I try to encourage active learning in my classroom. The current generation of undergraduate students is part of the Millenial student body, which has never grown up without Facebook or the immediacy of a Google search. Technology has impacted the way they learn and pay attention. They want to know why and how information is relevant to their personal lives, or else they tend to lose interest and motivation.
My classes are constructed with the Millenial Student in mind. Nothing is hidden from them; expectations are laid out in the syllabus from the first day, and in each assignment sheet. Each assignment is scaffolded to build toward a final product which is intended to aid them in their life beyond academia. To maintain interest and appeal to various learning types, I incorporate multimedia tools into my lesson plan to supplement the traditional lecture, such as visual aids, film clips, peer collaboration, and discussion.
As an instructor, I am not a parent or a tell-all; I am a guide, keeping in mind that my role is to teach students not only the information necessary to successfully pass a class, but also where to look for more in-depth knowledge and how to adapt it to other real-world issues. Students will not always be in class. At some point, they will graduate and be expected to have a firm grasp of the basics in their chosen field. A successful teacher does all in her power to equip a student with the ability to implement his skill-sets independently, without the aid of a classroom with deadlines and designated accountability.
In his book, Writing Relationships: What Really Happens in the Composition Classroom, Lad Tobin discusses the idea of the teacher as a dinner party host, the students being his guests. While it does not encompass every possible classroom situation, this metaphor seems quite accurate. As the host, it is my job to prepare the feast, making sure it is both delicious and filling enough to satiate even the most ravenous guests. I must also take into account the possibility of food allergies and accommodate by offering variety. I am also the evening’s entertainment, because if the evening did not promise at least a little bit of fun, no one would show up. I am also ultimately responsible for any crisis control that may be needed. However, there is an equal amount of responsibility shared by the dinner guests. It is up to them to come to the party prepare to eat their fill. If they go away hungry, it should not be for lack of opportunity. Guests should also respect the fact that this is not their home, and behave accordingly. They should also expect to engage each other, because the host cannot talk to everyone at once, and is counting in the shared responsibility of interactivity.
To extend this metaphor to teaching, the teacher must do all in her power to be appropriately prepared for each class. She must ensure that, as far as it is within her power, her material accommodates various cognitive and skill levels, and she must know which resources to use in any crisis. She must also recognize that when teaching the writing process, a purely lecture-based class is probably not as effective as engaging the students in an interactive workshop model. However, she also has to relax and enjoy herself as well, because the responsibility then shifts to the students to make the most of the information offered. The teacher should be able to expect students to come to class having done their homework, prepared to learn and to engage their fellow students. If they end the semester without having learned anything, it should not be for lack of a teacher’s efforts.
Lastly, students are not the only ones who get to learn. Instructors must constantly be open to the experiences and information to which every student may expose them. In this rapidly-changing world where technology has so deeply affected society in such a short time, I find myself constantly re-evaluating how best to present the materials with which I have been entrusted. Every class is different; every subject is different. There are too many variables for a rigidly constructed class; I find that perhaps one of the most necessary skills I have acquired is adapting my lesson plans to the needs of each class while still holding true to the requirements of the teaching role. One can never accumulate so much experience that flexibility and an open mind are not necessary.