My philosophy in teaching and learning revolves around having a student-centered, engaging, interactive environment where students can become immersed in the content, analyze it on a theoretical level, and apply it on practical, situated simulations. I believe that true learning happens through a natural process of acquisition rather than rote learning. Because of this, my lessons follow a structure that allow students to be exposed to, and become familiarized with, new content gradually, culminating in practical applications of the concepts discussed.
This teaching philosophy is grounded on the work of James P. Gee, specially the ideas established in ‘What Videogames Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy’ (2003) and ‘Situated Language and Learning’ (2004). In these two texts, and in much of his follow-up work, Gee declares that videogames have successfully applied approaches to instruction that educators could learn from. His comments focus on showing the educational value of understanding how tutorials serve to inform the player of the basic functions of the game’s mechanics, the early stages serve as a confined space that allow for a safe practice environment, and the later stages allow players to fully use the skills learned early on in the game. He also remarks at length on the importance of cascading information theory and on how students learn best when new information is learned in a ‘as needed’ basis.
By allowing these ideas to inform my teaching, I create lessons where students are progressively immersed in the content without overwhelming them with information overload. Furthermore, by allowing students to engage with the content in various ways I ensure that students with different learning processes understand the course content. Students who favor traditional lecture-based instruction will have just as much of an opportunity to successfully engage with the content as students who are visual or hands-on learners.
In order to create a welcoming discourse community for students, I tailor my own role in the classroom based on Jeremy Harmer’s insights into the roles of teachers (2001). He explains that instructors can serve as controllers (the lecturer in a traditional classroom), organizer (the activity leader in a guided exercise), assessor (when the instructor measures a student’s level of proficiency), prompter (when an instructor invites a student to participate), participant (when the instructor participants in the class activity), resource (when the instructor works with small groups or with individuals), or observer (when the instructor takes a step back and lets class discussion among students take place).
Because of this philosophy, my lessons tend to adhere to the following structure:
- Theoretical Introduction / Lecture – During this section I introduce and explain the lesson’s concepts, theories, authors, issues, or topics to be discussed. This section of the lesson uses a traditional approach to education where the teacher acts as controller.
- Class Discussion – During this section I allow the students to think deeply about the issues discussed, discover its meaning, and consider real-world applications. Even though the discussion is led by the instructor, students have the opportunity of engaging each other in discussions. During this section, the teacher acts as organizer, assessor, and – when needed – prompter.
- Instructions / Preparation – During this section I explain the rules for a hands-on applied simulation, exercise, or activity. During this section, the instructor serves as both organizer and assessor.
- Practice – During this sections the students apply the concepts learned. This can take the form of open classroom discussion, in-class writing, on the spot textual analysis, or other hands-on activity. During this section the instruction can serve as prompter, participant, resource, or observer, depending on the activity.
- Wrap-Up Discussion – During this section students share the results of their application and think of other ways in which the concepts discussed might be useful. During this section of the lesson, the instructor takes the role of observer as students comment and share their thoughts on the content learned.
By using this approach to instruction, I make sure that students become acquainted not only with the theoretical aspects of the course’s content, but also with the applied aspects of what is taught. This, in turn, creates a higher level of conscious appreciation for the material and allows students to be more actively engaged in their own learning. Furthermore, this “theory to practice” approach prepares them better for the workforce than approaches that rely exclusively either on theory / lecture or on hands-on activities.
Regarding student participation, I always try to engage my students in active participation. When lecturing on topics I always encourage students to jump in and compliment the course content with any prior experiences they might have that would allow the group to see the content from alternative perspectives. When engaging students in discussion I always make the conversation as dynamic as possible, asking questions to all of the students in the classroom and pushing them to think critically about their own ideas and perceptions by presenting them with alternate points of views. This kind of intellectual challenge, in turn, allows students to become deep thinkers and careful observers.
James P. Gee – What Videogames Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy
James P. Gee – Situated Language and Learning
Jeremy Harmer – The Practice of English Language Teaching, 3rd Ed.