"Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language."
-- Ludwig Wittgenstein
My Philosophy of Education
Back in 2002, I asked my old teacher who is now a good friend of mine what her philosophy of education was. She paused, gave me a smile, and told me that it was hard to do because it is always changing. After a while of thinking however, she gave me her philosophy straightforward and to the point, but then ended again saying that it always changes. At first, I thought this was a bad thing because I was under the impression that if you have a philosophy on anything, you should probably stick to it otherwise you might confuse yourself in the future. But then after I thought about it, she was smart telling me that it always changes. Truth is mine has changed numerous of times since I first had to write mine my freshmen year of college. It changed my sophomore year, after EDTHP 440 my junior year, and now, after my first full-year as a contracted teacher, it has changed again. I realize daily that everything that I’ve ever said thus far in my prospective classes and everything that I’ve ever written in papers in college all have had some effect on my philosophy of education.
Key Points of Philosophy:
What is "Best Practice"?
Three C’s of Writing
“Writing is the heart of the English class. In one form or another it is constant: we are reading it, doing it, or preparing to do it. Writing invests students with an authority that challenges them to ask themselves, and express in language, what they know.” -- Jim Burke
To me, there are three things that writing does. My own Three C’s of Writing. These three things are: Communication, Creativity, and Control. In my personal experience, writing is a way to communicate up to your full potential. If you write something down first, you can revise it over and over again until it’s perfect so when you communicate it to the people around you, your words sound crisp, clear, and under control. You know what you are talking about. People appreciate that whether they admit it or not. The second one is creativity. Anyone can sit down and think hours upon hours about ideas. But ideas are nothing but brain waves. To write them down on paper involves creativity. How are you going to take that idea and turn it into something special? That’s where creativity comes in. To me, everyone has creativity; they just need that extra push to get it out of them whether it is motivation, peers, positive feedback, or even journals. The third and final one is control. You are in control of what you write. This goes back to the spur of the moment case. If you write something down, you are in full control of what you want to write and what you want to convene to the world. When you speak, you can say anything and if it’s at the wrong time, wrong place, it could really get you in trouble.
I hate when I hear people say, “I am a horrible writer.” This bothers me because it is those same students that are just sitting there playing computer games or talking to their friends during class or work sessions. My philosophy is you can’t be good at something if you don’t work at it. Again, a simple concept, yet today’s students seem to ignore it. I like to reflect (my aim) and use experiences of mine in my philosophy because I feel that students can feel more positive toward doing things if one of their peers or teachers (myself) have done it before. If someone they know has done it, then that gives them motivation that they do can do it too.
If you write, you have to be able to take things learned and turn them into words. This takes time, skill, and reflection. When you write something, it takes a lot more emotion too. It’s a lot easier to say something than it is to write it. To write it means you take the time into what you are saying because it means a lot to you. But when you just say something, it could be something completely spur of the moment or make no sense at all. You’re thinking out loud and everyone hears your rough draft instead of your final copy.
Another part of my philosophy of education is to teach by creating connections. During this past semester as a pre-service student teacher at Altoona Area High School, I tried to focus on a way of teaching material that I tried before in spurts, but never in bulk. This way of teaching was to create connections, or more specifically, media connections to the material that I was presenting. The first time I attempted this, my students really responded well. The topic was themes in Macbeth and I compared a theme from the famous Shakespearean play to a popular movie at the time. Because of this connection, the students really responded well to the questions I was asking and from the front of the room looking out, I really noticed a few bodies slide up into their seats and pay more attention to what I had to present. I continued this trend every lesson that occurred afterwards and the results still remained the same. The student seemed more interested in the material and even though some of the texts were “boring” to them, by creating the media connections they at least paid attention more in class which I feel is one of the key ingredients in any type of learning… interest.
"Literacy ... is as much about ideologies, identities and values as it is about codes and skills."
What is Critical Literacy?
Being a future English teacher, I believe that critical literacy is probably one of the most important concepts that a teacher should enforce in an English classroom. It gives meaning to interpreting literature, it gives reasoning for reading literature, and it gives students the chance to expand their knowledge of the understanding past just the plot and character development and dig deeper into themes, symbols, and overall messages that literature speaks about towards the society in which it was written in. In essence, critical literacy is the ability of students to read literature and adopt their own perspectives with the ideas of themes, symbols, and meaning.
As students are going through the education system, they are bombarded with numerous amounts of texts to read. Starting with the basics, they progress through the grades obtaining new knowledge when it comes to how to read, how to interpret, and how to develop ideas on their own. Only then does this idea of critical literacy come into play. In the beginning, reading literature for teachers was to see if students could actually understand the story and read the sentences. As time progressed, teachers tried to expand on themes and symbols within the novel and give students opportunities to figure them out for themselves. Sometimes they failed, sometimes they passed. But to me, a good teacher is one that can reach this goal of getting students to understand themes in novels without much of the teacher’s help. Why do I say this? Because if its without the teacher’s help, then chances are greater that the student will become a better reader which will then lead to more understanding of texts outside of the classroom.
An example of this in the classroom is through the reading of the Iliad by Homer. Students might enjoy reading about Achilles and how much he dominates on the battlefield. But that only lasts for so long. Once they are done reading the epic, they might talk about certain scenes, but that is all they are, scenes with a black and white understanding. This is what happened and this is what not happened.
But once critical literacy is introduced to the student reader, then the student has the ability to take whole sections and dissect them into their own understandings which leads to future thoughts of the text. What I mean by this is in the explanation of Achilles’ shield. If you read the section just as it is presented, you can visualize what the shield looks like and how marvelous it looks compared to the other warrior’s shields, but once you obtain the tool of looking at text symbolically and thematically, then you will notice all the individual meanings that the shield evokes about the novel. This then leads to a greater understanding of the epic as a whole by just reading one section compared to reading the entire epic and only grasping a few concepts and scenes. Themes and symbols are why Homer is considered one of the greatest writers of all time and for students to be able to grasp them allows themselves to truly respect the craft of Homer and understand why he is so great rather than gaining the disrespectful mindset of “Why is he so good?”
Another good example of critical literacy in the classroom is the development of student ideas and reflections which then leads to greater understanding. All through grade school and ending in the middle of high school, a lot of the questions that teachers ask of their students are “What are the main characters?” and “Where is the novel set?” and “What does [the character] do at the end of Chapter 8?” By asking these questions, I feel that teachers handicap the students because they base the learning process of the novel off the hard facts that the students will likely forget as the year progresses and new novels are presented.
But once teachers start to introduce theme formations and enforce the writing of reflections, then learning of the novel begins. This happens because then students are able to take themes and compare them to their own lives, past knowledge, and the society they live in which leads to greater understanding of the themes which then leads to greater understanding of all other concepts that are mentioned in the text. This is why I find journal entries important tools in the learning process because it allows students to publish their ideas and reflections on the material that they read so that they can reflect back on it later to refresh their knowledge in the future. This concept compared to tests in which they write straight facts and/or A, B, C, or D showing nothing that a simple search engine can’t show in future endeavors.
I am big on reflections when it comes to critical literacy because that is what I have been doing ever since high school. Whenever I come across new concepts and/or material, I compare my new studies to past studies and reflections and I can grasp the new material a lot easier through comparison.
What is the most interesting thing about critical literacy is the irony that presents itself whenever it comes to defining it. My definition of critical literacy might be completely different to someone else’s definition, but the common concepts and themes are very much present. The irony comes in here because that’s exactly the goal of critical literacy… the development of themes and concepts through the reading of text.
One form of writing that I feel is a great way to practice getting words on the page is by writing creatively whether it is a poem, short story, or even lyrics to a song. The reason for this belief of mine is that I feel the hardest part of writing that scares most students is writer’s block: unable to actually begin writing. The cure for writer’s block, besides the outline, is by practicing creative writing. I say this because usually when a student writes creatively, he/she has something to base their ideas off of. Once they start writing and continue writing daily in journals or just for leisure, students begin to develop a confidence in their writing. Once this confidence develops, writing usually becomes easier and less of a chore to them but more of a way to get their ideas down on paper and expand.
A good example of this is from the summer of 2008 during my internship called Summer Study. I taught a Creative Writing class and on day one, I had a handful of students come up to me after class saying, “I can’t write,” as mentioned earlier. Six weeks later, after numerous writing assignments and weekly journals, those same students thanked me saying how much their writing had improved and how they didn’t look at writing as a bad thing but more of a way to get feelings out. I actually had one of my students contact me the other day and say, “Honestly, thank you. After that class, my writing improved so much.” He wasn’t the only one who has said this to me.
Of course, not only does Creative Writing help defeat writer’s block but it’s a great way to unwind and write for fun. I have learned that students really like to hear what their peers write and really gain respect for each other through their writing. I can’t tell you the amount of times that I’ve witnessed in which a shy student read his/her poem to the class and gained instant friends and/or respect. It’s amazing what the power of writing can do for students’ confidence, knowledge, and social skills.
Aims, Means, and Assumptions
The aim of my philosophy of education, or what makes someone educated, is reflection. I feel that if a person can reflect on an experience, lesson, or reading, then that makes the person educated. I feel this way because it’s one thing to experience something and tell it to someone else. That is nothing by repeating or storytelling. It’s one thing to learn a lesson and then take a test on it only to forget it days later. That’s memorization. And it’s one thing to read something and write a book report or summary on it, you are just taking another author’s words and turning them into your own with the exact same plot or idea. That’s just copying. But to reflect means to take something that is abstract or concrete and make it your own. If you experience something and compare it to something else, it helps you tell the story better because you have something to compare it to. If you tell the same story to a group of people, you cannot expect the whole group to understand your story, but if you compare it to something else that has happened, then the possibility of the whole group understanding increases. If you take a lesson and reflect on it to something that you already know, chances are you are going to remember it for the rest of your life. Mathematics is a great example of this because you don’t just learn mathematics and memorize certain formulas. Most likely you make mnemonic devices that work for you to memorize formulas and equations. And finally, when you reflect on a reading, it allows you to make the story your own rather than just the author’s. You can put yourself in the character’s shoes and run with the author’s plot. The author gives you a picture, a setting, a basic plot, but the author doesn’t give you the whole vision. To reflect allows you to make that vision and make it yours.
My mean in my philosophy of education is good writers write as much as they can. Practice makes perfect. It’s a simple concept yet students seem to forget it. One day when I finally become an English teacher, one of the things that I want to stress is writing. Writing is a lost art now days with computers, but in a way, typing is the same thing as writing. As long as your own words are getting on a piece of paper, that makes your words, your thoughts, your emotions immortal. No one will ever say the same thing ever again.
Finally, my assumption is that lecture teaching is beneficial to a students’ learning process. To me, lecture teaching is definitely not beneficial because it really "handicaps" student learning. I have experienced lecture classes before and I can honestly say that I got nothing out of them. All I remember was that I sat there, drew pictures of my name on pieces of paper, and took notes that looked like half scribble and half words. I felt that it was a waste of my time and money because (1) I zoned out half the time, allowing information to go one ear and out the other (2) I was not active in the classroom and in my learning so the teacher is nothing but a speaker, not actually a person who “teaches” the material.
The Power of Music
As mentioned, I am very big into the idea of reflection and connection to develop ideas, improve writing, and defeat writer's block. One of the biggest tools in creating reflections and connections is by using music in the classroom. All of my life I have been an avid listener of all genres of music from jazz to hip-hop, blues to rock, classical to pop, most everything besides country. But what I've learned the past few years is that music is a very interesting entity to use in the classroom as connective tie ins to materials that are being taught. Students seem to really enjoy it because most of the time they are familiar with the songs that are used, and I enjoy it because well, I just love listening and enjoying the moving nature of music and its lyrics.
An example of the power of music in the classroom is an activity that I developed called the "iTunes Shuffle." What it basically is is an journal activity in which to start off a random day of the week, I take out my iPod or computer and put my iTunes program on shuffle. Whatever song comes on, the students would have 5 minutes to write whatever they want based on the song. Some of the things they could write include but are not subjected to: a poem based on the theme or emotions evoked by the song, a short story idea based on the story represented by the lyrics, a critic response to the song whether they liked it or not, or a reflection to a certain lyric of the song that really grabbed them.
This is not the only activity that I have tried to incorporate music in my classroom with as I have made various videos and clips with certain songs that portrayed the theme that I was trying to get across to my students. One example of this can be viewed under my Lessons section in which I made a 1 minute video clip based on the theme of equivocation in Macbeth.
"The whole problem can be stated quite simple by asking, 'Is there a meaning to music?' My answer would be, 'Yes.' And 'Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?' My answer to that would be, 'No.'
-- Aaron Copeland
That, in a quote, is why using music is such a powerful and thought-provoking way to help influence student learning and reflection.
"Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death" -- Albert Einstein
When I think of the word “continuity,” I think of continuing or progressing. When I think of “developing,” I think of improving or changing. When I think of “growth,” I think of the reflection of all of these entities together as one. We all show signs of growth from day one. Physically we are born and then year by year we grow taller, wider, stronger, and sometimes if not maintained, bigger. Morally we learn the basic rules of life and then through experiences we learn not to do certain things and not to say certain phrases. But intellectually is different from the other two because in a way, it includes the two as a whole. To me, moral behavior and physical growth are both examples of results of intellectual growth. We learn and obtain the rules needed to survive and life in today’s society. When a moral rule or belief changes or is erased, we have to learn and process that information and begin to act that way in life. We learn the science of how we grow when we are little and we live the rest of our lives with that knowledge and the power to change our size or appearance. If you want to lose weight, we have the intellectual knowledge to know what’s “right” to eat and what’s “bad.” If you want to gain muscle, you know you have to work out so you intellectually read up on workouts or learn from personal trainers how to gain muscle. What makes intellectual growth different is that it is all about preference. We learn what we want to learn outside of the basics that we are somewhat “forced” to learn when we are little.
Elementary school is whenever students begin to learn the basics of educational subjects. In the earlier years, they learn the very basics or the building blocks, and then as their school lives progress, the basics branch off into deeper, more sophisticated areas of topics. During this period is whenever students usually decided whether they want to obtain the information or not. If they are dedicated students who are pushed by themselves and their parents to make good grades, chances are they retain the information all throughout their high school days. But if a student is average or below average, chances are they only pay attention to the subjects that matter to them and let others of no interest slip away as fast as the periods tick away.
In either situation, whether it be long term or short term, intellectual growth occurs. It occurs because no matter what the situation, the student goes out of the year with more knowledge of something than they had when they first went in. The ironic and interesting thing about this growth is for the majority of the students, the intellectual growth obtained is not always necessary the subject matter covered in class. What I mean is students may learn new styles, new catch phrases, new clichés, new facts of life, and/or new stories throughout the year but not new theories, equations, or historical dates.
Before I begin to teach in high school I want to fully understand this idea. How can I at least accomplish a 50/50 level of both social and academic intellectual growth in my students before they leave my class? Right now my idea is through subject reflections and comparisons. Reflections on the subject matter which then might lead to personal stories and social jokes and comparisons which then might lead to the skill of concept grasping. Could these accomplish my goal?
“Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow...” -- Lawrence Clark Powell
Literacy Remembrance vs. Intellectual Growth
“As a liberating element of remembrance, historical inquiry becomes more than a mere preparation for the future by means of recovering a series of past events; instead, it becomes a model for constituting the radical potential of memory.” I took this quote from John Dewey to analyze it. What does it mean? Is the author trying to say that the things we learn by readings only purpose is to be stored in our memories? If this is so, then why read them at all if they’re only going to be stored and not put to good use? The article also speaks volumes about the importance of future preparation education through literacy by transformative educators. When I think of these two ideas, I think of an idea mentioned by John Dewey called, “Intellectual Growth.” I find this topic to be very interesting and I wish to explore it more in future educational studies.
When I think of the word “continuity,” I think of continuing or progressing. When I think of “developing,” I think of improving or changing. When I think of “growth,” I think of the reflection of all of these entities together as one. We all show signs of growth from day one. Physically we are born and then year by year we grow taller, wider, stronger, and sometimes if not maintained, bigger. Morally we learn the basic rules of life and then through experiences we learn not to do certain things and not to say certain phrases. But intellectually is different from the other two because in a way, it includes the two as a whole. To me, moral behavior and physical growth are both examples of results of intellectual growth. We learn and obtain the rules needed to survive and life in today’s society. When a moral rule or belief changes or is erased, we have to learn and process that information and begin to act that way in life. We learn the science of how we grow when we are little and we live the rest of our lives with that knowledge and the power to change our size or appearance. If you want to lose weight, we have the intellectual knowledge to know what’s “right” to eat and what’s “bad.” If you want to gain muscle, you know you have to work out so you intellectually read up on workouts or learn from personal trainers how to gain muscle. What makes intellectual growth different is that it is all about preference. We learn what we want to learn outside of the basics that we are somewhat “forced” to learn when we are little. So why do teachers try to force literary remembrance in the classroom if chances are students won’t remember it the next day?
This is where the interesting part comes in. We can remember stories from when we were little in grade school. Some stories word for word. But when it comes to textbooks, we don’t remember anything. We can tell you a summary of Charlotte’s Web but I guarantee we can’t remember the stages of photosynthesis without group discussion or deep thoughts. Why is that? Why is literature stored in our intellectual minds as we grow whereas textbooks do not? A possible explanation could be that elementary school is whenever students begin to learn the basics of educational subjects. We remember these building blocks. In the earlier years, they learn the very basics or the building blocks, and then as their school lives progress, the basics branch off into deeper, more sophisticated areas of topics. During this period is whenever students usually decided whether they want to obtain the information or not. If they are dedicated students who are pushed by themselves and their parents to make good grades, chances are they retain the information all throughout their high school days. But if a student is average or below average, chances are they only pay attention to the subjects that matter to them and let others of no interest slip away as fast as the periods tick away. Just like those formulas and equations from ninth grade geometry.
“Growth, or growing as developing, not only physically but intellectually and morally,
is one exemplification of the principle of continuity.” -- John Dewey
In either situation, whether it be long term or short term, intellectual growth occurs. This growth is what teachers should really focus on in the classroom not whether or not a student can remember information he/she reads. It occurs because no matter what the situation, the student goes out of the year with more knowledge of something than they had when they first went in. The ironic and interesting thing about this growth is for the majority of the students, the intellectual growth obtained is not always necessary the subject matter covered in class. What I mean is students may learn new styles, new catch phrases, new clichés, new facts of life, and/or new stories throughout the year but not new theories, equations, or historical dates. These social growths are also important, I feel, to the learning process. The article agrees with my opinion when it states, “theorizing literacy as a form of cultural politics assumes the social, cultural, political, and economical dimensions of everyday life are primary categories for understanding contemporary schooling.”
As stated earlier, before I begin to teach in high school I want to fully understand this idea. How can I at least accomplish a 50/50 level of both social and academic intellectual growth in my students before they leave my class? Right now my idea is through subject reflections and comparisons. Reflections on the subject matter which then might lead to personal stories and social jokes and comparisons which then might lead to the skill of concept grasping.
This is my philosophy of education as of May 25, 2010 and most likely on May 25, 2011 some aspect or part of my philosophy will change. But for now, writing and connections are the keys to success in my philosophy of education and I feel that it’s the only “write” way to teach and connect to students for the future… not just the present.
copyright Mark Anthony Curcio 2011