I’ve spent over a decade teaching independent schools, colleges, and universities. The majority of my experience is in teaching history, but I’ve also taught economics and public speaking in addition to coaching and teaching personal safety/self-defense. Beyond my professional career I’ve taught in camps and youth programs – my youngest students have been first graders and my oldest have been in their 70s.
My Teaching Philosophy and Approach
To my mind, the greatest experience in teaching is seeing a student grow. To watch someone set a goal, work towards that goal, and then achieve it – and to get to play a part in that growth – is incomparable. I believe that is what the best teachers do: support their student’s growth. To my mind, the best teachers recognize they can’t impart understanding, but rather their job is to create opportunities for students to construct their own understanding.
This is obviously not a new idea – it dates back to Socrates and Plato – but it’s one that’s easily forgotten. Think of all the times you think/say “Come on, we learned this” with your students. What we really mean is “I said this,” which is a very different reality. With this in mind, I focus on encouraging student autonomy. My overarching goal is to get students involved in meta-cognition: to get them to think about how they think, to understand how they learn. That’s the key process in creating “life-long learners.” If my student can self-identify “this is the goal, and this is my next step,” then they grow as a learner in general, not just as a “doer” of my class.
This can be a messy process at times, but I feel it’s well worth the effort. Most of the resources below are built to support students in asking and answering their own questions. If my students can grow without me ever having to tell them the next step, then I’ve done my job. Someday there won’t be anyone left to tell them the next step, if I’ve left them without the skills to figure it out for themselves, then I’ve failed them.
Below are resources I’ve developed over years of teaching both high school and collegiate classes. They’re built to support the student-driven teaching philosophy/approach described above. They’re definitely history-focused in parts (because, you know, I teach history classes) but hopefully they’ll be useful examples for any teacher.
All of my resources are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license, so feel free to adapt them for your curriculum and/or school.
Student Handout – Improving Your Essays
A guide for student self-evaluation of essays. The grade explanation references specific expectations and skills from the course curriculum. In the “how do I improve” section I attempt to frame everything either as a prompting question (e.g., “is there another piece of evidence I could have included?”) or as a specific action step. I specifically try to frame things positively (e.g., “do this” as opposed to “don’t do this”) whenever possible.
Student Handout – Writing Comments
A handout to assist students in responding to the feedback I give on writing. I use a feedback method referred to as “Minimal Marking.” Rather than write a long paragraph of ‘instructions,’ I use a system of in-line marks and comments. I use these ‘minimal marks’ to prompt the student to ask themselves questions, their answers then guide their revisions.
For longer work like essays, the students are required to meet with me so we can discuss their revisions and the reasoning behind their changes. While this may seem time-consuming (and teachers only have so much time in the day), I have found it’s not as demanding as you’d imagine. Some time is saved by not writing those long passages of comments (which never seem to help much anyway), and the time spent is well worth it.
By encouraging the students’ self-analysis and self-direction, they improve in leaps and bounds. When I first made the change to minimal marking, I was astonished by the change I observed. When I started requiring students to write their revisions on the page and meet to discuss them, it was an even bigger shift. This method could take 4x as long, and I’d still use it. It’s the bedrock of my writing skills curriculum.
Fredericks Simplified Citation (External Link)
An easy-to-learn citation system designed to emphasize learning goals appropriate for middle and early high school students. Most style guides are designed to meet the needs of a professional scholarly community – they’re not built to meet the needs of students just learning the role of citation and reference in responsible research. Fredericks Simplified Citation is an easy-to-use citation and reference system designed for use by students learning the foundations of research and information literacy skills.