When I was a child, I was constantly praised by my teachers. My parents proudly told everyone about my straight A report cards, and that I was in the GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) program. The school system worked for me. I quickly figured out how everything works: study the material, listen, follow directions. It was practically a matter of figuring out the teacher and their expectations, then delivering what they wanted. I’m naturally a visual and audial learner, so lectures are actually enjoyable for me. I’ve always loved listening to other people talk, soaking in their ideas.
The system worked for me. I excelled at test-taking. It’s practically a game: figure out what the wrong answers are and deduce from there. Remember the material for a couple weeks until it all gets dumped out of your head. It’s really no wonder I became a teacher. I fell in love with the game of school because I was good at it.
Don’t get me wrong. I love learning- true learning. I love the type of learning that ignites those pleasure sensors in my brain. I would rather watch a documentary or the History Channel than an episode of Friends (although those are good sometimes too).
Some of the documentaries I like to watch are on scientific topics. Before I went into dental hygiene, I was a Biology major at San Diego State University. One of the things that I find fascinating is how organisms are wired to seek out pleasure. It truly drives our behavior. Eating is pleasurable, so we seek food. Sex is pleasurable so species can continue. John Stuart Mill, a philosopher and proponent of Utilitarianism, argued that there are biological pleasures like those previously mentioned, and higher pleasures that have even more value for humanity (Beemsterbauer, 2010). Learning is one of the higher pleasures. I would argue that winning is one too. Reflecting on my past, it’s possible that school was often a place where the prize wasn’t always learning; it was winning.
Sir Ken Robinson explains in his video the original intent of modern-day education. In the Industrial Age, factory workers were in demand, so schools focused on creating them. The goal was to create workers who respected authority (TED, 2007). Seth Grogin makes the same argument. Education today breeds conformity, not innovation. The question really is “what is the purpose of education?” (TEDxYouth, 2012). Is it learning or conformity?
If learning is the prize, then everyone should be able to succeed. Children naturally want to learn everything they can about the world around them; it’s part of our DNA. If learning is the prize, then everyone wins. If winning is the prize, there will always be losers. Tests are designed to categorize us. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others, and if a student receives a bad grade, he feels like he lost. There’s no pleasure in losing, so for those who can’t win at the game of school, there’s little incentive to continue.
This assignment really made me question what I’m doing right now as a teacher vs. what I should be doing. I want to improve how I deliver the material I teach in ways that spark questions and creativity. I want to understand my students better and figure out how they learn best. I’m fortunate in the fact that I teach dental hygiene. My students already have an interest in what they’re learning, so the motivation is there initially. My goal is to capture that motivation and encourage it, get them engaged in what they’re learning so they can connect all the dots and apply the information.
I’ve seen students become discouraged with the program many times. The material is difficult, and it’s fast paced. CODA (The Commission on Dental Accreditation) decides what the curriculum consists of. In order to become a hygienist, the students have to achieve three accomplishments: graduate from the program, pass the National Board Exam, and pass a clinical exam. So often, the focus is on those exams. When I began teaching, I was told to “teach to the tests”.
I understand the importance of teaching the material they’ll see on their Boards. I don’t agree with forcing them to memorize information so they can pass a multiple-choice test. What I really want is for them to keep the passion for the profession that I love.
One of the ways that I can ignite their passion for dentistry is to give them more choices and freedom with their assignments. I could allow them more avenues to explore and express their chosen topics, such as video, writing, or presentations with Prezi or Powtoon, etc. I can use technology for formative assessments to evaluate who needs more help. I can encourage them to keep digital journals of their experiences as hygiene students that they could share with subsequent cohorts. Some of them may want to create blogs or websites for dental hygiene students. I should encourage them to express their creativity in ways that suit them.
The flipped classroom approach is something I would also like to try. Instead of listening to myself talk for 30 minutes, the students could spend that time discussing the information in small groups. When I do need to lecture in class, I could use technology to present more appealing visuals and sounds. I’ve learned from this class how valuable personalized feedback is, and I like the idea of providing video feedback for assignments.
I feel that very often, the kinesthetic learners are the ones who suffer most in a traditional classroom environment. For the kinesthetic learners, taking notes on their laptops while I talk would help them absorb the information better. Getting them to answer questions on their phones or laptops would engage the kinesthetic learners, as would using Aurasma while they walk around the class, scanning pictures and objects. Technology has appeal to almost everyone, and I believe it’s a great tool to engage students and get them excited about learning.
The main goal of education should be learning, not conforming. I’m not a dictator at the front of the classroom, judging who makes it and who doesn’t. All my students deserve to learn everything they can about their passion for dentistry. The last thing I want to do is kill their passion. I will be approachable, empathetic, patient, kind, and inspiring. I will be a role model for them, and encourage them to learn in ways that work for them. When we expect everyone to conform to one way of learning, some will lose. If we help them along their journey with support so they truly learn, everyone will win. This is the way education should be.
Beemsterbauer, P. (2010). Ethics and Law in Dental Hygiene. United States: Saunders.
TEDxYouth. (2012, October 16). Stop Stealing Dreams|Seth Godin|TED Talks [Video file]. Retrieved from www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXpbONjV1Jc
TED. (2007, January 6). Do schools kill creativity|Sir Ken Robinson|TED Talks [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY