“What is your philosophy on pedagogy?”

My what on who now? There you have my response when I was first asked this question at the ripe old age of seventeen. I started a concurrent education program in year one of university and at the time I didn’t even know what pedagogy meant, let alone that you could philosophize about it! That all changed when I read a book called “The Schools Our Children Deserve” by Alfie Kohn. Kohn, who is now one of my idols, is a staunch and outspoken critic of standardized tests, grades, homework, competition and rewards. He questions the value of conventional educational tools and methods. He challenges all teachers to rethink their current practices and priorities. He promotes the idea of intrinsic motivation, inquiry based learning, student centred classrooms, and critical thinking. But most importantly, his words inspired my young, easily impressionable mind to start reflecting on my misconceptions of what teaching and learning looked like. Suddenly it all made sense. So that’s why I didn’t really enjoy my high school classes. Maybe my teachers were doing it wrong. From that moment I was able to start developing my own personal philosophy on pedagogy.

In my final year of my education degree I met the most amazing professor I will ever have – Cathy Christie. Cathy taught my biology curriculum course – i.e. how to not be a crappy, outdated science teacher. She was an amazing educator and person. She exuded genuine kindness, patience, understanding and caring. I could go on and on about all the amazing things she did – but one of the best was that she actually practiced what she preached! I mean how many times have you been to a PD session about alternatives to lecturing that was itself a lecture?  For the first time ever in university our classes were student centred! Every day we were actively engaged in our learning. Frankly, it was fun!

I had my biggest “aha” moment in that class. It came in the form of four little words I will never forget – Explore first, Explain later. It seems so obvious to me now, but at the time it was revolutionary. It was a total flip in my methodology and my understanding of how students create long lasting knowledge. Previously if I was going to teach a lesson on the properties of water, I may have done it the way my teachers would – first have a lesson on hydrogen bonding etc…then do a lab activity to reinforce the concepts taught in the lesson. However, there existed another way – a better way! Start with the lab! Or a P.O.E. Or a demo. I almost couldn’t accept it at first – it seemed heretical! And it wasn’t until I tried it with students that I truly understood the impact.

This is what I did as much as possible for my first 2 years of teaching. I used the learning cycle as taught to me by Cathy:

                             ENGAGE – EXPLORE – EXPLAIN – EVALUATE – EXTEND

Before I planned every lesson I thought to myself “what would Cathy Christie do?” and I tried to emulate my role model as much as possible. It was fantastic – for a while. But then I moved to Hong Kong and things changed.

Next blog post – The Downward Spiral of Shame continued…

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