One of my first students was an aspiring flautist. I was a senior in high school, taking a directed study in music education through which I taught lessons on every band instrument except for the saxophone. She was ten years old and small for her age, and her slender fingers trembled as she practiced. Humming the notes, she would dutifully wiggle her fingers into the proper configurations. For months, she labored without an instrument. I helped her count the measures as she hummed, and corrected her posture during our lessons. When I could find an extra flute at the high school, we would practice embrasure. At home, she blew across the tops of empty soda bottles. Her parents were unable to afford the rental fee for a real flute, and the language barrier exacerbated the situation. Like many fifth-grade children in my district, my student translated from Spanish on behalf of her parents for all official school business. Renting an instrument through the music program was an overly complex process, and the contractual information was hard for even native English speakers to understand, but my student persevered. When she finally had an instrument of her own, she was able to play almost as well as the students who had flutes available to them throughout the semester. Her passion for music carried her through adversity.
Though almost a decade has passed since this experience and I have transitioned to teaching art history and studio art in a university setting, my primary objective in the classroom is still to inspire a passion for learning. I attempt to foster passion for learning through instilling in my students a sense of ownership in the educational process. To this end, my curriculum hinges on personal goal-setting and thoughtful self-evaluation and self-reflection. I also strive to make course material as relevant as possible, and encourage students to make connections between class discussion, readings, and their experiences in their daily lives. Additionally, my curriculum often incorporates a service learning component, which further emphasizes the relevance of more theoretical course work. Finally, I strive to facilitate understanding and integration of course materials by providing feedback on student work in the form of open discussion, comments on projects, and scores on exams. In all areas of my teaching, I aim to effectively engage diverse learners, to propagate respect for differing perspectives, and to accommodate individual learning preferences.
Setting Personal Goals: Students arrive in my classroom with a wide variety of experiences and knowledge sets. In order to help students best utilize their unique perspectives and backgrounds as they pertain to the subject matter, it is imperative that students set goals for themselves. I encourage students to develop goals for their own learning beyond simply getting a passing grade in my course. In art history classes, many of my students have challenged themselves to gain a deeper understanding of a particular period in history, or to develop a more thorough appreciation for a particular culture. In studio art classes, students often sought to gain more technical expertise of their chosen medium. After broad personal goals are established, I then challenge students to think in terms of specific, achievable goals. For instance, in an art history course, I ask students to be able to express three fully supported ideas about each work of art we encounter. The collaborative establishment of broad goals as well as specific goals allows for a more individualized and tailored assimilation of new information.
Practicing Self-Evaluation and Self-Reflection: To complement and reinforce individual goal setting, I challenge students to evaluate their own performance in the classroom. Students are required to reflect in writing on their class-related experiences each week. Encouraging written reflection also creates the opportunity for dialogue with students who are reluctant to participate in classroom discussion.
Facilitating Understanding and Integration of Knowledge: I am an advocate for constuctivist learning and employ a wide range of tactile, hands-on activities and exercises. In larger classes, I often orchestrate a “free-write” activity, and instruct students to respond in writing to a question concerning the week’s reading assignment or lecture topic. After the students have been given several minutes to jot down their thoughts, I often ask my students to discuss their reflections with surrounding classmates, and then ask students to present the outcome of their conversations to the rest of the class. By allowing students to gather their thoughts through writing and through partnered conversations before general class discussion, I have found that many students are more confident in speaking about their own observations and thoughts.