we treat and nurture that student.
Mind Outside of Body
Lastly, I want to talk about technology being an extension of the brain.
Man! It is crazy to think about how many functions technology has taken over that the brain usually does. For example, memory, planning, and spatial navigation (Chalmers, 2011). Technology truly extends our minds outside of our bodies.
I think the most frightening thing about our brains being extended is the level of vulnerability that comes with losing the extended mind (Chalmers, 2011) For example, it’s almost a tragedy when we lose possessions that store our memories like our phones, computers, homes, or pictures. All of those possessions become extensions of our minds. Losing them is like losing our memories.
I think that teachers can experience this type of vulnerability when they become too dependent on the use of technology, books, and materials in the classroom. I can’t tell how many times I’ve heard of teachers panicking because their SmartBoards were not working or they couldn’t find their PowerPoints.
I, for one, think that instructors to need to have the ability to create on their own their materials, lessons, quizzes, tests in the event technology or some textbooks don’t cut it.
We are creators by nature. I mean who is better at putting something together (like a lesson) when things go awry?
Let me be clear, I am not making the case that utilizing technology or supplementary materials that extend our memory is futile. I am just saying that we should be careful with treating those resources as our end all, be all. Otherwise, we will be more vulnerable to their loss.
In conclusion, the three important steps I feel can help a teacher in the journey to becoming all the more potent is learning how to teach in a social context, learning to look past the varying microsystems from which students come (or use them to their advantage), and being careful not to become too dependent on materials that extend their minds.
To a great degree, the most important step in becoming an efficient instructor is understanding that there is always room for improvement.
With such a mindset of continuous growth, fighting on an aerial airplane or jumping off of a crumbling bridge just does not seem to compare in grandeur.
Video Link: The Best Teachers Never Stop Learning
Bronfenbrenner, U. (n.d.) Bronfenbrenner’s Microsystems and Mesosystems (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.vvc.edu/academic/child_development/droege/ht/course2/faculty/lecture/cd6lectmicro.html
Chalmers, D. (2011, June 11). Is your phone part of your mind? TedxTalks. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksasPjrYFTg
Darling-Hammond L., Austin, K., Orcutt, S., Martin, D., Tharp R., Palinscar, A. (n.d.). Learning from others: Learning in a social context. Stanford University School of Education. Retrieved from http://www.learner.org/courses/learningclassroom/support/07_learn_context.pdf
Jayson, S. (2010, August 1). Your family ‘type’ can affect your kids at school. USA Today. Retrieved from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/education/2010-07-15-familytype15_ST_N.htm
Picture Link: 3000 × 1693 – mi6community.com
Video: Cambridge English Teacher. (2014, November 17). The best teachers never stop learning. Youtube. [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANNPb7ExWSY