My teaching philosophy will be based on a constructivist, student-centered classroom, and a multicultural curriculum that maximizes whole-class discussions and/or group work. To begin with, I strongly believe that students learn academic literacy through their engagement with curriculum that is socially and culturally relevant. I also believe that they are more apt to retain information when it is tied into things they can relate to, such as personal experiences and cultural background. Therefore I would like base my curriculum around the constructivist views that allow students to “construct” meaning through discussion and close interaction with the texts. I want to give students as many choices as possible, so that they feel as if they are personally responsible, and therefore personally invested in their work.
In order to achieve this, I will use a variety of methods and strategies within the classroom. To begin with, there will be multiple multi-cultural texts available for students to use as choice books. For instance, rather than having a room full of “standard” Eurocentric texts, I will be sure that the works within my library cover a variety of cultures, backgrounds and perspectives. Also, because I will be teaching at least one unit on Shakespeare, I want to include works beyond “the big three.” For instance, I would like to explore issues of race in Othello, or issues of gender in Twelfth Night, two titles that don’t get as much mention in American classrooms. Furthermore, I would like to offer students the opportunity to discover various types of writing from writers of different backgrounds, such as poetry and drama as well as fiction and nonfiction. Students will gain new perspectives as they discuss and debate the themes/issues found in multicultural texts. They can also gain valuable insight by engaging in activities that are designed to place them in the shoes of a text's diverse characters, in which they must attempt to see things from someone else's point of view.
Because I want my students to participate frequently in whole class/group discussions, I would like to engage them in activities that help them get to know each other. As often as possible, I would have students form small groups, and write funny or interesting things about themselves and share them with each other. I would also invite students to share their thoughts on a subject within a roundtable or “fishbowl” discussion format, in which they would be able to learn more about their peers’ thoughts and feelings toward different ideas. Furthermore, I would encourage students to share their thoughts in various writing prompts and journal entries. I think it is important for students to collaborate as often as possible in order for them to grow comfortable speaking within their groups, and then in whole class discussions. Students may feel reluctant if they are not frequently given an opportunity to gain confidence in their ability to speak their minds in front of their peers, much less the teacher.
This would also feed into my goal of making the classroom more student-centered, as I want students to feel as though the teacher does care about what they have to say, and that there doesn’t have to be any one clear cut answer or viewpoint on any topic. There can be varying viewpoints and multiple reactions, which will also help smash any pre-conceived notions that the classroom will only tolerate what Peter Smagorinsky describes in his book Teaching English by Design as “final-draft speech” (10). Rather, classroom discussion will involve more constructive “exploratory talk” (10). Within these discussions, there will be students with a variety of learning styles, and even those who are at different reading levels. Therefore, I want to construct my curriculum to cover as many of those bases as possible by offering students alternative ways to learn through multimodal texts and projects. For instance, I would employ a scaffolding structure similar to that which Smagorinsky describes. He states that “as the learner grasps the concepts and learns to use the tools properly, the carpenter begins handing over responsibilities to the novice” (19). I think it is extremely important for teachers to model as often as possible, allowing students to then work in groups to apply what they’ve learned, and then ultimately putting those skills into practice individually.
With regards to using technology and multi-modal texts, I would also want to explore as many options as possible to give my students the broadest range of educational material available. One of the arguments James Bucky Carter makes in his book Building Literacy Connections with Graphic Novels is that graphic novels can be used to teach critical literacy. He states that offering students a variety of texts helps us “avoid the either/or choice of classic novels versus nontraditional texts. By using a classroom structure predicated on a model that allows for gradual release of responsibility,” teachers can use a combination of the two to teach a set of literary devices (33). In other words, students can begin by looking at literary devices such as mood or tone within the panels of a graphic novel, and then use those skills to identify mood or tone in a more traditional text.
In terms of assessments, I will stick to my theme of diversity by choosing a variety of methods in which students can demonstrate their knowledge. In order to get a sufficient idea as to a student’s growth throughout the unit, it is important to implement multiple assessments on a regular basis. According to Tomlinson & McTighe:
“Although summative/evaluative assessments often receive the most attention, diagnostic and formative assessments provide critical “along the way” information to guide instruction in response to the nature and needs of the diverse learners…In a differentiated classroom, a teacher continuously examines ongoing assessment data for individuals as a means of adapting “up-front” teaching plans so that they address particular learner needs” (71).
Therefore, not only will I occasionally use a pop quiz or short essay, but I will also assess them through reading logs, daily journal entries, creative projects such as music or video presentations, and even mock Facebook pages that allow students to create a profiles for the characters in a text. I believe that it is especially important for English teachers to somehow incorporate social media into their lessons because whether it is on Facebook or Twitter, or through texting, students are writing every day. By addressing students’ writing skills within these spaces, we are able to impact those skills tremendously. Therefore, I will make sure to incorporate a variety of multi-layered instructional activities within the curriculum that cover a wide range of learning styles. I believe that by offering my students choices I will be able to keep them engaged in what we are doing in the classroom. By facilitating a more constructivist approach, students will see that their opinions and thoughts do matter. I believe that this will lead to increased participation and a much more stimulating experience for all.