Part 2 of Inquiry
Though my educational philosophy is only beginning to develop, I build my classroom around the notion that emotionally and morally-framed learning produces the highest levels of engagement and deeper learning. When given the chance to explore a personal or emotional connection to material, my students are much more likely to want to learn. Through this lens, I see the role of a middle school educator, specifically a teacher of English, as someone who must nourish every child’s individual motivations to learn. My philosophy centers on the notion that education is most impactful and equitable when teachers structure curriculum and lessons so students can embrace their personal and emotional connections to the content, building a space where students can pave unique educational paths to critically assess their own relations to the communities and world they inhabit.
The cognitive neuroscience field explains that forging an emotional connection can make learning more impactful for students. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang & Antonio Damasio, two of the leading scholars in the growing field, emphasize that “emotion may play a vital role in helping children decide when and how to apply what they have learned in school to the rest of their lives” (2011, p. 120). When my charges have embraced the “I” of their arguments - curiously something we instruct students to take out of their writing - connecting their arguments in an overt way to the feelings, positive or negative, inside them, they build new pathways to the material. Those pathways enhance long-term learning, and help students synthesize information across units. Allowing for emotion also lets them see how they might bring the lessons from the classroom to the community, and strengthens the vital teacher-student relationships. Just as students can use excitement as the base of research interests off of emotional highs, so too can they benefit from having a safe space to channel negative emotions such as frustration and anger into arguments and research. I can possibly let frustration lead them towards change-effecting work. In order to educate best, we must allow emotions not only to enter discussion, but also to guide the paths students choose to follow in their writing and analysis.
Student emotions must guide learning in the classroom
Asking questions with only one answer, using only one type of assessment, or even assigning an essay with only one prompt, teachers miss opportunities to infuse their students with confidence and a vigor to follow their emotional or passionate connection to the material. In order to allow students of every diverse background and identity an equitable chance to succeed, the teacher must act as a guide or a facilitator more than a director, letting students be the ones to drive and own their paths both so that they are not directed away from areas of personal interest and so that they can see where classmates’ interests lead. Jim Burke makes the point in The English Teacher’s Companion (2013) that “one part of our job as English teachers is to welcome all students into the ‘house’ of English, give them a tour, and be patient while they fumble around and orient themselves in the process of reinforcing or developing their ‘academic identity’” (p. 10). English teachers should provide students the tools to succeed, then pose questions that prompt students to consider the relation of the texts to their lives and identities. Instead of always leading students towards a homogenous understanding, I try to support the variety of interests that the increasingly diverse set of students possess by allowing each student the space to create a unique educational path. Making my classroom a place where students have the support and autonomy to challenge assumptions and follow inquisitive paths is essential.
Mike Rose (2011), an American education scholar, writes that “every good teacher I've known, regardless of grade level, subject or style, has the equivalent of what musicians call ‘big ears’; they are curious, open, on the lookout for anything they can use in the service of some larger goal” (Rose). An educator must be concerned with listening and adapting at all times - to the individual needs and interests of students, to new educational research, and to colleagues. By being attuned to the unique journeys of students, opening my ‘big ears’ up to emotional connections with their work, I can create a supportive environment that gives each student an equitable chance to succeed and sustains his or her motivation to do so.
Click here to continue to part 3 - my Literature Review