My Philosophy of Teaching and Learning: Revised January 2016
My first psychology course lit a spark in me that has never extinguished. Psychological theories helped me—a first-generation undergraduate student—to understand myself and others. Psychology’s methods empowered me to question assumptions, critically evaluate claims, and seek answers in a rigorous way. As I reflect now, pedagogical choices my introductory psychology instructor made were pivotal in my decision to pursue psychology. The foundation of my entire career is first-hand knowledge of the potential transformative power of effective teaching. When I teach, I bring enthusiasm, organization, and a willingness to take calculated risks in the service of helping people learn. The goal of my teaching practice is to help people develop ways of thinking and doing that are informed by the methods and evidence of quantitative psychology, and that will prepare them to engage in their social worlds throughout their lives.
Content changes. Strong course design is what develops life-long skills (Fink, 2003, 2013). Whether preparing to teach people lessons, workshops, or courses, I start with goals. What should people be able to do as a result of this experience? In my syllabi, my course goals emphasize actions like evaluating, critiquing, finding, analyzing, calculating, applying, and collaborating. Then I design challenging learning assessments to measure and promote such goal achievement (Clark & Mayer, 2008). As much as possible, my assessments offer an authentic connection to the world outside the classroom, and apply research evidence of what helps people learn. For example, many exam questions I create require people to apply psychological concepts to explain events; one assignment invites teams to find research evidence and compare it with popular advice to solve a real personal dilemma (Psyc 208); regular low-stakes peer-reviewed writing assignments help students apply concepts to everyday life, improve their writing, and learn to give feedback (Psyc 101 and 102; Nevid et al., 2012; Dochy et al., 1999; Wahlheim et al., 2011); a team project triggers designing and presenting original research (Psyc 217); and graduate students create a teaching portfolio they can use for job applications (Psyc 508). Midterms are typically frequent, and final exams are cumulative to help students develop regular study habits and capitalize on the benefits of repeated testing (Karpicke, 2012; Roediger et al., 2006).
After structuring the course, I design lessons. My best lessons offer experiences that engage people as we explore material, and offer opportunities for practice and feedback as people learn new ways to think critically and creatively. I use many techniques to create engaging, supportive lessons: clicker questions frequently test people’s knowledge; peer-to-peer and full-class discussions facilitate debate, questioning, and deeper understanding; stories and vivid examples make ideas stick. I use physical demonstrations as often as possible (e.g., for statistical concepts, Owen & Siakaluk, 2011), and structure worksheets to guide small group exploration while I help as needed (e.g., Powner, 2006).
People give life to a well-designed course. In my best lessons, I barely say a word (cf. Finkel, 2000). Everyone in the room is creating, debating, and explaining ideas with each other. Crucially, research shows that peer-to-peer dialogue and collaboration helps people learn (Deslaurier et al., 2011; Gilley & Clarkston, 2014; Prince, 2004; Springer et al., 1999). Many of my learning assessments involve a collaborative component that requires working with others directly or reviewing their work. Recently, I adopted the two-stage test model to encourage peer-to-peer collaboration on high stakes traditional assessments (Gilley & Clarkston, 2014). After writing a test individually, people retake it collaboratively in a group. Students debate answers and explain concepts to each other. This method builds community and camaraderie, and reduces individual exam stress, while enhancing learning. I get to know many of my learners through informal discussion and an Invitational Office Hour, for which about 10 students are randomly selected to join me after class on Fridays. Students write that I “created a safe environment for students to talk” and “she relates to the individual needs of students and gives her best effort to help students succeed in the course.” By carefully promoting voices in the classroom, people build meaningful skills useful for learning in the classroom and beyond.
Throughout my teaching, I strive to spark in learners a passion for learning. I design experiences to challenge people to grow academically and personally, while supporting them and having fun along the way. And every so often, I spark a flame that is transformative.
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