Teaching Philosophy and approach


I hope what follows is valuable.  I understand that most may not have the time to read through this lengthy overview of my philosophy and approach to teaching.  I took the time to develop this overview because I sense having access to more is always a better position than having access to less.  If your time is limited and I had to cut my philosophy and core beliefs down into one sentence it would be:

"To awaken and enliven the innately curious learner in all  students"

Core Understandings & Basic Philosophy:

Learning is a natural act.  We are born innately curious and capable of engaging the world as learners.  As little children we learn to walk, talk, listen and control our environments, not because our parents, older siblings or guardians  “taught" us to do so, but rather because the appropriate time, space, modeling and support were provided.  Even though the pace toward proficiency varies we all achieve mastery in our time and fashion. 

I remember not too long ago  when my wife and I feared our daughter would never give up sucking on her “Binky”.  We were panicked and felt she was holding onto the practice to too long.  Had we waited too long to intervene? Had we made a poor decision allowing her to have it whenever she wanted? What must WE do to help her?  Ultimately the best advice came from a wise friend who told us to relax and be patient adding, “had we ever witnessed a Elementary school kid who stilled used a pacifier?" She wisely highlighted that children naturally develop in their own time and way and that our daughter would eventually lose the need for the security the pacifier brought her and move on.  It may not be as fast as other kids, but it would happen when our daughter was ready.  

We all naturally learn important and difficult skills when given time, space, and the necessary support.  Anxiety, like that experienced by my wife and me is a socially fostered response to natural learning challenges.  Children know little of this reality as they grow.  Yes, they cry and feel despair but how many children simply give up on walking, talking, running or learning those new skills they know to be important? We are in this way, "born to learn" and do so in surprising ways far before we hit the four walls of a classroom.  

Therefore, I seek to create a learning environment that, while rigorous, is in line with the natural aspects that drive us to develop and grow.  At the core of this approach is the understanding that growth comes for each student in time and often not according to those parameters I design or as outlined by the social beliefs of the world outside our classroom. Students pick up skills, understandings, and habits when they are ready and respond naturally, as my daughter did, to an environment that is deliberate, patient, caring and supportive.  When students lag behind, they are not punished with a poor grade, but rather provided the support they require to find that innate learning stance they each have within them.

Most often this support comes through having students reflect on those natural powers and abilities that reside within them.  It is this mindset that is at the core of my approach to instruction, assessment, and lesson planning and that which follows will (hopefully) outline how these core beliefs and philosophy support my approach and practices.       

How does my philosophy guide my approach to meeting the different needs of my students?

Professional observation, brain research, and best practices confirm that learning flows more efficiently and effectively when it is driven by student interest and organized into relatable and differentiated parts based on the learning needs of each child. Indeed, instruction “sticks” best when it is engaging and meaningful.  

When developing the goals for the year and organizing them into units and lessons, learning objectives are purposefully made “sticky”.  More specifically, essential historical content, concepts, and understandings are broken down into engaging lessons that are designed to provoke historical discussion around relatable, interesting and timely issues.  A typical years planning starts with a reflection on the most interesting and pressing issues occurring in local, state, national and international news.  Then each period we study is infused with topics that are relatable to current events. When history may not relate to current events, then debates amongst historians and conflicting historical narratives that occur due to varying points of view become the focus of the content organization.  Students love to study those aspects of history that are interesting, thought-provoking or controversial. And, of course, when students know they will engage history in this fashion, they bring with them a natural interest level that facilitates a smoother focus on the historical reading and thinking skills they will need to achieve proficiency and mastery.  

The Importance of Inquiry and It's Connection to the Common Core

In the summer of 2015, the C3 framework formed a perfect structure on which to apply work done previously with common core state standards and the “sticky” planning outlined above.  Students in the 2016-17 school year will continue to engage course objectives and content by developing questions, planning inquiries, evaluating sources, using evidence to support their understandings and finally communicating their evaluations in a wide array of formats.   The C3 framework and the Inquiry Arc it utilizes will enable students to develop reliable tools and methods for a rigorous and disciplined approach to the study of history.  Skills that are not only applicable in the social sciences but also in the "real" worlds of college, career and civic life in general.  

Assessment Philosophy:

My assessment philosophy flows from my approach to instruction.  The most relevant assessments, in my opinion, are not the final evaluations but rather the small incremental formative assessments students will grapple with each day.  Therefore as you interact with the Genesis grade book, please pay attention to the difference between "practice" formative assessments (10% of a student's grade) and the summative content, skill, and habits of mind assessments (90% of a student's overall grade).   You will notice that, in each marking period, we will focus on specific skills, habits of mind and content goals and these will be outlined and explained within Genesis so that each student, parent, or other stakeholders will be able to concentrate their efforts toward the student's growth toward proficiency and mastery. Also, each skill, habit, and content assessment will include a rubric that will break down the level of proficiency the student has achieved. 

In specific terms, students will be expected to demonstrate a broad understanding of history while applying themes, historical reading and thinking skills and particular habits of mind rigorously in and out of class.   Most studies into assessment clearly indicate that students who focus their learning on memorization of dates and facts often retain the information briefly but are unable to retrieve it over time. Therefore, you will notice a very small focus on the use of traditional assessments. Students will be asked to demonstrate short-term knowledge through regular "kahoot" style quizzes, but their performance will be used to help me differentiate my instruction.  I don't see much value in using quizzes to assess their overall broad understandings though and therefore you won't see much focus on these types of assessments in the gradebook.   

Because the same studies suggest that learning flows and "sticks" when students are challenged each day to think, recall, retrieve, and apply the content they are acquiring toward lessons that are designed specifically to target the student's impressions, understandings or misunderstandings - assessments will be structured to capture the students ability to process information and apply and transfer knowledge.  Research data suggests that a vigorous retrieval of newly learned content applied to differentiated learning goals helps students build stronger content knowledge; knowledge that is more likely to be transferred and retrieved "further down the road."

When students become aware of how they can actively interact and construct their learning, they are capable of rising to great heights in the high stakes assessment environment that has become the standard.  In class and at home students who vigourless apply habits and historical thinking skills while interacting with new content are students who will grow, develop and prosper in a globally competitive world that requires all of us to become extremely self-directed and critically aware of how we construct new understandings.