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Hera's teaching portfolio 2005

Why do we teach the way we teach?
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In order for us to become good teachers, we need to take a step back and look at why we do the things we do, why we hold the beliefs that run our classroom, and who we are.  We must take all of these things into account if we want to run a successful classroom.  Here I explore "teacher's decision making" and talk a about what motivates us as teachers to make the decision's we make, and why we made them. It is only upon reflection of this process that we will come to understand what a great classroom environment really is! Take a look!

Why do we teach the way we teach? What goes on inside our heads while we are standing up at the chalkboard? What are the key motivating factors that trigger our decisions within the classroom? These are just a few questions to take us to the inside of a teachers mind! Teachers reasoning is a complex variety of beliefs, thoughts, processes, and strategies. We can refer back to the term knowing-in-action to help us understand a bit more, some of the teacher cognition process. Knowing-in-action is a term used for when a teacher is conducting a class, and they respond to comments and questions by adjusting to the context of that moment. Why does the teacher do this? What was their reason for it? To answer these two very important questions, we will have to look further into the areas of Teachers Decision Making and Teachers Interpretations. Exploring these two areas will give us clues to the complex and intriguing insides of the teachers head, and why they do the things they do.

The first aspect of teacher reasoning is Teachers Decision Making. In the 1970s massive amounts of research attempts delved inside the minds of Americas teachers. These research attempts tried to focus and describe the teachers decisions, thoughts, and actions. They were mainly described as rational, routinely, well-organized...etc (p.57). It seemed that then, and even today, teachers wanted to keep a continuous flow of information going on in their classrooms. Although research in the seventies characterizes teaching as so routine, that perhaps there was no flexibility other than going with...another routine! This characterization meant that to reflect on an alternative decision drastically increased the cognitive demands placed on the teacher, and therefore instructional routines would help minimize the amount of cognitive overload that the teachers might experience during instruction (Shavelson p.57).

Thankfully, times have changed, or at least the research has! Johnson conducted a fifteen week study in 1992 on teachers decision making within ESL classrooms. Videotape samples were collected and then later reviewed by the teachers to recall their reasons or motives for their decisions. Johnsons findings reported eight different types of instructional considerations that were thought about by the teachers while they taught. All eight categories were used and most were made while considering the students involvement in class, their motivation levels, their understanding, and instructional management. Johnson states that the teachers continually questioned the appropriateness of their teaching strategies, appearing to judge their own effectiveness in relation to what their students said and did, thereby, seeking confirmation throughout their lessons that their students understood and were actively engaged (p.59). At this point you may want to say that an ESL classroom is different than a regular mainstream classroom. This is correct, but what we are focusing on here, is not so much the content of the class or the behavior of the students, but the teachers reasoning behind their actions. In Johnsons study, it seems clear that all of the teachers think about similar considerations while teaching, but their reasoning...how they explain their actions, is where the fun begins!

Teachers Interpretations, the second aspect in teacher reasoning, are key in discovering the inner workings of the teachers brain. Many factors go into the interpretations of a teacher such as who they are, what they know and believe, and the instructional contexts in which they work in (p.62). Many aspects of the teachers life are going to come into play here in creating a learning environment. Their past educational experiences, as a learner and teacher, their knowledge of the professional field, their beliefs of themselves, their personality...all of this contributes to one teachers style.

So how do teachers begin to develop their interpretations? Do they practice? Is it just something that happens over time? Well, to answer that, we can start off with the teachers beliefs and personality, two things already imbedded within them. They will go into a classroom with these two things and start off with that. As time goes by, they will learn what works for them and their class and what doesnt and this may change every year, every semester, every month, or everyday! As mentioned earlier, instructors may experience a bit of cognitive overload from the pressure of making these decisions while in the classroom. So a bit a practice comes in with case-based methods, a form of practicing without the pressure of immediate performance, or disrupting the cognitive flow in class. In case-based methods, we reflect, we sort out, articulate, justify, and make sense of our doings...our reasoning. These case-based methods, and the simple act of talking and gaining insight on problems or issues within the classroom, helps us as teachers to develop our reasoning more clearly, to become more effective teachers, more balanced!

When taken three specific cases of teachers reasoning (Ken in chapter six, Anne in chapter seven, and Elizabeth in chapter eight) all teachers seemed to be trying to prepare the students to think on their own and use their skills in the outside world. They seem to feel it is their duty to give their students survival skills, using methods whose reasoning derives from past experiences, current knowledge of language learning and beliefs of the world around them, and the role they play for these students.

Being a good teacher involves all of these mentioned aspects. To understand what it is to teach, and succeed, we may need to understand why we are teaching what we are teaching and consider the individual needs of each student, each classroom, or each school district. We need to understand what goes on inside the teachers brain, and what triggers their instructional considerations. Teaching is largely experimental (p.136) and by reflecting and talking about our teaching with others, understanding the causes for our methods, we will be able to improve classroom practice, an explore various different methods to get our point across and reaching each individual.  9/29/03

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