Keeping learning as a teacher rather than a student

I love this week’s reading- “There is no teaching without learning”. It is really inspiring to learn that teachers should keep their curiosity and creativity when teaching, and keeping learning as a teacher rather than a student. What is the difference between learning as a teacher and learning as a student? One of the differences is, I think, to infuse what you learned into your teaching and improve your pedagogy. In other words, teachers not only have to keep updating their knowledge/skills, they are also able to transform what they learned to a class and help students to learn more effectively.

There are a variety of resources for teachers to learn. Firstly and directly, teachers can learn from their students. When I was in a statistic class in my college, the teacher always asked us to do practice in class. Then he would walk around the classroom and check our answer. If he found anyone’s way of calculation was different from him, he would be exciting and ask him/her to write down his/her answer in the blackboard and interpret it to other students. His class definitely broadens our way of thinking. The teacher is not only full of curiosity himself, he also let us to learn the different methods in solving the same statistical problem. Similarly, the discussion section in class between teacher and students also generate great ideas for teachers. Once in our contemporary pedagogy course, we discussed about exams in class as groups. One of my group members mentioned that his teacher would summarize the key points from last time before stating each lecture, and he felt this was very helpful for students to connect the previous knowledge. I am inspired by this method and immediately decided to follow this way next semester in my lab instruction (TA for an undergraduate course). Therefore, teachers always can obtain ideas or learn from students. Sometimes, the explanation of a concept from students is much easier to understand than the text book. Teachers can learn from the understanding of students and apply it in their future teaching. Besides, understanding from students is an immediate feedback to one’s teaching, which serves as an important tool to help teachers to improve their pedagogy.

Furthermore, teachers can also learn from experience from other teachers, advanced pedagogy, and new presentation techniques. One of my favorite college teachers is active in the cooperation with food industry and social media (food science professor). He gives lectures in TV to teach public how to regulate their diet and provides technique support for food industry. At the same time, he brings news from social media and industry to us in the class, such as telling us the trends for employment, future direction for food industry, news of food safety etc. Thus, as a future teacher, we should keep updating knowledge and skills ourselves, keep our curiosity and creativity, and incorporate what we learned into our teaching to help students to learn.

A fair learning environment

I think this week’s topic –“inclusive pedagogy” is very meaningful and worth each teacher to seriously think about it. In old times, a teacher did not only transfer knowledge to their student, they also bring their students many more valuable things such as helped them establish ethics, encouraged them to learn, listened to them and helped them solve their problems. The teachers influenced their students through positive learning attitude and noble behavior. This is the reason that teachers are respected by people and society. In modern education system, the responsibilities of teachers are refined. Each instructor is generally only responsible for one subject: English teachers will teach English, Ethic teachers will teach ethic, and many school have psychology assistants who are specifically responsible for listening to students. Students do not choose and follow only one teacher for their learning anymore. Such a “diverse” environment provides students more options. However, do all these teachers follow the same teaching ethics? Do they show same respect to all students? Does any of them have bias in culture difference or race? Do they treat all their students in the same way?

 

When I was in primary school, teachers always judged students according to their academic performance. There was one time I forgot to bring my book in one class and I have to read the text book together with my classmate. The teacher was very unhappy with this and she directly blamed my classmate why she forgot to bring her book to school, since my classmate’s GPA was much lower than me so the teachers assumed that it was her bad. When the teacher knew that it was my fault, she did not blame me and just told me do not forget it next time. I felt very embarrass that time and I think all of my classmates learned from that day: teachers would judge you based on your score. This kind of bias even followed me to my college study. My GPA was just average during my college life but I was very involved in research work, and my graduation project was chosen for “excellence graduation project award” that year. However, one of my college instructors showed his surprise in front of me since he thought another student who wins scholarship each year should get that award. I don’t think he want to hurt me or totally judge me based on my GPA, but his reaction proved that he would evaluate his students by his hidden brain (subconscious).

Thus, it turned out to be a challenge for all teachers that whether you can treat your students with the same criterion and provide a relatively fair learning environment. After reading “from safe spaces to brave spaces”, I felt very inspiring to learn the following common rules for teaching behavior: 1) agree to disagree, 2) don’t take things personally, 3) challenge by choice, 4) respect, 5) no attacks. Since I came to America for my PhD study, I strongly felt the positive effects of above rules. Most of my teachers have shown me a great example of how to be a good instructor: they carefully listen to each student’s voice and give their thoughts, they objectively evaluate different opinions from students and some of them even encourage an opposite opinion, they are very patient to solve student’s questions even when students are really emotional that time, and they always provide many options for their students to complete a learning task such as different format of assignment, extra credits, how many exams they want to take (students do not have to take final exam if they are satisfy with their current score), and who are the team members in group project. I never meet a situation that teachers do not show respect to students or have a bias due to culture/race. Probably because I am from an interdisplinary program, teachers in my class all highly encourage different voices/ideas/perspectives based on each one’s own subject, culture or personal experience. Although it is still not easy for each teacher to avoid the influence from his/her hidden brain, everyone can do it better as long as they do not take things personally. In other words, teachers may try to only evaluate student’s performance/opinion on the subject rather than relating it with the person. It will benefit student’s learning process if all teachers try to create a brave space for their students to express their voice with confidence and comfort.

Form your own teaching style

I feel one of the most important things for one teacher is to form your own teaching style. Everyone wants to be a most welcome person and someone will learn from those popular people. However, people like a character/host in the TV because he/she has his/her own personality rather than he/she can speak jokes all the times. So it is the same for the teaching. Students will like you because you have your own teaching strategy and attracting personality. It is very inspiring to read “different response strategies (from teachers) were equally effective (for students)” in Deel’s paper. No matter what style you are, explained your strategies to your students at the beginning of your class. Therefore, students can understand your philosophy and evaluation style, so they can easily to follow you in the class and learn from your response on their performance. On the other hand, since you behave as yourself in the class, which provide you confidence and comfortable to talk and answer student’s questions.

Once a teacher finds out his/her teaching style, he/she is ready to learn from other’s lectures and try to infuse their advantages into his/her teaching strategy. One of my friends who is an new instructor in a college has told me her feeling about teaching: have presentations three times a week. It is funny but it is true. Each teaching can be considered as a presentation for students. Thus, new instructors can improve their teaching start with how to improve their presentation skills. Use bullet instead of long sentence, have a clear structure, using picture instead of words if possible, and try to add some “game” section…… All these presentation skills can be used to improve our teaching. Besides, do not forget who you are talking with. Think about what students are really needed to obtained from your lecture and communicate with them more effectively. For example, if your students want to improve their speaking in English, it is better to design more talking sections under different situations rather than putting too much time in analyzing grammar. It is beneficial to learn from Fowler’s paper: the average attention for young people ranging from 18-35 years of old is only 15 mins, so it is helpful if organizing the class in 15-20 min segments and inserts various activities.

Of course, a teacher needs to discover which teaching strategies and techniques work best through practice. But as long as an instructor keeps learning from student’s response and regulates teaching method according to different classes and different students, everyone can find out their own teaching style and transmit their teaching voice.

Turn your lectures to different games

It is very inspiring to learn from this week’s reading materials that teachers can turn their lectures to a big game for stimulating students’ learning interests. Traditional education did not have so much fun in the classroom. Students were asked to be serious in the class (when I was young) and the way of learning never changed year after year. Students felt learning was boring and even a burden. However, in the new century, how to design an interesting class is one of the most important things in education. Rather than traditional group project and individual assignment, students were asked to play a game by applying knowledge they had already learned or searching the information they needed during the game. Students were more involved in the “game project”; they showed more interests, be more focus on their work, and put more effort to solve the problems, because it was a game and they want to play it! Teachers and parents always complain that the kids spend too much time on internet and video games. But why don’t integrate games into the learning process and make lectures as fun as playing games? Therefore, design a game as part of the lecture or infuse a game into the lecture may be an effective way to stimulate student’s interests and keep them actively involve into the learning process.

How to add “games” into a lecture? Teachers can utilize the characteristic of different subjects. For example, when I was in middle school, my English teacher asked us to remember the “dialogue section” in the test book. But instead of reciting it, she would let us to choose one of the characters from the dialogue and play it as a drama. Since we all try to be good “actor”, so most of my classmates put a lot of effort to recite it and practice it at home. The science (physics, chemistry and biology) teacher can design a game in the lab time or take students to visit the museum. The Science and Technology museum itself is a big game center. Students can find models of air planes, analog equipment of fluid mechanisms, and dinosaur fossils. They can play with the power generator that they learned from class and watch hatch process of chicken in a transparent incubator. It is great sample show students how to utilize the knowledge from test book in real world, and students are better understand and remember these knowledge by take part into it. As shown in the video, computer teachers can let students to design a video game themselves. Students will not learn the basic usage of computer/software but also extend their ability in organization, creativity and imagination during this process.

To sum up, in order to inspire student’s learning interest and motivation, teachers themselves are need to actively involved into the teaching process first. Teachers could learn from successful experiences of other instructors, information from social media, and what is popular during students such as video games. As long as to integrate the idea- adding fun/imagination into lecture, teachers can create a attracting learning environment and keep students mindfully learning inside.

Diverse ways of grading for a diverse education

I was graded for my homework and exams from primary school to PhD courses all the time, but this is the first time I sit down and think carefully about what grading brings to me. As grown up in China, I was evaluated by “numbers” for almost all of my academic work and I paid attention to these “numbers” heavily since they decide whether I can go to a better middle school, a better high school and finally a better college. Like most Chinese students, I was trained to grasp those “exam skills” to grab more points in exams, even though what I wrote did not make sense to myself sometimes. Every time after an exam, there are always some students go to argue their score with teachers, which really looks like a bargain in grocery store. Although many educators in China advocate education reform for years, our education system still rely on grading for college admission since students have such a diverse background and grading is a relatively “fair” way to evaluate each student’s ability. However, after students are enrolled in college, teachers and students still too focus on the scores to neglect their motivations and goals for learning. For example, teachers only tell students their scores of final exam, but they rarely send out right answers to students or explain those questions after exam, which is really ridiculous in education.

I also ask myself: do I have an experience of learning without grading? The answer is yes. I attended a writing class when I was in middle school to improve my writing skills. The class only had around 10 students and we met once a week at weekend. The teacher gave us a lecture each week and then asked us to write a composition as assignment. However, we never had exams and this teacher never grading our composition. Instead, he only wrote comments and gave suggestions in the part that he thought we need to improve. He also never compared each other’s work because he thought each of us had our own style, but he would like us to share our compositions to each us and to learn from each other. In this way, we did not feel any pressure about this class and each of us was highly involved in this class since everyone was praised by the teacher each week for the good part in their work and inspired by the comments to improve the weak part in their writing. This case also reminds me of Ken’s video (how to escape the education death valley) we watched last week. Education should be a diverse environment, each student had his/her own characteristic/background and each of them should be educated based on his/her characteristic. Rather than simply evaluate students’ work by numbers, teachers should help students to find out their advantage and weak points in a subject and encourage them to improve their weak parts. It may be more helpful if teachers can stimulate student’s learning interests by forming a “friendly” competition in class, encouraging students to pump out different thoughts without worrying to lose their points, and guide students to focus on the knowledge itself rather than their performance in one exam.

Ways help me to learn mindfully

It is my first time to know the terms “mindfulness” and “mindlessness”. I am happy to find these two terms perfectly summarize my previous learning experiences: learning actively and learning negatively. Langer’s article provides us a clear definition of mindlessness, which is to “act like automatons who have been programmed to act according to the sense our behavior made in the past, rather than the present”. This reminds me a true story of myself. When I was in primary school in China, my six-year math teacher always gave us a lot of assignments before final exam and these assignments were actually repeating the same questions over and over again (since some of these questions would be present in the final exam). I was so familiar with these questions and I even did not notice that some of the number was changed in the exam. I lost points because I wrote down answers without thinking—I recited them due to repeating them over and over again from my assignments. I am not the only one lost points due to this reason- half of the class did the same thing with me. It sounds ridiculous that people do their exams without thinking, but if their education based on feeding knowledge without thinking and participation, the results of their learning is nothing.

After reading Langer’s papers, I start to think about was there any way helps me to learn mindfully in my previous experiences? The answer is yes. The first method I think of is to insert some jokes that related to the lecture. One of my English teachers likes to tell us some jokes during his lectures since he believes that students will lose their attention every 15 minutes. But most of his jokes related to his lectures such as misuse of a word or misunderstanding between different cultures. He used these “mistakes” to tell us that one English word may have various meanings and encouraged us to explore the usage of each new word. In this way, he turned a boring recite work into a fun learning process. Besides, in analyzing characters in literary masterpiece, he also likes to inspire us to assume each character’s inner activity and even play this character. This largely stimulated our interests in learning classic literary. The second method is to make the lecture compact and easy to follow. One of my physics teachers had a fast-space in his class, which means the sections he talked that day were closely related to each other and each section was actually the transition for the next one. So there is no much time for students to distract. What I felt was once you got into it, you just kept involving in it. Also, he was good at using analogy to explain physics terms, which was really easy to understand and trigger students’ interests. The third way is to do a group project. One of my group projects in high school was to find out a topic we interested ourselves and try to use all kinds of methods to solve this problem (such as library, ask teachers and internet). This work is like to combine interdisciplinary study and connected learning. During this process, each of us figures out how to use ways outside classroom to learn. Similar with peer-relationship in connected learning, we shared information we collected each day and how we get it, and to inspire each other to explore possibilities. In addition, as what Langer talked in the paper, we always felt we know very limited in this topic that time and we were encountering something novel every day. Therefore, each of our team members approached our project mindfully each day.

For teach mindfully in the future, it may be helpful for teachers to keep students’ curiosity by providing more options in doing a project/option, more probability when introducing a concept, and more perspectives in explaining a statement. As both Langer and Ken Robinson talked about, how to teach students with different cultural backgrounds is also important for students to learn mindfully, and is worth for each teacher to consider before giving the lecture.

Connected learning

The concept of “connected learning” that I learned from today’s class really impressed me a lot. Connected learning incorporates social connections and digital media into the modern education system, which serves as a new way of learning and teaching. Different from traditional education modes, connected learning allows students a much quicker, more convenient and flexible way to access abundance knowledge. In addition, social media/connections such as Facebook and twitter may assist to stimulate students’ interests in learning through sharing achievements/information, integration of personal interest, or simply due to peer culture. Connected learning provides an educational reform keyed to abundance of knowledge and an efficient way to learn. However, connected learning also proposes a challenge to teachers in this new era.

Firstly, students may encounter the problems that how to filter the useful knowledge from the abundance information. Internet can be overwhelming for one to search answers of one question. Teachers should provide students a guidance of how to screen information effectively before releasing the assignment, such as how to set up key words, capture key points and summarize the information fragments. Secondly, no matter in class or after class, teachers should figure out how to help students focus on their current work rather than distracting by other information in the internet. In this fast-pace era, large information from the internet can easily make people to lose their interests and patient when learning. Therefore, it may be important for teachers to keep interest of their students on the course and dig out more fun during learning process. At last, the traditional way of teaching is still very important for education, especially for younger students. The most efficient way of learning for students in early stage may be still listening to a lecture by teacher and extending the related knowledge by reading books. Teachers have good experiences in instructing lectures: they know the most essential knowledge that serves as the basis of a subject, the most valuable information, the order of introducing the concepts, the best way of explaining a term and so on. Besides, books are a more systemic way of organizing the knowledge, which serve as a better way of learning than information fragments from the internet.

To sum up, teachers should learn to apply connected learning in their teaching, but also try to avoid its potential weak points at the same time.

Communication is important to Science

When I was young, I felt science was such a mystery to me. The things that scientists did and the words they used to explain made me feel they were so far from me. Even the first two years when I was in college, I still believe what professors doing must be some huge and complicated stuff and we were not qualified to be understood. This long-time belief was changed when I began my graduate project in a “fancy” research group in my last year in university. After the whole work, it was my first time to write abstract for a paper (my thesis). I surprised to find out that actually I can use only several sentences to describe all of my work, including the reason of choosing this subject, the method I used, the main data I collected and the conclusion and meaning of this work. Besides, when I tried to explain what I did to my mom, I found I can use a lot of simple words rather than professional terms to make it much more understandable.

In the past, scientists may only pay attention to their research and connect with their peers. But now, more and more scientists have learned that it is crucial to communicate with public, industry and other disciplinary. The result of one research can be made as a video to public and also can be presented as a poster in a conference. It is also important for scientists to connect with industry. There are multiple ways to connect industry and attract their interests on your research. For example, make a “elevator speech”. “Elevator speech” means a quick introduction of you and your research in two or three minutes, which intends to attract others’ interest in a very short time. It can be very helpful when developing network with industry people. They typically have limited time and want to obtain information as quick as possible. Hence such “elevator speech” can be an effective access to connect with industry and get funding or support from them. Finally, communicating with scientists in other disciplinary is more and more important in nowadays. No matter in academic conference or regular seminar in the department, to learn the techniques and progress of other subjects can be beneficial to extend our own research. It is common to “borrow” techniques from different fields right now. One example is in food science, chemical properties of one food can be detected by equipment such as HPLC, which is a typical chemistry technique. While when analyzing the composition and its changes along with the different processing condition, biological analysis such as protein gels can be used for this kind of study. Thus, communicating with public, industry or peers are indispensable to all the scientists to conduct a meaningful research.

Teaching is an attitude

When I was an undergraduate student and my semester was fully filled by different classes, I had thought about hundreds of tips of teaching in the case of being a teacher myself someday.  Most of these tips are summarized in this paper- “It’s the little things that count in teaching”. (http://chronicle.com/article/Its-the-Little-Things-That/141489/).

I do like the idea that the teacher should come to class a little earlier and leave some time after the class to answer questions. One of my teachers in last semester always came to class 10 min earlier to talk to students and bring different kinds of cookies to us every time. I feel much closer with this teacher and it is easy to communicate with him, talking about the difficulty and concerns about what we learn in this course. For example, I told him that writing codes often took me longer time that I thought, because I always need spend a long time to find out the bug that lead to the mistake. And the teacher told me some quick ways to check the bug, and one of them was email him and ask a help. This is a tough course for me, but I feel so encouraged during the whole semester and I do not feel any distance between me and the teacher.

What’s more, I am impressed by the saying that “always performs with as positive an attitude as possible”.  I highly agree with that the attitude from a teacher can influence or even decide the effect of learning of students.  When I was in a class which led by a negative instructor, I felt boring and depressed by his behavior such like reading the slices rather than communicating with students, inefficient in answering a question or even avoid it, and looked not confident about this course himself. On the other side, there was another instructor who was considered as one of the most popular teachers in our school. He always spoke loudly to make sure everyone can hear him clearly and was full of passion in his class. He started with several cases of success in this course from previous student’s experiences at the beginning of each semester and encouraged us to learn during the whole time. To attract our attention in the class, he told us jokes that related to his course after each section. This teacher makes me feel that learning can be a fun which leads you to your success and to learn is to pursue your dream in a happy way.

Thus, as a responsible teacher, one should set up a clear goal for their students, communicate with them regularly and listen to them, efficient organize the teaching material, try every way to keep student’s attention and passion in learning.  And, every little thing makes you big.