Growing up in Taipei, I was shuttled from one after school activity to another ever since I was three. I complied with the robotic routine, because it was expected of me and the alternative would be to lose at the start line and be deemed uncompetitive. Learning was not fun; it was a prescribed chore and I felt trapped. One of my biggest struggles during my first year in North America, besides cultural adjustment and social integration, was to fully accept and to mobilize my freedom to pursue my interests – I had a choice! I became a bookworm, played water polo, picked up Japanese, joined the after school science club, contended in mathematics competitions, and surprised everyone by progressing from English as Second Language (ESL) classes to standard curriculum within one semester. I was shocked to realize that I have always sat in the passenger seat; and having hopped into the driver’s seat, I was thrilled to discover how entertaining, rewarding, and liberating self-directed learning can be. It has been a transformative journey, and it has led me to believe that learning is a commitment to the process of personal growth.
Drawing from my own experience, I firmly believe that real, meaningful learning happens when learners actively cultivate a sense of ownership in their education and that the intrinsic desire to learn is best facilitated in a safe environment that celebrates effort, supports risk-taking, and invites genuine connection. Thus, in my role as an instructor, I try my best to make every effort to encourage learners’ intrinsic motivation by demonstrating respect for their autonomy (Stefanou, Perencevich, DiCintio, & Turner, 2004), providing timely feedback for their individual as well as collaborative processes (Brookhart, Moss, & Long, 2009), and sharing my own personal commitment to learning and growth (McKinney, 1999).
Learning is an intentional process. Within my various teaching roles, I act as a supportive and empathic guide to empower learners to make informed and non-coerced decisions with regards to their own learning. For instance, as a Britannia Secondary Science Fair Mentor, I encourage learners to formulate a science fair project topic that aligns well with their own personal interests or goals. With choice comes responsibility – providing learners with opportunities for choice, it nurtures a sense of accountability towards their science fair project. Thus, they are more invested in its completion and in its overall quality. Moreover, I avoid providing answers to their questions by using open-ended questions to prompt their current knowledge, to engage them analytically in problem solving, and to collaboratively strategize ways to find answers for themselves. Often, I ask learners to present a concise summary of their newly acquired knowledge with their peers, to discuss how these information could be incorporated into their science fair project, and to evaluate whether their research efforts satisfied their own expectations and scientific curiosity. When learners are allowed the freedom to construct their own understanding and have a safe and supportive avenue to showcase their competence, they become more self-determined and self-directed in their own learning process.
Learning is a formative process. In order to establish a secure learning community that recognizes effort, embraces mistakes, and promotes self-appraisal, I actively listen to learners’ concerns and needs for learning, invite them to reflect on their own material integration, and provide timely formative feedback to acknowledge their progress. Whenever I monitor volunteers’ ability to connect with clients and to integrate short-term crisis management and suicide prevention skills at the Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of BC, I allow room for their own conceptualization of learning and ask them to assess their own strengths and weaknesses before providing feedback in assisting them move towards mastery and embodiment of these skills. To build on their reflections, I offer detailed and specific examples to highlight their effectiveness in supporting the client in distress and solicit for strategies in maintaining and furthering their strengths. Moreover, I draw their awareness to areas of weakness, share my insights on potential impact on the overall support provided for the caller (in reference to the framework of our role and responsibility as a Centre), provide tangible suggestions for improvement, and periodically follow up on their progress. By demonstrating the expectation of high quality service for volunteers and by providing tailored support in accordance to their individual learning needs, they become more self-evaluative and willing to step up to the challenge.
Learning is an unending process. I constantly find ways to model my own intrinsic motivation to learn in my various teaching roles. As a CTLT Graduate Facilitator, I partake in goal-setting activities along side with the participants to share my own commitment to the process of personal growth and to invite them to hold me accountable for my own learning. Furthermore, I make transparent my reasoning behind implementing various teaching and facilitation techniques as well as my reflection on their effectiveness in helping them learn and in achieving my teaching goals. I also request formative feedback from the participants and actively adopt my facilitation to meet their learning needs throughout the workshops. When the participants witness my vulnerability in risk-taking and my own learning integration, they develop the courage to go beyond their own comfort zone, become more appreciative of self-directed learning, and begin to take control of the steering wheel.
Both in assessing learners’ learning and in evaluating my own effectiveness, I find it effective to establish rapport, to connect with my learners, and to diversity the format of my assessments. In sharing my successes and challenges as a learner and in making a point to get to know my learners beyond the classroom by checking-in on their well-being, acknowledging their efforts, and inquiring about their goals and plans for the year, I find learners are more willing to share their own challenges and to approach me with questions. I glean insights into learners’ comprehension, problem-solving, technical and critical thinking skills (e.g., logical reasoning and analysis behind making decisions/drawing conclusions) through their participation and contribution during classroom discussions, engagement in peer-teaching while solving case studies, the quality of student presentations deliveries, and performances on two-stage quizzes and exams. The diversity of assessment formats yield different matrices regarding student performance and attitude that shed light on my strengths and areas of improvement as an instructor. In addition, my learners’ level of engagement, enthusiasm for learning, motivation to seek beyond the curriculum, respect for themselves and others, and professionalism serve as measures of my effectiveness in supporting them in becoming self-directed life-long learners.
Teaching, like learning, is a commitment and a transformative process of growth. I hope to expand my teaching style by experimenting with new teaching techniques, challenging myself in different teaching contexts (e.g., independent teaching in large classrooms), and engaging in an actively reflective practice. Moreover, I hope to create a dynamic, learner-oriented classroom, where creativity is nurtured, mistakes accepted, and authenticity encouraged.
Brookhart S.M., Moss C.M., Long B. A. (2009). Promoting student ownership of learning through high-impact formative assessment practices. JMDE, 6(12), 52-67
McKinney K. (1999). Encouraging Students’ Intrinsic Motivation. The Teaching Professor, December: 4.
Stefanou C.R., Perencevich K.C., DiCintio M., Turner J.C. (2004) Supporting Autonomy in the Classroom: Ways Teachers Encourage Student Decision Making and Ownership. Educational Psychologist, 39:2, 97-110.
Last Updated: December 2016