Monday, July 19, 2010

Teaching Philosophy

Teaching Philosophy: a Deweyan Reflection

I’ve drawn deeply on the work of the pragmatic philosopher John Dewey, especially from his short powerful book, Experience and Education and his more detailed Democracy and Education, both to develop my philosophy of teaching and philosophy of education. What I have drawn mostly from Dewey is a passion of probing inquiry within the context of a collaborative class dynamic and a strength-based model of teaching drawing on the knowledge that students do possess as the avenue for tapping into their areas of curiosity. These serve as pivotal entry points in the stimulation of greater learning.

I believe it is the primary responsibility of the instructor to provide an orienting structure to any given course or class session. As a consequence I place a great deal of thought and detail into structuring a syllabus which serves as an operational plan which includes scope for revision and modification throughout the course. This is a fluid process that I shape and reshape through a continuous working through of the identification of key texts, websites, and the sequencing of assignments throughout the semester until a sense of completion emerges. I take this work as seriously as writing a formal paper in that when done well I have internalized an operational structure for the course that remains viable even as adaptations are called for in the very midst of effective implementation.

I also place a good deal of attention into the up-front planning for each of the class sessions especially in the first few weeks in thinking through the content and also the instructional strategies designed to open up the materials and to encourage optimal student engagement. In the process I am seeking to bring together the course content to be covered, a deepening of my understanding of the subject matter through intense engagement, and a provisional sense of what would comprise an optimal teaching/learning situation.

Once in class, my prime mode of instruction is broadly dialogical in which I might open with a question or some basic information and engage in a sort of stream of consciousness probing of the significance of the topic in what I would describe as aimed at an ideal student understanding that I initially pick up through the streams of symbolic communication that I am discerning throughout the class. I check these implied meanings through specific questioning which may open up the class in directions not specifically identified beforehand, in which I seek to keep the broad trajectory of what I am attempting to accomplish in mind. This process typically results in some re-engagement of the broad direction initially intended through a spiraling dynamic resulting in greater student internalization.

I design reading and writing assignments to deepen and broaden the framework for our class discussions and in turn utilize assigned readings as points of departure or points of engagement while providing textual explanation as needed in any given context. As a rule, however, I do not generally spend much time summarizing the reading assignment, though I may spend a great deal of time amplifying upon the texts, including teasing out various textual implications that may or may not be so obvious based on what is stated. Throughout all this I seek to work at the higher edge level of given student potential in the process of encouraging and inspiring students to stretch further in their knowledge and in their intuitive leaps. In working with the grain of each student’s developmental process as the best possible way of advancing educational progress I am drawing on Dewey’s core concept of “growth” that he so clearly articulated in his timely as ever test, Democracy and Education.

The following two essays contain some of my more extended reflection on contemporary pedagogy and Dewey’s influence on it. While these essays focus on my work in adult literacy education they also have broad applicability to my approach to college teaching and tutoring.

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