Over the course of teaching and teacher training, it is important to center one’s practice on areas of potential growth. To do this, one must be reflective, collaborative, and evaluative of one’s teaching practice.
From one classroom to the next and one student to the next, education is never the same. There are similar aspects and best practices that are universal. However, the reality of it is that every day educators face new situations caused by a combination of contextual issues that come with each student.
These issues include: developmental issues of nature and nurture, an integration of multiple learning styles, and a student’s Zone of Proximal Development.
Nature and Nurture: As I noted in the first class discussion, neither side is every completely correct. Issues of both nature and nurture Students bring both a genetic predisposition of intelligence and aptitude and continually develop based on external stimuli.
As an educator, it is important for me to remember that students have the capacity to change over time. They may bring an aptitude or distaste for performing arts, a natural disposition to perform, or lack the desire to present anything at all. I must address each student, at least initially, approach each student at their respective level and slowly bring students up to speed with the class at large.
Just as each student is different in their development, each student will be different in their preferred learning style. Certainly, different subjects and different teachers approach learning from different modalities. I have found that one of the best modalities for my classroom is constructivism. I posit that problem based learning can be a powerful tool for any student. It is both adaptable to the individual needs of the student and it allows each student to figuratively build their knowledge.
This approach embraces what Medina (2008) calls an unstable environment. In other words, the learning does not happen in a fixed framework, as one might find in an input and output approach of Information Processing. Here in the constructivist and unstable environment, students must adapt to the changing landscape as they shape their own understanding.
One related contextual issue is the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). Here students can work at an elevated level of difficulty and receive support from the teacher or another individual. In doing so, the supported challenge assignment will increase the students aptitude. This example from the nurture side of development is continually applied in theatre arts.
In this example, students work on a monologue to perform. Each monologue brings a different level of challenge and is matched to the student based on their desire to push their learning and their respective aptitude. They can select a challenge monologue and work with a peer or myself to significantly increase their aptitude; here they are working in the high end of the ZPD. They could also choose to work in the low end of the ZPD and select a monologue that is easier to perform. Because they will be working with students that have more aptitude than they do, they have built in peer mentors and will also experience a benefit to their own aptitude from simple student interaction.
These three topics, nature and nurture, constructivist learning, and ZPD have and will continue to inform my practice as a teacher. In a discipline such as Theatre Arts, students come with a wide rage of skills and interest. The differentiated learning that these three topics lead to is an essential component in my theatre classroom.
I will continue to embrace these strategies and theories of development in the classroom. Embracing them and continuing to integrate them into my lessons will make my class more engaging and more successful for each student. Many educators will affirm that a differentiated approach is a key to increasing student success, I agree.
To continue my practice, especially in these three areas, I will design and implement formal pre-assessments to evaluate student aptitude and interest in performing. I have done this informally in the past, but I have never tracked data over time; I have allowed students to process their own progress through meta-cognition, and this will continue to be an essential component to student evaluation. However, it is the data from official pre and post tracking that will strongly complement the assessment.
Medina, J. (2008). Brain rules: 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home, and school. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.