Trial and Error

After reading chapter two in the Methods for Effective Teaching – Knowing the Learners textbook, it was made very clear that students are not going to fit into one distinguishable category. They are going to share bits and pieces of various researched learner types. However, I did notice that they recommend techniques for one type that would also be appealing to another. To me, this means that I don’t necessarily need to incorporate thousands of instructional strategies in my classroom each semester.

While it is important to be able to define these learning categories, the one thing that should not be forgotten is getting to know the students. Friendly chats and classroom observation will reveal a lot more than these cookie cutter categories. Because students are too unique to fall into one, these research ideas are hard to put into practice. Getting to know your students learning needs is a trial and error process. While using the teaching model ideas listed in this article such as having more graphic organizers for ELLs and visual students is a great starting point, there is no saying that those will work. A student that may “fall” into these categories may not respond well or only engages with certain types of organizers.

It is so important to not let ourselves get discouraged when something doesn’t work the way we had expected. We need to smile at our failures and be willing to trash or modify plans as we get to know the different learners who will be present in our classroom. One thing that I learned this semester is to let students in on what you are teaching and use that as a teaching strategy. If students are not left in the dark about the justification for teaching, they will feel more inclined to actively participate in the content provided. This semester I am learning about using literary theory in the English classroom. This was something that we used minimally in my previous experiences and were never directly taught about. However, explaining the theory and applying it makes it more useful to student’s everyday lives. Literary theory can also help depersonalized texts. Having students from a variety of backgrounds and cultures can be challenging when you are picking material and make it difficult to maintain a social justice oriented classroom. However, students can freely examine material with a literary theory lens and not feel pressured by the implications. For example, if you have a small group of students from a lower economic home situation, the Marxist literary theory/social class theory lens can provide a safe environment where students can get to the issues present in the content and not put those students in an awkward place. I feel that these types of strategies are just as important as tailoring lessons to fit visual, textual, kinesthetic, musical…etc. learners. Again, this may sound nice on paper, but the reality is, is that I am going to really commit myself to helping my students and not be afraid to get something wrong.

Time to Teach Those Steps in a Different Way

I did not realize that I was an “in spite of us” learner. When I was in school, I forced myself to learn the content the teachers presented and forced myself to fit into their cookie cutter lessons. There were times that I had to spend hours at home reworking and rereading math or science problems until I memorized them enough to pass a test. As I keep glancing back at those classroom statistics, I am slightly disappointed with my previous teachers. However, this new information on differentiated instruction may not have been made available to them. I believe that it is important for learners in the classroom to try on all sorts of strategies to see what works best. This is similar thinking to the “one size does not fit all model”. When you go into a clothing store, you should try on a variety of styles to see what works for your body and that can be transferred into the classroom. If the teacher is willing to experiment by trial and error and data collection, then he or she can find techniques that will work for the particular group of students they are teacher.

I am not afraid of failing in my classroom when trying on a new strategy. The challenge of trying to meet many learners’ needs is actually very exciting for me. I don’t doubt that I will get frustrated at times, but that just means that I need to get a bit more creative and listen to my students more. When I worked at the library in Swift Current, I ended up teaching a dance class to our youth group. I had very limited experience teaching dance, but I made sure I did everything to the best of my ability. We had different personalities mixed into our group and I knew that I needed to present the material in different ways. I ended up having hands-on training, written instruction, watch-and-learn presentations, and check for error peer assessments. It took a great deal of effort to arrange the material, but it really benefitted the children. They all learned the dance to the best of their ability and we all had a great deal of fun. Our classroom was safe and we all made mistakes, but felt comfortable doing so. After that enriching learning/teaching experience, I want to apply that behavior pattern to my future classrooms. Again, I can just foresee the long nights of planning, but having the students understand the teaching is well worth it.