Teaching in the modern classroom presents challenges that have not always been present for educators. The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs [MCEETYA], 2008) states that today’s students will need to be prepared for global communication and complex issues, such as climate change and sustainability, and rapidly changing technologies. In order to meet such demands, teachers will need to consider how they can prepare students for the future (Marland, 2007). The Australian Curriculum (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Training Authority [ACARA], 2012) promotes the development of critical and creative thinking skills, intercultural understanding and integrated Information and Technology (ICT) as the way to reach this goal.
As a pre-service teacher, I have the complex task of weaving together theories of learning, teaching and assessment; concepts of behaviour management and positive classroom environments; building relationships with students, parents, colleagues and the community; all with the aim of maximising student learning so that they can be prepared for the demands on their adult life. Teachers achieve this task in different ways, as they are individuals with unique personalities and communication styles, and they hold beliefs and values that are reflected in their teaching methods (Whitton, Sinclair, Barker, Nanlohy & Nosworthy, 2004, p. 35). I believe my personal philosophy of teaching will enable me to meet the challenges that are brought to my classroom in order to develop students who are able to meet the challenges of the future.
Teaching and Learning
I believe children learn most effectively when they are presented with learning experiences and are taught strategies that enable them to construct their own knowledge in a safe and supported environment. Learning is maximised when students actively construct their own knowledge rather than passively receive it (Fetherston, 2006). Based on the constructivist learning theory developed by theorists Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky, teachers should become facilitators of integrated learning experiences that develop students’ inquiry skills to connect new knowledge with prior understandings (Eggen & Kauchak, 2010; Reynolds, 2009). Learning that is constructed in this way will enable students to develop the skills to become active and informed citizens that can think creatively and attempt to deal with the diverse global issues that face them in the modern technological world, as outlined in the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (MCEETYA, 2008) and supported in the Australian Curriculum (ACARA, 2012).
Social constructivism is based on the concept that children will gain cultural capital that allows them to succeed in their society when they are immersed in social experiences within that society (Fetherston, 2006; Luke and Freebody as cited in Makin, Diaz & McLachlan, 2007. p. 18). It is my belief that applying a social constructivist theory in the classroom means valuing each individual’s experiences and knowledge, and using collaborative and cooperative learning to share different opinions and insights (Fetherston, 2006). Vygotsky (as cited in Eggen & Kauchak, 2010) proposed that children will learn best when tasks enable them to work in a zone where they need graduated amounts of scaffolding (zone of proximal development), and this can be achieved when students work collaboratively to solve problems (Kearyjones, 2008). I will also use collaborative learning to increase motivation, engagement, self esteem and develop communication and negotiation skills (Bennett, Rolheiser & Stevahn, 1991; Briggs & Potter, 1999).
There will always be a range of ability levels in any classroom. This will present a challenge for me to try and engage all students, keep motivation high and maximise learning for all. The constructivist strategy of inquiry learning can be useful in achieving this. Students work collaboratively to investigate concepts or issues of interest while developing skills of investigating, analysing, comparing and contrasting, taking action, communicating and reflecting (Reynolds, 2009). These are skills that are required of modern day learners to become active and informed citizens. The open-ended inquiries challenge students to use higher-order and creative thinking skills so that cognitive thinking spans across to the deeper levels, as presented in Bloom’s Taxonomy (as cited in Reynolds, 2009). Providing tasks that use different skills or offering choices can assist learners to work with the learning style strengths. Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory shows how individuals differ in how they learn, and inquiry learning processes enable students to choose methods of working to their preferences for improved outcomes (McDevitt & Ormrod, 2010). Collaborative learning allows peer scaffolding; where students bring ideas, knowledge and skills to the group to increase understanding and offer alternate perspectives (Eggen & Kauchak, 2010).
Social Ecology and Equitable Learning Outcomes
I believe that all students have the right to be provided with an education that is fair and equitable (MCEETYA, 2008). Bronfenbrenner’s social ecology model shows how the different levels of influence on a child’s life affects their opportunities and experiences, and thus impacts on their education (McDevitt & Ormrod, 2010). The classroom is situated within the microsystem, the layer that has the most immediate impact on the child’s life (Bowes & Grace, 2009). The classroom is made up of students who come from a wide variety of backgrounds with an array of differing experiences, values and ideas. As a teacher, I will respect the diverse backgrounds of students and families within my classroom. In order to achieve equity in educational outcomes for all students, I will need to consider the backgrounds and needs of each individual student, and provide varied learning experiences, resources and assessment opportunities that effectively cater for them (Brady & Kennedy, 2007; Opheim, 2004).
Bronfenbrenner’s Social Ecology Model
(Santrock, as cited in The Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2012).
The diverse nature of classrooms means that some children are susceptible to educational disadvantage. Such a case can be seen when there is a student from a different background than the majority, such as a student from a large, single parent, low income family. When the culture of the school clashes with the home culture, such as education is not prioritised or resources are not affordable, the student may struggle to meet the expectation at school (Bowes & Grace, 2009). The same can occur when the student comes from a different culture, such as Aboriginal Australian families, where the goals and values of the culture or different. I will endeavour to use culturally responsive teaching to ensure an equitable education is achieved for these students, so they may develop the required skills for succeeding in modern society (Brady & Kennedy, 2007; Gay, 2002). Culturally responsive teaching involves proactively building relationships with students and families so that individuals are valued and respected. The microsystem is examined so that learning experiences and resources can consider the diverse backgrounds and circumstances of students, and represent these so that all students develop intercultural understanding and acceptance. Constructivist strategies such as using real world contexts or tasks with relevant purposes, that include the diverse contexts of all students, will assist in engaging students (Winch, Johnston, March, Ljungdahl & Holliday, 2010).
Positive Classroom Management
An optimal learning environment for children is created when the teacher establishes a positive and productive classroom management plan. I believe that teachers and students can establish mutually respectful relationships to encourage student ownership of behaviour and increase motivation for learning (Brady, 2005; Porter, 2000). Glasser’s Choice Theory presents the idea that students will purposefully choose behaviour to best suit their current needs (Edwards & Watts, 2008). Teachers can facilitate student’s growth to become self-regulating by showing them appropriate choices and discussing reasons behind misbehaviour. I believe that all discipline should be fair and consistent, preserve student dignity and work to maintain good teacher-student relationships, as stated in Rogers positive behaviour leadership model (Rogers, 2004).
It is my belief that proactive classroom management is the most effective way to build positive and productive classrooms. In accordance with this belief, students should establish their own clear, positively-stated rules with relevant consequences facilitated by the teacher so that they have ownership over expected behaviour and understanding that undesirable behaviour will have consequences. This assists in maintaining a positive teacher-student relationship (Edwards & Watts, 2008). The implementation of the social constructivist learning theory also works to maximise engagement and minimise misbehaviour. Learning experiences that are aimed at the developmental level of the students and tailored to suit their strengths and interests will engage students. Involving students in curriculum decisions can also increase motivation (Edwards, 2004). Assessment should be valid, fair and cater for different learning styles, and be used formatively to tailor learning experiences (McMillan, 2007). Arranging the classroom so that transitions are smooth, resources are easily retrieved and all students can view the whiteboard is an essential preventative strategy (Edwards & Watts, 2008; Eggen & Kauchak, 2010).
While my theory advocates pro-active classroom management to minimise behaviour issues, there will be occurrences of misbehaviour in every classroom. Dealing with misbehaviour in a positive and productive way can work to keep the student-teacher relationship one of trust and respect, which is essential to creating ideal learning environments (Edwards & Watts, 2008). Just as involving students in curriculum decisions can enhance learning, giving students responsibility over their own behaviour and consequences can work to increase self-regulation. Talking privately with the student to discuss the reasons why they are persistently ignoring the rules and how we can collaboratively solve these issues can help the student feel valued and supported (Gordon, Arthur & Butterfield, 2006). The student may need to set goals for future behaviour. Explicitly teaching goal setting and praising efforts to work towards goals will reinforce self-regulation as well as developing an effective life-long skill. It may become apparent that the reason for the misbehaviour is a lack of engagement in learning, in which case the teacher can reflect upon pedagogical practices and work with the student to determine how to best meet his or her needs.
Professionalism, Partnerships and Growth
I believe that teachers have a responsibility to the community to build professional relationships with all stakeholders in education. The teacher-student relationship is one of trust, motivation, care and respect as students progress through their learning journey, with the teacher also ensuring duty of care obligations are met (Eggen & Kauchak, 2010). Teacher-parent relationships should be fostered so that partnerships in the child’s learning can be established, parents’ skills and knowledge utilised, and an inclusive school culture created (Berthelsen & Walker, 2008). Partnerships with colleagues are essential to providing the support required from the challenges of working with diverse children every day (Ministerial Advisory Council on the Quality of Teaching, n.d.). Being involved in local community issues also serves to work towards better educational outcomes for students (Curriculum Council, 1998).
The many challenges of teaching will mean I will need to conscientiously update my skills and remain informed on best practices in teaching, and be able to implement new and effective programs. Ongoing professional development is crucial to remaining up to date with pedagogical practices, while regular reflective practice aids in continuously improving personal teaching effectiveness (Eggen & Kauchak, 2010). Daily reviewing of classroom activity will assist in ensuring that my classroom management procedures are fair and consistent and minimise disruptions, that learning experiences are meeting the needs of all students and that parents and colleagues are being supported and involved in effective ways.
In my role as a twenty-first century educator, I envisage an active, collaborative classroom where relationships are established so that each individual learner feels safe, challenged, supported and a valuable part of the learning community. Learning will be constructed using inquiry based programs to develop the skills and responsibilities required of our children as they reach adulthood, so that they can deal with the challenges that the future will hold for them.
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