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Final Project

Brie Stark's picture

Moving Through Environments/Styles

In my interpretation from November 4, I noted that we discussed the different persona's of a student in comparison to how they enjoyed working in different environments (open vs. directed).  In a meeting with my Praxis advisors, I came upon an idea: is there a way to facilitate a way to teach students how to transfer their learning techniques into another type of learning environment?  Is there a way to promote the student's abilities to being able to shift to other learning environments without going through a struggle of identity?  On a personal level, I came from a very directed public school environment that didn't have any open inquiry.  Coming to Bryn Mawr and engaging in discussion pushed my limits and challenged me to look at problems, and classes, in a much different light.  I, however, came upon this when I was 19 years old; how do younger students, from elementary through high school, deal with this?  Is there a way to educate teachers so that the teachers can be aware of this need to make environments transferrable for students?  

I'm not sure if there is any one way for a teacher to physically 'teach' a student how to go from an open environment to a more directed one, or vice versa, but I believe there is a lot of value in actually considering that the student needs to self-check his or herself when moving from environment to environment.  I believe that some teachers do genuinely realize this--for example, most middle schools begin at 6th grade, and therefore 5th grade teachers are obliged to realize that their students are going to continue into a different school with, probably, a very different environment.  However, do they know how to teach this or have their students realize this?  It's hard to tell a group of 5th grade students that the 'next year's environment is going to be noticeably different.'  How will the 5th graders understand what 'noticeably different' means?  Just as inquiry methodology promotes: students can retain information, but breaking preconceived notions takes some times and, often, hands-on activity on the part of the student.  It's near impossible to give a 'hands-on' environment of a middle school that the student might be continuing to.  How, then, do we remedy this?

I think a focused step should be to integrate different teaching styles in one's own classroom.  If a teacher prefers one style, as most teachers do, they should also realize that their style is probably not universal and nor should the students go through an entire year of getting accustomed to one style, only to be hit with the next.  I think an interesting method for teachers preparing students for new environments, like 5th graders continuing to middle school, is to create lesson plans that revolve around differing teaching styles.  For instance, some days may revolve around discovery, others around open-inquiry, others with set assignments, lectures, etc.  If one style doesn't dominate, then students can begin to get the flavor of each one -- in a slightly inquiry-based fashion of their own.

Perhaps this should be the case for every classroom, not just classroom specifically preparing their students to move to another environment.  If every environment samples from different styles, the students are forced not only to adapt to the different styles, but to learn how to use their skills to succeed in every environment.  Students, admittedly, all learn differently; this is not new information for teachers.  I think it is therefore important that teachers offer these many styles to students so that the students can, themselves, adapt their personal styles to the different styles they  may experience in life.  If a student experiences different types of teaching or work environments in school and learns how to adapt their learning strategies to the style, I believe that they will be better suited to continue adapting and succeeding when in the world after high school or college.

 to be continued...

Blame Free Environments

An interesting concept that was recently brought up in our weekly discussions revolved around the benefits of a blame free environment.  Most environments that I have ever known have been blame-cultivating.  That is, the members of the environment enter with the automatic thought that, if they believe an answer to be 'not what they expected,' blame for this answer must be placed upon someone.  In a blame free environment, the focus revolves more around metacognitive learning.  I'm not entirely sure how the blame-oriented environment evolved, but it seems logical that our society cultivates this atmosphere.  By encouraging people to continuously seek praise, gratification and prestige, society also encourages a dog-eat-dog atmosphere that leaves opponents in a wave of blame.  Almost every aspect of society holds up this value of a hierarchy, even if some institutions attempt to draw away from it.  For example, Bryn Mawr College's honor code policy is formed around the notion that competition with others should not a students' priority.  Bryn Mawr reinforces this by keeping grades secret, not parading the class average around (as is seen in most lower school environments) and by allowing students to self-administer their exams (sometimes in their own dorm room).  However, I see many inconsistencies with this.  While the honor code is great in theory, I still see a blame-oriented environment spawning from the culture at Bryn Mawr.  There is a sense of guilt when interacting with others in a group, even if a teacher has explicitly allowed it.  Because the honor code states that each person's work must be there own, students have a hard time reaching out to others for help.  This help comprises of studying and homework problems, both of which are not graded.  I, personally, have felt a sense of awkwardness at approaching another person to do homework together, for fear that we are somehow not honoring the honor code.  I honestly don't believe that this is the way such a school should operate.

It is common knowledge that teaching one another is one of the greatest ways of learning, as well as one of the greatest ways to build confidence in oneself.  I have seen, at my Praxis location, an environment that I would remark to be the closest to being blame-free.  Students write other students' phone numbers in the back of their agenda books so that their first thought is to call another peer to go over work that they do not understand or would like clarified.  There is not a sense of guilt (like cheating) associated with this.