Every year, I ask my freshmen to write an end of the year reflection that responds to their September reflection, which was entitled, “My First Month of High School.” I ask them to think back about who they were in the beginning of the year, discuss if their fears came true, and tell me what they’ve learned throughout the year. They are allowed to discuss all aspects of their year: social, emotional, academic, my class, other classes, school as a whole, the works. Some reflections are very positive; some are not. Some reflect more about the friendships made and lost, while others focus on how excited they are to have an entire summer ahead of them. One reflection in particular stood out to me this year, and as I sit here researching learning theory and I try to construct my own learning philosophy, I’d like to highlight what one of my students “learned” in her first year of high school
I have learned something that most people avoid speaking of because it is so honest, a strange and cruel lesson that pried open my eyes and forced me to stare directly at the blinding light of truth. It’s the simple fact that our young, unfortunate lives are dictated by numbers on a screen, by memory rather than knowledge, and not by true skill, but by nearly useless math and history. (Student, 2016)
The line that stands out to me the most is about memory versus knowledge, and that’s where I’d like to begin my learning philosophy.
After doing a tad bit of research, I’ve discovered that I am probably a constructivist. I feel that people learn when they are doing, not when they are being told. To be honest, I probably “learned” all of these theories in college. I went to a great school (Penn State) and had brilliant professors, but let’s be honest (as honest as my student was being in her reflection). As teachers, we don’t think about these theories when we are in the classroom. I will even take it as far to say that we don’t think about the majority of what we “learned” in college (in regards to the practice of teaching, not necessarily content) when we are in the classroom. I learned what I did about teaching by doing it. I learned classroom management the first few times my students gave me a hard time and wouldn’t quiet down. I learned time management by running lessons over the bell (or under it, which I learned had severe repercussions when your wily students have too much free time on their hands). I learned how to engage my students by connecting with them as human beings. Those are the things my college education was not able to “teach” me.
I guess what I am truly learning about learning now is that some things can be taught to you, and others cannot. I was taught Shakespeare, American literature, comma splices, and gerunds. However, I learned the importance of them by experiencing them. I know the summary of The Great Gatsby; but I learned about the human condition by connecting with the characters while reading it. So, to me, learning is being; learning is connecting; learning is found, not given. As I embark on my digital journey, and I reflect more than ever on my teaching career, I am connecting the dots bit by bit. I am finding out that the way I teach is helpful for students who wish to truly learn, but that I still embrace techniques on certain days and in certain lessons that probably doesn’t really help them learn much. On those days, sure, I help them come to know certain things; they now can recite the birthdate of William Shakespeare or the birth place of T.S. Elliot. However, they haven’t learned much on those days other than what my student said she learned in her reflection. I need to continue to evolve my ways of teaching to help students learn by being, connecting, and finding.
This reflection has differed from my teaching philosophy in that I don’t, much like Maryellen Weimer, reflect much on the learning process in my teaching philosophy. I never really thought about (ironically) the learning process and theories while crafting my teaching philosophy. In fact, I might adapt this, my learning philosophy, as my new teaching philosophy. As I continue to reflect on how much the world changes day by day, I will continue to adapt my own beliefs and philosophies so that I can increase my effectiveness as a teacher. Many students write me at the end of the school year to thank me for being a great and memorable teacher. I am not questioning my ability to leave an impression, but I am questioning the purpose of being memorable if I haven’t helped them learn how to learn.
Constructivism as a paradigm for teaching and learning. (2004). Retrieved June 10, 2016,
In this helpful website, readers are given an overview on the learning theory of constructivism.Visitors are able to click on various links that explain what constructivism is, how it differs fromother learning theories, how knowing about it can help with teaching, what the history of thetheory is, and other helpful questions are also answered. This website was used to help explain,in layman’s terms, what constructivism is and how it can change my teaching.
Harapnuik, D. (n.d.). Learning philosophy. Retrieved June 10, 2016, from
In Dr. Harapnuik’s learning philosophy, he outlines the significance of being a facilitator ratherthan a teacher. He also outlines how, as the constructivists believe, learners need to makemeaningful connections to truly learn.
Student, (2016, June 6). End of year reflection.
In this student’s reflection (whose name is purposefully held for privacy reasons) she outlineswhat she has learned this year. This provided fodder for my reflection on my learning philosophy.
Weimer, M. (2014, March 26). What’s your learning philosophy? Retrieved June 10, 2016,
Maryellen Wiemer discusses three aspects of her learning philosophy: learning in general, therelationship between learning and teaching, and her beliefs about herself as a learner. Much ofthe information on this page that is useful can be found in the comments, where teachers andprofessors have posted pieces of their learning philosophies and much commentary exists there,opening a lot of helpful dialogue.