Cognitive Map

1. Teaching in Terms of Its “Foundational” dimensions

At its ideal core, education is a constant state, in which a person reflectively incorporates every experience, interaction, and reaction into a more full version of his or her ideal self, in tandem with society as a whole. From this social angle, education is an accruement of literacy, including (but in no way limited to) command of the language of power, ultimately “preparing students to help construct a better society in the future” (Smagorinsky 145). School culture acts as a microcosm of society at large, placing students in a social web which they are expected to navigate with critical, creative, and ethical skill. This includes a recognition of the political forces at work in any society, and a willingness to reflect on and challenge those systems in accordance with critical, creative, and ethical thinking.

Different constituencies hold radically differing views of public education’s place in society. Because it acts as preparation for society, teaching is an inherently political act. I welcome the resistance and challenges that naturally occur with this political diversity, and have based my own philosophy in principles which honor that diversity in a safe space. At the core of my own philosophy is a belief in growth mindset and critical empathy. I welcome challenges to my views and seek to offer voices and texts which challenge those of students, while cultivating appreciation for the range of human experience. My classroom will be a safe environment wherein every student has a voice worth hearing and a cause worth fighting for, and I a welcome any opportunity to improve upon those prospects.

2. Curricular Vision

Effective curricular design is the ideal sequencing of life’s most essential questions. The “art” of teaching reaches its most creatively nuanced stage in the day-by-day design process. Understandings (and their evidence) become “problem[s] to be solved by good design of learning activities,” by deconstructing big ideas into their realization through specific plans (Wiggins 138). Units should “be integrated and sequenced, rather than discrete” (Smagorinsky 114). To ensure that students are able to transfer learning beyond the classroom, each piece must be contextualized in an issue bigger than the classroom and immediately relevant to students’ lives.

Plato’s belief that “music and mathematics [are] so essential to education – because they embodied system of proportion” becomes a useful metaphor in this sense (Lipman 250). Like music, effective learning embodies a step-by-step cohesiveness, using cognitive disequilibrium and equilibrium much like musical dissonance and consonance in order to sequence and build toward meaningful understandings. Voices are validated and challenged, expressed and critically analyzed in an artful tension that is the basis of co-constructed knowledge.

3. Growing Professional Knowledge

A teacher must be constantly learning. Teaching stems from passion and passion from curiosity about the unknown. I gain energy from untapped sources, whether fear, ignorance, or wonder. The realm of literacy, for example, is constantly evolving and requires constant questioning – how is communication changing, where is it headed, and what are the ethical implications? As society changes, as it never ceases to do, so must my conversation and interrogation of that society through news, research, literature, media, and texts from every medium and source.

Teachers must also undergo constant self-assessment. Thirty highly diverse perspectives in any given classroom ideally demand thirty highly individualized means of instruction, needs that change for each of these perspectives on a moment by moment basis. Balancing this challenge perfectly would be impossible, but that ideal constantly drives me as I experiment, reflect, change, and take purposefully steps toward its realization. Since education is an act of reaching the infinite range of perspectives, each piece of feedback – whether explicit or implicit, from student, parent, or colleague – represents a valid consideration toward most effectively reaching that range of perspectives.

4. Structured Learning Environments

Utmost trust must exist between student and teacher, and students should get the sense that I am on the same educational journey as they are. This is done primarily through language. If both my students and myself are referred to as “writers,” for example, a student “at least temporarily, has to imagine herself in that identity and might choose to maintain the possibility of wearing that mantle” (Johnston 23). In this way, language can either reinforce or equalize construal of power and authority. In the English classroom, students’ voices are power, and students should sense authority with their identities. Whenever possible, the line between teacher and student should be blurred, so that I am seen as a fallible human being that shares the students’ goal of self-betterment.

Students must develop cultural literacy that connects the classroom to the greater community. Students must see themselves as writers of their own narratives within this community, because “individuals become the autobiographical narratives by which they tell about their lives” (Johnston 30). In this way, “language does not just correspond to reality, it construes reality,” shaping individuality through the way every decision and utterance is formed (Schleppegrell 142). I have an obligation to develop my own literacy in the language of my students and their community, and bring that language into the classroom, in order to promote students’ literacy in the language that defines them and their place in society.

5. Teaching Diverse Learners

Each student brings a singular perspective which complicates the diversity of the classroom. Each of these voices must be heard and explored. Lack of motivation may be evidence that a student doesn’t feel represented in the classroom, a dangerous (and all-too-likely) possibility. It is my responsibility to bridge the gap between self and text for all students. Often, however, the voices not in a classroom are the voices students most need to explore. It’s important that underrepresented voices are explored in authentic forms – interviews, guest speakers, and first-person accounts – because it’s in individual voices that we relate and empathize.

This isn’t to say that subjective voices are the only important sources to teaching for diversity. Explicit research and historical context is imperative for students to be able to understand the voices of today’s and tomorrow’s world in terms of the broader human condition and very real political inequities. In this way, the skills and knowledge necessary for individual and societal success are embedded in the voices of misunderstood and underrepresented perspectives. Here, critical, creative, and ethical thinking converge and prosper.

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