Note: The text below is just example of what a teaching philosophy statement might look like. It is NOT meant to be an "official" Penn State teaching philosophy. Instructors/pedagogical experts often disagree on different issues.

My academic training in formal linguistics has definitely affected how I view learning. In linguistics, especially syntax and phonology, we assume that many properties of language such as pronunciation, speech perception and the rules for spoken English grammar (as spoken "in your crib") are stored and processed at a sub-concsious level using different areas of the brain. Many linguistics also assume that the human brain contains pre-wired utilities to facilitate child language learning (whatever language other species learn is always structurally incomplete in terms of human language).

Assumptions of Learning and Teaching

Based on my linguistics background, reading of educational research and personal observation, I assume that

  1. I define learning as a change in memory. That is, a student only learns if his or her neural net (memory) adapts to accomodate new inforrmation. Hence, I tend to be interested in the mechanics of memory and visual/auditory processing as well as other cognitive skills.
  2. Learning in context is best (i.e. authentic learning). The more realistic a classroom scenario can be, the better the chances for long-term retention in a future. That is, when content is taught in an authentic setting, learners may be better able to retrieve the learned content in the future because the real-world context will match "original" classroom context.
  3. Learning can only be assessed by changes in behavior. Although learning is an internal cognitive event, an instructor cannot directly read the student's neural net (at least not until PET scans improve). Therefore, an instructor must rely on behavior (usually verbal answers). This is one reason why I believe in using behavior-based learning objectives.
  4. Intrinsically motivated students learn best; but an instructor has the most control over extrinsic motivation. It can be to generate passion in a student if the student does not want to be interested, but a "fun" classroom environment can increase intrinsic motivation levels for some students.
  5. In some cases, rote memorization is an important first step to deeper learning and higher-level skills such as information literacy and application of skills. Although it is critical for students to learn "higher level" analysis skills, I believe that learning the lower level skills is a crucial precursor.
  6. Instructors are still responsible for structuring content so that it can be optimally absorbed by students. It's also important to allow students the chance to review content so they can learn it more effectively.
  7. Not all information is stored in linguistic code. Some information students learn may be stored visually, aurally or even kinesthetically (e.g. which button to push on the iPod). I'm not sure if I understand all the implications of this generalization, but I know it's true.

How to Facilitate Instruction

When designing a course, I focus on these points:

Authentic Learning - As much as possible, I like to expose students to as much real-world linguistic data as possible. I might ask them to analyze their own dialect or look at linguistic data from a Web site. Technology is a great way to demonstrate authentic foreign language pronunciations and real-world linguistic usage (on foreign language Web sites). I've also used links to showcase different attitudes towards language.

Learning Objective Congruency - This means making sure my performance objectives are applicable to the discipline and that my assessment validally assess these skills. In many cases, I may be teaching "skills" instead of "content." For instance, if I want my students to be able to transcribe different dialectal pronunciations, I have to expose them to dialects and sample transcriptions, then ask them to transcribe a dialectal sample.

Allowing Students to Review Content - Learning usually requires a review of content after class hours. Class managment systems like ANGEL allow me to post lecture notes, links and, in some cases, a few drills for students to access at any time.

Building a Positive Classroom Experience - I like to use humor, pop culture and student life experiences to add interest to the topic. I also like to include a few "fun" group activities to build classroom rapport. The ANGEL discussion board is a great way for students to interact outside of class hours. Even reading classmate discussion-board messages can allow students to learn more about each other. I also like to include an ANGEL survey at the beginning of each semester so that I learn more about students (e.g. if they are bilingual!). I then can use some of this data to allow students to act as "experts" in certain topics in language.

Technology for External Structure - Do your students "forget" important class items? Thanks to the communication tools of ANGEL (e-mail, announcement tools, syllabus tools), students always have a place to retrieve lost items and remind themselves of important due dates.

Learn the Basics - One trap I often fall into is that I move ahead in the content before students have fully mastered the material. I find I need to develop some basic drills to make sure students memorize critical terms or features they will need to use later for higher-level analytical activities. ANGEL quizzing can be used to help students practice skills they are weak on.

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