Monday, October 24, 2011

Teaching Philosophy

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Snea Thinsan, Ph.D.

My teaching philosophy is synthesized from a few decades of my teaching and life experiences. Essentially, I have learned that details associated with teaching vary according to many factors, such as the disciplines and their structures (i.e. math, science, art, humanities), learner factors (i.e. age, background knowledge, cultural and learning experiences, socio-economic backgrounds, learning styles, motivation, and attitudes toward learning), modes of delivery (online, face-to-face, or blended), levels of education, learning goals, and so on. For example, the level of education with which teaching is associated is necessarily a vital factor. Teaching in higher education is quite different from teaching in primary and secondary education. Training students in higher education to teach in primary, middle and high schools, hence, will need to be based on insights into factors and issues related to all these levels of education. At present, when technology is an added ingredient, a lot of interesting research topics emerge, especially in terms of how we learn, interact, construct knowledge, and so on in the new world equipped and driven by technology.  My teaching philosophy below is just a digested version of all the complex possibilities of pedagogical and learning details.
Informed by critical pedagogy and critical literacy, I believe: that teaching should empower the learners, not intimidate or “dehumanize” (Paolo Freire) them; that learners bring with them knowledge and skills that should be built upon, not be suppressed, marginalized, or ignored; that dialogues among the learning community members (teacher/students as co-learners) are vital as they together try to unpack the unjust and often structurally violent sociopolitical and other systems around them; and that, with constant reflections and meaningful actions, the students become an able and active agent of change, not an intellectually and politically submissive citizen.
My dissertation and related literature on critical thinking have also convinced me that people, as learners, begin from different points in their intellectual development. The constructs of intellectuality are relative to different cultural and academic contexts, but it is possible for us to agree on some common, hierarchical intellectual traits.  Critical thinking, which emphasizes higher order thinking, is a tool that helps learners who value knowledge memorization and do not or cannot usually use their analytical, evaluative, and synthetic skills, which are crucial for intellectual development. It can be promoted as skills that carry the learners toward a higher level of intellectuality. Yet, critical thinking involves many micro skills that often require modeling, scaffolding, and, especially, proper and timely feedback by the teacher. At the same time, extended praxis (i.e. reflections and actions) by the learners is also instrumental in ensuring that they are equipped with what they need to move away from their ignorance, laziness, lack of self-confidence, lack of motivation, lack of hope, lack of fair-mindedness, lack of self-efficacy, and so on.
Inspired by constructivism, I firmly believe that knowledge should be generated or constructed in a learning community with the co-existence of various stimuli, multiple perspectives, critical lens, learner reflections on their diverse experiences, open exploration or inquiry, and individualized meaning-making tasks through social interactions. In this light, teaching is both individual and social, but the latter makes the learning tasks more fruitful, motivating, authentic, and, hence, successful in serving real life needs.  Additionally, my doctorate minor courses in Instructional Systems Technology have informed me that, in incorporating instructional technology and other instructional materials, the design and implementation of contents and pedagogical methodology should aim at facilitating individual learners’ cognitive processing, as well as at developing higher order thinking and meaningful actions. Vygotsky’s ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development), hence, should be enhanced not only by the more knowledgeable peers, but also by the thoughtful and procedurally facilitative teacher who can successfully increase the quality of learning without compromising the practices of student-centeredness and interactions.
(Written in 2011)
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