Courses I have taught
Teaching Philosophy — the 80/20 rule
My philosophy emerges out of my own experiences as a learner and as an instructor. When I first entered college, I had decided I would study to become a Spanish teacher. I enjoyed language learning and generally did well. At 19 years old, I served a 2-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Curitiba, Brazil, where I learned Portuguese. When I returned from my mission, I took a 321 Spanish course and, two-hours later, a 321 Portuguese course. According to the books, I was at the same level for these two languages, but my understanding of each was wildly different. My Spanish was academic and my Portuguese was all applied. I began to appreciate how these two could complement each other, something I later ended up researching and have found to be a key argument in favor of Convergent Cognition.
With the goal of becoming a language teacher, I learned about different theories of language learning, being attracted to Stephen Krashen’s theories of acquired and learned language. Not long into my studies, I improved my Spanish and my teaching by engaging in a teaching abroad opportunity to teach adult literacy in rural Mexico. While I improved upon my Spanish while in Mexico, increasing my acquired Spanish, I also studied the pedagogy of trying to teach adults to read and write, as well as Mexican history and middle-grades math and science. I learned about tutoring and student motivation. I learned things that worked and quite a few that didn’t.
I continued to develop my teaching abilities by being an English as a Foreign Language Teacher at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. During the teaching interview, I had an experience that has shaped much of the way I have taught since that time. I taught for about 10-15 minutes, after which the teacher-of-record took me out of the room and gave me some feedback. He said, “you’re doing a great job, but you’re talking too much. In a language class, the students should do about 80% of the talking.” That was it! I realized that I wanted my teaching to include 80% acquired or “lived” experiences and practice and “20%” intentionally learned or didactic experiences. I applied this same formula as I taught English as a Second language to adult learners in a volunteer setting.
The 80/20 rule for practical/conceptual teaching has continued to stay with me (though it’s probably more 70/30 now). After graduating with my B.A. in Spanish, I spent a year learning different technologies to try and solve practical problems. I found that, as important as practical experiences and authentic projects were, it was equally important to complement those with directed, deliberate study (and doing exercises that would strengthen my understanding even when not a part of the authentic project). While others would claim that “they don’t learn very well from books, and instead preferred doing real projects,” I found that forcing myself to engage in didactic exercises and then applying those to a ‘real’ project provided me with a more solid foundation.
As I studied Educational Psychology and Instructional Design at the University of Georgia, I worked with teachers in half a dozen different elementary schools. Time and again, I have found myself dedicating too little or too much time to either the practical or the conceptual side of things. When I maintain a good balance, I find that I’m more effective in my teaching and that learners walk away with a better understanding of the topic. I have discovered this with my own children and helping them to learn. I have observed the importance of both the applied and the abstract when I have tried to teach computing, robotics, or engineering to elementary-aged children.
Thus, in short, my teaching philosophy is that people learn best when they have the opportunity to ‘acquire’ knowledge through lived experiences, but that this in itself is insufficient. Authentic, embedded, applied, situated (or any of its many monikers) is only a part of the puzzle. Learning, understanding, seems to come about most readily when the applied is accompanied by intentional, directed instruction.