Monday, October 20, 2014


[This was the 2nd Peer Assessment for Foundations of Teaching For Learning, Part 1.  I was to discuss how this course impacted how I teach -- what I plan on changing or start doing.]

I am a non-traditional teacher. To date I have not received any formal training in teaching, yet all I do is teach. I am a private voice teacher and choral director by trade. I am a homeschooling mom who co-owns a homeschool cooperative. (A cooperative is a gathering of homeschool families for group learning. My cooperative hosts approximately 25 families and 50 - 60 children ranging in age from infant to 13). My education in teaching has been on-the-job. In fact, it could be considered trial by fire! I must be doing something right as my daughter thrives as a homeschooler, my classes at the cooperative fill to capacity, and my voice students happily refer me to their friends.

This course validated that I intuitively figured out many effective teaching concepts even though I did not have a name for them. This course expanded my thinking and repertoire – it excites me to tweak what I am already doing and implement a few new approaches. I mainly teach one-on-one with my daughter and my private voice students. While I enjoy teaching in the classroom setting of the cooperative, I am least comfortable teaching groups.

For the purposes of this essay, I will address this environment where I teach two one-hour weekly classes of 8 – 15 students each for 8-week long sessions. Unlike a traditional classroom teacher, I may see these children several times a week through various homeschool activities, but I am only their teacher for a short period of time. In addition to managing my lessons, I must manage my time carefully. I strive to fill each short hour with challenging information-rich learning opportunities.

I found the Journey to Excellence video particularly inspiring as it encapsulates my beliefs while extending my thinking on them. During my cooperative classes, I spend “significant time teaching actively in a structured way”. Through various activities and plenty of discussion, I teach a variety of cross-context classes covering related topics in math, science, history, etc. under a central theme. For example, last year I ran a class on the Silk Road where we studied history, various cultures, religion, art, and science. Later this year, I will teach a class called “Ratio” where we will study mathematical and science concepts through baking.

I learned early on with my daughter that the more active and hands-on I could make an activity, the better. When my business partners and I started the cooperative, I went with what I knew and planned classes that were hands-on and interactive. Our students come from a variety of backgrounds and homeschooling methods, so I strive to keep my classes stand-alone. While some prior knowledge may be assumed, I am ready with methods to review unfamiliar concepts. I do not, however, make many attempts to connect what we're doing with previous knowledge. Instead, the students may make connections intuitively.

I now see plenty of opportunities to hook my classes' subject matter into my students' prior knowledge. The key involves taking the time in our discussions to ask a few more questions about their prior experiences. As homeschoolers, our learning experiences “in the wild” and “in captivity” vary greatly. How much “wild” and “captive” learning occurs depends on the family's methodology. Also, given the resources available to U.S. homeschoolers, “captive” learning may look very different between two students. I should take advantage of my students' varied backgrounds during our discussions to not only hook our new information into what they know, but to give them more opportunity to learn from each other.

I know from my own experience as a voice teacher that you do your best learning by teaching. I look forward to giving my students more opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge to each other. I believe I can easily implement this change given the framework of my classes. We are already working hands on. I will extend this by asking one (or more) of my students to explain what they are doing or how they are doing it. When they team up, I already encourage them to problem-solve together as a group. Taking this one step further when the class is together as a whole will hopefully empower all of them to take an even more active role in my class.

Discussion plays a huge role in my classroom. I strive not to spend more than a few minutes lecturing during my hour with them. Instead, I ask questions based on our observations and activities and pepper the conversation with facts and tidbits to keep the dialogue flowing.

I am frequently challenged by the various personalities in my class. I have several students who will talk the entire time if allowed and others who rarely speak. The Zambian Classroom Video demonstrates a problem I frequently have: a herd mentality. When I have one or two strong voices speak their opinions, I often have several more followers regardless of what they thought previously. Those with a different opinion may get lost in the shuffle.

I plan to restructure our dialogues to include more of the No-Hands-Up approach. I hope this gives my quieter students a bigger voice during our time together. I also believe this will give time to students who need a few moments to think through their response. I also plan to spontaneously create small discussion groups for a few minutes at a time to talk through the current concept. Mixing up the groups within a class session may also help them hear each other better.

I enjoyed this course tremendously as it has given me a number of tools to add to my teacher's toolkit for all aspects of my teaching. I am particularly excited to implement these new ideas this week when the cooperative starts its Fall session.

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