My philosophical orientation: Effective teaching and learning scenarios adapted from Strategic Reading by Jeffrey Wilhelm, 2001

Looking at the following scenarios will help you to better recognize and articulate your own theories and beliefs about teaching and learning. The goal is to rank them from the one in which the most effective teaching is taking/has taken place (1) to the scene in which the least effective teaching is taking/has taken place (6). Once you have done this, decide what next steps you would recommend to the person described in each scenario. These are meant to be complicated, and you might find yourself agreeing and disagreeing with different aspects of the same scene. There may also be more than one kind of learning taking place. So read carefully, and don’t make snap judgments. Finally, there is no “correct” order of ranking.

1. Frank has been taking golf lessons every Wednesday afternoon for six months. His pro is famous for basing his instruction on four key principles, and he is expensive because his lessons are so effective. Frank knows these principles by heart. In fact, he is so good at explaining them that friends he plays with on the weekend feel that they are getting the benefit of professional advice without having to pay for it. Many of them see their games improving. Frank, however, isn’t always able to put these principles into practice. Sometimes everything clicks for a hole or two, but rarely does it last. Frank scored in the low 90s when he began his lessons, and he typically scores in the low 90s now, although he is more confident in his understanding of the game and feels true success is just around the corner.

2. Maria has completed her dissertation and has just accepted a position in the Department of History at a major research university. As she packs up her apartment, she finds herself thinking about the course that started her on her way, an introductory course on nineteenth-century European history. While she has rejected the type of historiography her professor did, she does remember the passion that Professor Neal displayed in her teaching. She also remembers the profound conviction she expressed that “doing history” matters. That was the first time Maria thought that studying history could make a difference and that being a historian was a worthwhile pursuit. She has just found out that, like many first-year professors, she will be teaching some courses that do not directly relate to her specialty area, immigrants in the American labor movement. In fact, she will be teaching nineteenth-century European history. She’s very nervous.

3. Peter recently moved with his two small children to a house in the city on a busy street. He explained to his kids, ages three and four, that they must never walk in the street because cars are dangerous. One day he was raking leaves while the kids were playing. He turned away for a minute and looked back, horrified to see his kids jumping in the leaves he had raked into the street. He ran to the kids and slapped their hands. This was the first time he had ever physically disciplined them. The children were shocked and burst into tears. Neither child ever went into the street again. In fact, when they went trick-or-treating in a suburban neighborhood a few weeks later, his children were nervous and reluctant to walk in the street along with the other children unless their father was close by offering encouragement.

4. Tom has a piano competition coming up soon. His teacher has gone through his piece with him several times, note by note, explaining every detail. His teacher has also recorded the piece the way it should be played. Tom listens to it all the time and even falls asleep to the piece playing on his iPod. Tom practices every day for hours and is finally able to play the piece exactly the way his teacher wanted. At the competition he plays the piece exactly as he had hoped, and he wins not only the competition but an invitation from a Julliard representative to audition for the prestigious college of music. His parents have never been so proud.

5. As Jude looks back on her high school, she realizes that her favorite class was sophomore English. It was different from any other class she had ever taken. In this class there were no formal assignments. The teacher, Mr. James, began the year by soliciting topics from the class that were of interest to them and that were also of social significance. He then brought a wide variety of materials in on these topics – ranging from articles and videos to classic pieces of literature. He also encouraged them to find their own information. Students spent almost all of their time reading and thinking about these issues, usually on their own. Each week, discussions and debates would be held in small groups. At the end of each quarter, groups formed and created “knowledge documents.” They were free to choose their topics and their projects. During the year, Jude had participated in creating a museum display, a video documentary, and an informational website. Each quarter ended with a family and friend night when these projects were shared. Jude received many compliments on the beauty and professionalism of her projects. Jude had never read so much or been so motivated to learn. Sometimes she couldn’t elaborate on what she had learned, but she felt confident about her ability to ask and answer important questions and work independently and in a group.

6. Arlene has taken a summer job with her uncle and his partner, who are electricians. It is hard, frustrating, challenging, and fun. She feels like she is learning a lot. The first day, her uncle told her, “I know how electricity works and you don’t. My job is to help you understand electricity the way physicists and electricians understand it.” They began playing with batteries, conducting wire, and light bulbs to make different circuits. Her uncle them asked her to articulate the rules of electrical circuits. Then he confronted her with real situations in which her misunderstanding could cause trouble. When he felt that Arlene knew enough to do a particular kind of electrical work, he would let her do it on her own. Most of the time, however, she observed him or he guided her through a task. After a while, Arlene started to feel that she was really coming to understand electricity – so much so that when the electricity went out in one room of their home, she was able to help her parents assess and fix the problem. Still, this kind of learning took a long time, and it was hard work. Arlene was kind of relieved when the summer ended, and she thought that next summer she might like to try being a waitress at a local resort instead.