As part of one of my faculty development courses for the university I work for, I’m tasked with writing a first draft of my teaching philosophy. I thought I’d keep a copy here.
What is learning?
In graphic design, I know my students have learned the theory satisfactorily when they are able to apply one concept to multiple design situations. In my Italian courses, when a linguistic concept finds its way into spontaneous writing or speaking exercises, I know my student has grasped it. Taking these two scenarios into account, I could summarize that when a student takes a concept and uses creativity to apply it correctly in a variety of situations, he or she has learned the concept.
In a successful learning situation, an individual makes connections between new information and what he or she already knows about a subject. The student is able to relate to the new information in a way that is meaningful and interesting. This is why typically we don’t feel as though we’ve learned anything when we are bored and why it is so important for teachers to find strategies to keep their students engaged.
What is teaching?
My role as a teacher is that of a coach. Though I present my students with a clear idea of how we could approach projects and assignments together, I typically expect students to take ownership of their work and progress. I expect students to ask a question when something is not clear and to research beyond what is given to them in the classroom. I also expect my students to learn how to ask for help when they need it. I wish to encourage my students to be resourceful and to complete tasks in the most efficient way possible.
For example, when I give my students workshops on page layout or image editing software, the focus is on automating tasks and using one application in conjunction with another to save time on repetitive tasks. I give my students an idea of how this workshop could help them in the future, but my ideal student would go beyond the limited information I give the group in a workshop and either apply it to a different task or research other ways to do it.
I often tell my design students that our primary function is to solve problems. Most of my projects and assignments pose questions that will encourage the development of problem-solving skills. Graphic design is considered a social science, so the projects I assign integrate an introspection component. Understanding our self and how we relate to others is imperative for a designer to become a thoughtful problem solver.
Portfolios are an important tool for my courses in both areas. They give room for showing progress within the course, as well as ample opportunity for introspection. In design, portfolios are a space to show sketches, compositions, and the final solution(s) presented. In Italian, I recently began using portfolios to encourage my students to track their own progress. It is based on the European Language Portfolio developed by the Council of Europe. I also give students a table they can use to self-assess and several tasks to build their portfolio.
Critiques and exhibitions are also an important component in my design courses. I believe it is important for design professionals to possess speaking and presentation skills, as well as exceptional craftsmanship when showing mockups of their work. Good craft can be evaluated at all levels, by the way: from sketches, to digital craftsmanship, to executed work once the public can hold your piece in their hands.
Classroom environment and approachability
I am working toward finessing my classroom methods to get my language students to truly use the language they are learning. Fostering a safe environment for language production is important. In my experience, one way to do this is to strike a balance between bonding activities that promote familiarity and challenging activities that incite the students’ language ego to react in a certain way. Some of my students choose to become a funnier version of their mother-tongue self; some elect to become much more serious. Others enter a panic that makes me wonder how they ended up in my classroom rather than taking a placement test for English instead!
Whatever the case, I like to be available to my students outside of the classroom to answer questions and provide additional help. As with projects, however, I expect my students to be proactive and look for me. I might spend the first two weeks reminding new students of what my email address is, as well as letting them know that I usually reserve the right to respond within 48 hours (it typically takes less than 12, though.) Many students that have had me as their instructor in more than one course feel comfortable enough to come to me with questions pertaining to problems they’ve encountered in a situation as a freelancer or in a different course.
How do I assess learning?
I work hard to provide detailed project and assignment descriptions, as well as rubrics that will allow students to steer their progress in my courses. My preference is to give detailed feedback, and I strive to use the “hamburger method,” a method I first encountered on an article on AIGA’s website, and which I opt for teaching in my design courses for use during critiques.
I typically do not compare students to each other; instead, I compare a student to his or her own progress. This is something that has become easier to implement with the portfolio practice mentioned earlier.
How I will continue to develop my teaching philosophy…
In the future, I would like to implement simulations into my courses. In design, this is easier to do, considering we have social hours to bill as a national requirement. So we find ourselves working with real clients and producing real-world designs that will solve problems for our clients. However, in Italian, this is a much more complex methodology to implement. I hope to be able to develop something soon.
I am fascinated by interdisciplinarity. During my undergraduate years, I often combined the subjects I was learning in the Italian studies major with the projects I was executing within art and design courses for the graphic design major. In 2005, I participated in undergraduate research that resulted in a photography exhibition we used to solicit language production in a level 2 Italian course.
Looking towards my professional development, I have considered several graduate programs. Years before joining the university I teach at, I began a Teaching English as a Second Language and Linguistics program. Though I was there for a short time before I decided to move in another direction, my experience there had an impact on my present teaching philosophy. For instance, much of my philosophy on language teaching has a strong foundation in the courses I took there (for example my Teaching English as a Second Language and Descriptive Linguistics courses).
I have considered an MBA + Design Leadership program, as well as a History of Design and Curatorial Studies program. However, I am currently undecided on what to pursue and when, due to financial restraints.