11 January 2011

proposition 4 - learning from experience

Here we are at post 200! 100 posts in the last 16 months? I suppose that isn't too bad. That's one about every 5 days or so.

In the continuing series over the 5 Core Propositions for NBPTS, it's time to consider Proposition 4, Practice and Experience.

Proposition 4 - Teachers think systematically about their Practice and learn from experience.

The Master's program has really made me start to think about my practice and reflection has become reflexive! Thinking about what I am doing and the things I am trying to get students to do is almost automatic. I find myself thinking about class all the time. I see shows on television and it makes me think about something I could do, have done, or wish I could do in the classroom. It gets to be a little scary sometimes. Occasionally, I get annoyed with students because I think since I constantly reflect on what they are doing, it should be natural for them to do so, as well.

  • NBCTs model what it means to be an educated person – they read, they question, they create and they are willing to try new things.

I remember being an undergraduate student and hearing the words "life-long learner" repeated over and over. I never really knew what that meant until I began thinking in terms of National Board. I mean, somewhere, inside I think I probably understood it, but to experience being a life-long learner firsthand did not happen for me until some time in the last 15 months. I can honestly say it has been the beginning of a journey for me. I certainly can say I am a better person and hopefully a better teacher as a result of the reflective practice.

  • They are familiar with learning theories and instructional strategies and stay abreast of current issues in American education.

I still have a lot to learn about Learning Theories. I could talk about people like Vygotsky and Dewey and Maslow, but there are only a few theories with which I am intimately familiar. However, instructional strategies are an area I fell much more comfortable talking about. I think this is where the experience component of this proposition comes into play. I have been a part of around 300 students education over the past 4 years. I recognize that is a small number compared to anyone who has taught longer than I have, but its not really a small number when you think about it. Those are 300 people who's parents trusted me to shape the way their students think about the Universe. To mold their perception of the World around them. To affect their scientific worldview. That means I have had 300 opportunities to learn a slightly different way that students learn and interact with information. If I may put this into the context of something a little more common: if I baked 300 cakes over the course of 4 years, I would have built a considerable experience. I would know how to change the recipe based on local conditions: temperature, altitude, pressure, humidity, etc. In the same way, I have learned that every student learns in a slightly different way and it is my job to differentiate the instruction to meet the student at their point of need. (That phrase always reminds me of The Gospel for some reason.)

  • They critically examine their practice on a regular basis to deepen knowledge, expand their repertoire of skills, and incorporate new findings into their practice.

While I do not think the Carnegie Foundation meant that we should be critical of ourselves, I do think they meant we should consider our practice with critical eye to always look for ways to improve. Every lesson I do can be improved. That does not mean it was not good when it was done, it just means I need to constantly look for ways to improve, lest I become stagnant and stale. That is the time when student begin to see your class as meaningless and irrelevant.

Proposition 4, like the 3 before it, is an important aspect of good, reflective, teaching practice. Meditating on this proposition can color the lens by which we see ourselves and our practice. It is important to recognize that to be effective we must be willing to admit that we have room to improve, no matter what we do. Thanks NBCT for another course in what is turning out to be a fantastic meal!


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