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Inspiring Inquiry

Philosophy of Teaching

Good teaching is rooted in a few fairly simple tenets. They hold true across subject
areas and are no less true in the eighth grade than they are in the first: effective classroom
management, good content, and a well-thought-out and effective approach to the subject
matter. In teaching science, it is, perhaps, more important than in any other subject area to
have a solid grasp on these tenets.
Classroom management is the basis for every successful classroom experience. A well-
managed class is a class that has time to participate in higher-level learning, to delve deep into
exploration, and to have more fun learning. One of the most effective classroom management
strategies a teacher can employ is the creation (and repeated, consistent practice of) of clear,
simple classroom rules and procedures. Students should know what is expected of them.
(Charles, 2012. Pg. 142) Students should also be able to count on the teacher’s consistent
enforcement of all rules and procedures. Consistent enforcement limits wasted time dealing
with disruptions from students who might otherwise be inclined to test the rules repeatedly.
(Mackenzie, 1993)

Philosophy of Teaching Literacy

Learning to read is probably the most difficult


and revolutionary thing that happens to
the human brain and if you don't believe that,
watch an illiterate adult try to do it.
-John Steinbeck

Literacy is one of the essential foundations of all academic learning. Students must
achieve a level of literacy that enables them to comprehend and digest complicated materials in
many subjects. They must learn to synthesize ideas into text to create their own written works.
In order to excel academically, students must master the written language to such a degree that
they are as fluent as readers and writers as they are as speakers. To gain this level of literacy,
intermediate level students require teachers who can guide them in three essential areas: the
activation of cognitive schemas, how to design and ask questions during reading, and how to
craft successful written materials.
As a teacher of literacy, one must be able to guide students in activating the cognitive
schemas that will allow them to more fully understand the material they are reading. (Weaver,
2009) The creation of meaning from text does not and cannot occur in a vacuum. Literacy, as it
can best be understood, is a transactional and a sociolinguistic process in which the reader
makes meaning by relating what he or she already knows to the information he or she infers
from the text. It is a complex process that should be focused around the creation of unique
meaning for every learner. Decoding text, of course, can be an element of successful meaning
creation, but it should not be the focus of literacy instruction.
In the creation of meaning through reading, students overall comprehension can be
improved when they are taught to ask questions of the text they are reading. As a teacher, one
can encourage students to make predictions, to ask specific questions about what might come
next or what an element might mean, or to make note of things that one finds confusing. If a
teacher can coach students to approach reading with strategies such as this, increases in literacy
will follow. (Dymock, 2010)
These same approaches can be just as beneficial to the other, and equally as essential,
side of the literacy coin: writing. Crafting successful pieces of writing should be approached as a
part of literacy that goes hand-in-hand with reading. One does not wait to learn to speak until
she understands every word in a language! (Freeman, 2014) Just as one acquires a first
language, students can learn simultaneously to read and write well. These two elements of
literacy add to one another. As a student learns to activate their cognitive schemas about a
subject as they read, they can also learn to activate prior knowledge and make complex
connections as they write. As a student learns to ask questions and make predictions about the
material they read, so too can they learn to consider questions within their writing.
Teachers should approach writing as they approach other subjects, with a mind for the
procedures that will most likely encourage their students’ success. Students need regular
practice in order to become good writers. They should be given ample time, constructive
feedback, and opportunity to respond to and revise their work based on critique. (Atwell, 2015)
Writing is a creative process and should be treated as such. However, like art, writing requires
an ample serving of handicraft to be truly successful. Students need feedback and practice to
achieve a level of sophistication when crafting pieces of writing.
Students of literacy need and deserve honest, reflective, respectful teachers. Literacy
learning should be approached from a whole-to-part perspective. (Weaver, 2009) Teachers
should asses students ability to create meaning, rather than their ability to understand
individual words or read quickly. Authentic assessments allow teachers to determine what areas
individual students struggle with and in what areas they excel. Teachers should remember that
every student has unique needs based on their status as English-language speakers, their
culture, their personal history, and their interests.

Philosophy of Teaching Science

Science is a way of thinking,


much more than it is a body of knowledge.
– Carl Sagan

Providing students with science content that is relevant to students’ lives depends on
using a constructivist approach to build on students’ knowledge and provide context for student
learning and mastery. A teacher’s approach to teaching science should focus a great deal on
providing this context. One way to provide context is to let the students do it! When students
are provided with lots of opportunities to interact (by using techniques like turn and talk to
increase student interaction ratios), they are able to come up with more ideas about how
content might relate to them personally, as well as to their peers. (Lemov, 2015) In third grade,
students learn about the water cycle. One could learn this from a book, of course, but an
effective, engaged science teacher would show his or her students how the water cycle works
through discussion, labs experimenting with water evaporation, and a field trip to check out
local creeks. Hands-on approaches like this help students delve deeper into content.
When teaching science, it is absolutely vital to show one’s students a spirit of inquiry.
Science isn’t about what a person can memorize. It’s not about some book on a shelf
somewhere with all the answers. Science is a way to look at the world. (Bass, 2009) It is a way
that focuses on asking questions -sometimes questions that do not yet have answers- and
investigating those questions. Integrating technology into science teaching is one way to provide
students with more access to scientific explorations that time or space may not allow in the
classroom. A teacher should provide his or her students with as many chances as humanly
possible to ask questions and to delve into the investigation of those questions in an authentic,
hands-on manner. Teachers must show their students that science isn’t about the answers as
much as it is about the questions and the investigation process.

Philosophy of Teaching Mathematics

Mathematics, rightly viewed,


possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty.
-Bertrand Russell

We, as a society, think of math as something dry, boring, difficult, and unrelated to our
day-to-day lives. But, it doesn’t have to be this way! The first thing we need to do to unlock
enthusiasm about mathematics is to change the way we teach it in school: starting with
kindergarteners and continuing through the elementary and middle school grades. Failure to
establish a foundation of enthusiasm for math at these early ages results in a life-long distaste
for math. The common core can help us unlock enthusiasm by helping us to teach students
about concepts in a way that helps them understand the ideas behind the work, rather than just
offering methods for them to get “correct” answers.
Math is full of magic: the magic of discovery, the magic of eureka moments. Math is
what makes the modern world tick. Math helps explain the Earth’s rotation: math literally
explains how the world goes ‘round. It’s a big deal. And it’s relevant to each and every one of us
and to the lives of each and every one of our students. As teachers, we must share these things
with our students. What’s more, we must share these things in a developmentally appropriate
way to ensure that our students are prepared to learn the content about which we are teaching
them.
There are three essential truths about math education. First, teachers must relate the
subject matter to real life. Math isn’t abstract and it shouldn’t be taught that way. Second,
teachers must teach to the concept. Understanding math doesn’t hinge on the ability to get the
right answer, it hinges on the ability to understand the process of getting answers. Third,
teachers must provide a diversity of ways for students to experiment with math. Students are
individuals, with individual needs, strengths, and interests; they should be taught as individuals.
Math can be seen all around us. Teachers must work to provide students with examples
of math in the real world. Students should work on projects that relate math to their interests
and to their lives. Math projects should include study about things that interest students: from
art, construction work, baking, scuba diving, engineering, to firefighting, gambling, hot air
ballooning, and sports statistics. Studying these things, through the lens of mathematics,
awakens students’ interest. That interest in math is what drives students to understand and
helps them realize the purpose of math in their world and in the world around them.

Philosophy of Teaching Social Studies


"In old Rome the public roads beginning at the Forum proceeded north, south, east, west, to the centre of every
province of the empire, making each market-town of Persia, Spain, and Britain pervious to the soldiers of the
capital: so out of the human heart go, as it were, highways to the heart of every object in nature, to reduce it under
the dominion of man. A man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots, whose flower and fruitage is the world. His
faculties refer to natures out of him, and predict the world he is to inhabit, as the fins of the fish foreshow that
water exists, or the wings of an eagle in the egg presuppose air. He cannot live without a world."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

The social studies aren’t about what one can learn from reading a book: they aren’t a
collection of facts. Social studies are a collection of ways to look at the world that help us
determine our place within the scope of our Earth and within humankind! As teachers, we must
move away from rote memorization of historical facts and events and help our students launch
investigations into history. Social studies should be taught like every other subject, by giving the
tools to the students and allowing them to create a product. Historians are not simply collectors
of facts, though facts (of course) play a vital role. They are curators of ideas, philosophers,
economists: curious people who create historical narratives based on evidence! Those who “do”
history well can make it come alive for others! (Lesh, 2011)
Teaching social studies well depends on teaching students to evaluate and empathize
with primary sources. It revolves around helping students determine the text, context, and
subtext of sources so that they can better determine and create their own theories of what
happened and why based on facts.

Resources:

Atwell, Nancy. (2015). In the middle: A lifetime of learning about writing, reading, and
adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Bass, Joel E, Terry L. Contant, Author A. Carin. (2009). Teaching Science as Inquiry. Pearson
Education, Inc.

Bay-Williams, J., Karp, K., Van De Walle, J. (2016). Elementary and Middle School Mathematics:
Teaching Developmentally. Pearson.

Charles, C. M. (2012). Building Classroom Discipline. Pearson.

Dymock, Susan. (2010).“High 5! Strategies to enhance comprehension of expository text.

Freeman, David E. and Yvonne S. (2014). Essential linguistics. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Lesh, Bruce, A. (2011). Why won’t you just tell us the answer? Teaching Historical Thinking.
Stenhouse Publishers.

Lemov, Doug. (2015). Teach like a Champion. Jossey-Bass.

Mackenzie, Robert J. (1993). Setting Limits, How to Raise Responsible, Independent Children by
Setting CLEAR Boundaries. Random House.

Weaver, Constance. (2009). Reading process. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.