EDU 6132- Students as Learners
Personal Reflective Paper- Sarah Taylor
I grew up in a small affluent suburb outside San Francisco, called Moraga. Being the youngest of seven children there were always siblings around and usually a friend or two. Our house was a place to hang out for anyone, it was safe, comfortable, and there was always a meal being cooked with plenty of extra- everyone was welcome. Although I do remember my childhood very fondly I have very little recollection of academic learning at home. I have the occasional memory of reading with my mom before bed or my dad telling me stories he made up about the Adventures of Edward Bear. I liked to read and had books, but I mostly explored them on my own. I do have some recollections of reading whenever we were in the car, our family VW van, which was quite often. I would read signs aloud and hear my mother praise me from the front seat, “Good job, Sarah that does say ‘post office’. You are becoming quite the reader.” I was a bright kid, reading and math came easy for me, but as far as any sort of formal education or practice there just was not a lot of time for individual help until the public education system took over.
So off I went to Donald L. Rheem Elementary School, Rheem for short, where I quickly learned school was fun. I could make new friends. I could draw pictures using a whole tub of crayons. I learned to play on the outside equipment and had blisters on my hands from mastering the monkey bars. I could paint. I could do a cherry-drop off the bar if my friend spotted me. I got to ride the bus to and from school on my own. I could even run faster that some of the kids in my class and I was not a fast runner! But looking back I still don’t have any memory of anything more than just plain fun until I landed in Mrs. Wiley’s 2ndgrade class. Now that was where I LEARNED! And what I learned was that learning could be fun. Mrs. Wiley was a genius. She taught us to be creative, think differently, explore alternative approaches to an old idea, to try and try again, to sing math songs, that we were special, that we were unique, to be thoughtful and courageous, to try new things and take chances, that each student in her class had some gift to share and most importantly (at least to me at this stage) that we were all individuals! Now, for a kid who until then always been known as the youngest of seven, Mrs. Wiley opened my eyes up to a world of opportunities to explore who I was, what I had to offer and the person I wanted to become as an individual. Mrs. Wiley inspired me to believe I could do anything.
I was a child who liked the creative side of things, to sing, to draw-paint-color, to read and perform. While some teachers could have seen these desires as a distraction, Mrs. Wiley simply encouraged them. She did a seamless job of involving the creative and the structured while involving the prescribed curriculum; reading, writing and arithmetic. A great example was her use of the mnemonic technique through songs, some we would sing every day and often multiple times throughout the day. When we were introduced to our 3 and 4 times-tables we learned a song for each. We would sing it as we moved into the class in the morning. We would sing it as we moved from activity to activity and we would always sing it when we were focusing on a math lesson. To this day I still remember this song. I use it often and have even taught it to my daughters who I hear singing it as they complete their homework. In John Medinas book Brain Rules he examines, in rule # 5, the importance of repetition to remember. This example of song provides the support that repetition when linked with an additional association provides for better memory retention. It was fun, it was easy (once the concept was attained), it didn’t single any one person out and it supported those who may have struggled with this concept if left on their own. It gave us 2nd graders a tool to use to remember and it worked! This 2nd grade class introduced me to a me I never knew: an individual me. Mrs. Wiley encouraged me to blossom and embrace learning through fun techniques and helped shape an individual who for the first time developed memories of learning.
I believe this marker event or in my case this marker year directly correlates to the Social Learning Theory, most specifically- motivational processing. As defined in Pressley and McCormick, “Children learn many things just from watching others. That is, other people serve as behavioral models. This is the main principle of social learning theory, proposed by Albert Bandura and his colleagues (Bandura, 1969; Bandura & Walters, 1963).” (p.122). It is through these observed behaviors and experiences that I was motivated by Mrs. Wiley as a student. Up until then I was part of a group, a family of seven kids shaped by the dynamic of being one of many. I was social but didn’t see myself individually. This theory of social learning in name alone states a quality that I possessed and could easily succeed at; being social. If I could benefit from being a social learner then I would be motivated to try harder, prove more, and succeed at finding my uniqueness. I believe Mrs. Wiley saw this quality in me, in all her students. By understanding my ease at social interactions and comfort with learning in this style her curriculum worked to promote motivational processing for me. In other words, I was motivated to learn simply by Mrs. Wiley’s style of teaching. This is not to discount her skills in teaching less social students, she succeeded there too, but it is to point out the possibility that a certain teaching styles can motivate learners more easily than others. I was interested in what she taught because of how she taught it. The social interactions, whether it was singing, performing, visiting younger classes to read etc., these demonstrated a style of learning that motivated me try harder.
This theory of social learning correlates directly with the environment in which it is taught. Mrs. Wiley set her class up as a social environment, one where a social child, like me, could observe positive and encouraging behaviors that would stimulate motivational learning. “There is a reciprocal determinism (Bandura, 1986): the child’s reactions to environmental events affect subsequent events.” (p.125). I believe that by examining this theory of social learning and motivation I see myself in the camp of “interactionist”. I see a strong relationships between children and their provided environment, whether this is family, teacher, after school program, church etc. I think that my everyday involvement in Mrs. Wiley class shaped my learning process. I was an active member of an environment that allowed me to explore, learn, and succeed.
The passive vs. active child is the first binary I match with my experience. I think that children can be both passive and active and it depends on the environment as to which they choose to be in any given situation. In my case this rich, social, and playful environment engaged me as an active and willing participant to learn and thrive. It stimulated me to be an active contributor to the environment instead of just a passive observer. If I was presented with an environment completely void of social interactions and no creativity I would have switched to the passive learner and thus allowed my environment to influence me with little or no interaction. The second binary I would match with my experience would be nature vs. nurture. I will explain this in relationship to my family dynamic and the social nature of being part of a large, friendly, welcoming, Catholic family. I was taught and observed through the actions of both my parents and my brothers and sisters to be open with people and social experiences. Often surrounded by many different groups of people I was encouraged to interact with anyone; young, old, boy, girl. I didn’t know any different, it was my nurture. My family always welcomed friends to accompany us on trips and we would often go camping with other families or end up “hanging out” with our new friends at any given campsite. From a religious aspect Catholics are very social people. Between school, church, and activities there was never a lack of events to attend and opportunities to develop naturally a social learning style that motivated me. I was always part of a group. Had my existence been one of only child interactions, I may have been more reserved, however I feel it is my nature to seek out social experiences. Additionally, in this very crowded childhood I was constantly struggling for a voice, to be heard among seven children vying for attention I had to be active participant of my development. My individuality was important to me but was hard to come by until I recognized myself through Mrs. Wiley’s lens of individual importance. Her gift to me was to understand that being part of a whole is wonderful but knowing you are an individual is powerful.
How will this influence me as a teacher?
I would hope that these experiences and life lessons have helped me to become a reflective, involved, understanding, empathetic and creative teacher. I have, through many years of re-telling stories of my childhood, been able to reflect on the positive and the negative aspects. I have clarity that this upbringing of “controlled chaos” (my mother’s term), the many years of the good and not so good teacher experiences, and years of real life experience that I can share with learners. I have additionally gained perspective through the many reflections I have written and those I have read of peers in this MAT program. All this enables me to have empathy for and copathy with the vast spectrum of experiences and knowledge that surrounds me. I feel that I will be able to offer the students in my future classroom a safe and accepting environment to learn.
I am a social learner, this motivates me and in this motivation I know that I will be able to be positively involved with students. I see value in uniqueness and I believe that I am a good judge of what individual students offer. I possess an understanding of where students might have needs and I am passionate about creativity in learning and developing curriculum to support the needs of the students. I feel that in order to be an effective teacher I must affect the students positively and with enthusiastic conviction. Although no one knows what the future holds I have faith that I will do my best to honor every student and hopefully encourage them to in turn be the best they can be, as Mrs. Wiley fostered this sense of worth during my formative years. On the back of my report card from the 2nd grade Mrs. Wiley writes, “The compassionate manner Sarah displays will always help her in life.” (1979) I hope that these words will ring true as I enter into the teaching profession. I hope to use the compassion that Mrs. Wiley saw in me to become a successful teacher. I realize this is going to be very challenging, some days more than others. But I also realize that this will be the most amazing journey to embark on. As Robert Hutchins said,
“It must be remembered that the purpose of education
is not to fill the minds of students with facts…
it is to teach them to think, if that is possible,
and always to think for themselves.”
I hope to influence future students by challenging myself every day to see things in a new light, by thinking outside of the box, by accepting support from others, by allowing students to guide me as I support and guide them in learning, by supporting individuality, by remembering what it was like to be a kid, and lastly by having high expectations of the students and more importantly of myself.
Medina, John (2008). Brain Rules. Seattle, WA: Pear Press
Pressley, M McCormick, C. (2007). Child and Adolescent development for Educators. New York, NY: The Guilford Press