Philosophy of Teaching

Statement of Teaching Philosophy*

As other principles in my life, my teaching philosophy is greatly influenced by and in accordance with my worldview, which is the idea that human is a part of, yet not necessarily the center of, a greater ecological system. Human learning, as other meaning-making activities, is situated in the network of relationships between human beings and their environment (not only the physical environment, but also the social and cultural environment across different time scales). Therefore, to understand and further facilitate these meaning making activities, the analysis unit should be the relationships – what does the environment provide to afford human’s actions, why as well as how do human beings perceive the affordance from the environment, and how do human’s perceptions and perceiving abilities get richer, wider and finer during the practice?

 

Language, in this sense, instead of being a pre-extant system underlying human cognition, it emerges from neural dynamics in the brain while neural structures emerge through interaction between genetics, the body and a behavioral ecology (Atkinson, 2010; Cowley, 1997, 2002; Harris, 1981, 2010; Kravchenko, 2007; Levinson, 2002; Lamb, 2006; Van Lier, 2000, 2004). In other words, language is viewed as complex coordination among mind, body and the world. This being said, when it comes to language learning, instead of evoking (hypothetical) language-systems,  it would be very important to take the dynamic and contextualized process into consideration (Cowley, 2002, 2009; Harris, 2010; Linell, 2009; Love, 2004, 2007; Zheng, forthcoming). Based upon this understanding, in my philosophy of language teaching, I attach great importance to teaching language within sociocultural contexts and cultivating students’ abilities to actively engage with their environment and consequently take actions in the target language. Also, I stress group/pair work and reflection in my classes. Teaching a second language in this way, I hope my students can become successful intercultural communicators instead of “just second language learners”.

 

To further elaborate on the statement above in a more practical manner, there are five core aspects of my teaching philosophy:

 

1. Understanding students’ perception of the target language

I believe students come to learn a language with an imagined picture of the target language, no matter if they have realized it. It is always an important start for teachers to find it out and understand it since it is related with students’ original motivation, expectation and needs, and will influence teacher’s effectiveness of teaching. What I always do is to conduct a survey before the teaching, of which questions usually include students’ reason(s) to learn this language, their experiences with the target language, resources of learning the target language they perceive in their lives, and I always ask them to depict the picture of them using the target language. In this way, both teacher and students can be aware of students’ perception of the target language as well as the existing resources for language learning.

 

2. Making use of students’ dynamic environments for language teaching and learning

My experiences have proven that the classroom environment is very unique because it is a common point as well as a connection of students’ own environments, each of which further contains different resources. So fully use of this environment will effectively facilitate the learning and teaching. Within the classroom, I often situate language learning and using in group activities such as peer sharing and discussion, paired presentation, role play and theme discussion, which allow students to use their “expertise” according to their experiences and resources. Moreover, I also highlight the use of multimedia and the Internet, which provide both teaching and learning with accesses into a much larger environment.

 

3. Fostering students’ ability to explore into the environment in the target language

Classroom language learning and teaching should never be the end of itself. My goal of language teaching is to help students develop the ability to continue their language journey independently. To achieve this goal, I usually take two measures: Firstly, I often give my students tasks/projects to be conducted in their own environments with the target language, or let them brainstorm their own projects based upon their perceptions of the environment. For example, some of the conducted tasks/projects include news collecting and analysis, interview, community activities, cross-culture exchanging, party planning and survey. Secondly, I always encourage my students to reflect on their experiences of the target language, as well as the potential resources in the environment. The reflection is conducted in forms of homework, class sharing and discussion, project report, revising their original pictures of the target language, and personal meetings. In this way, students’ learning goal, cultural awareness and environment awareness will get clearer and clearer, which play big roles in their language exploration in a long run.

 

4. Participating in and facilitating, instead of manipulating, students’ language learning, identity development and value negotiation process

I always believe that every student has his/her own path of learning, and the teacher should never try to manipulate the path but to be a participant and facilitator in it. Therefore, I try to make portfolio for each of my students, collecting information revealed in their perception surveys, homework, quizzes, projects, performance records, teacher-student meetings, etc. so that I could track each student’s learning path while having a whole picture of the class. Based on analysis on the portfolio information, I conduct further communication with students and revise my teaching design in time.

 

5. Reflecting on my teaching and make necessary revisions in time

Being a facilitator in students’ learning process, as well as a teacher seeking self-progress, I attach great importance to self-reflection throughout my teaching and career development. I always appreciate feedback from my students, parents (when I taught K-12 students), colleagues and supervisors, and treat them seriously. The analysis of the feedback and follow-up communication has allowed me to improve my teaching effectively. Meanwhile, I also often reflect on my own teaching and living environment, and my values and goals situated in it, so that I could constantly be aware of the teacher, the person that I want to be, and work for it.

 

* I am currently taking a graduate seminar about Philosophy of Language Teaching and working on my revised statement of teaching philosophy. Once the work is done, I will upload the new version to this site. 

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Reference

Atkinson, D. (2010). Extended, embodied cognition and second language acquisition. Applied Linguistics, doi: 10.1093/applin/amq009.

Cowley, S.J. (2002). Why brains matter: an integrational perspective on “The Symbolic Species”. Language Science, 24, 73-95.

Cowley, S. J. (2004). Contextualizing bodies: how human responsiveness constrains distributed cognition. In D. Spurrett (ed.) Special issue on Integrational Linguistics and Distributed Cognition, Language Sciences, 26, 565-591.

Cowley, S.J. (2009). Distributed Language and Dynamics. Pragmatics & Cognition, 17, 495-507.

Cowley, S.J., Moodley, S. & Fiori-Cowley, A. (2004). Grounding signs of culture: primary intersubjectivity in social semiosis. Mind, Culture and Activity, 11, 109-132.

Goodyear, G., and Allchin, D. (1998). Statement of teaching philosophy. In M. Kaplan (Ed.), To Improve the Academy, Vol. 17 (pp. 103-122). Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press and the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education.

Harris, R. (1981). The Language Myth. London: Duckworth.

Harris, R. (2010). Integrationism: A very brief introduction. Retrieved from http://www.royharrisonline.com/integrational_linguistics/integrationism_introduction.html

Hodges, B. (2007). Good prospects: Ecological and social perspectives on conforming, creating, and caring in conversation. Language Science, 29, 584-604.

Hutchins, Z. (1995). Cognition in the Wild. Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Kramsch, C. (2009). The Multilingual Subject. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press.

Kravchenko, A. (2007). Essential properties of language, or, why language is not a code. Language Science, 29, 650-671.

Linell, P. (2009). Rethinking Language, Mind, and World Dialogically: Interactional and Contextual Theories of Human Sense-making. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Love, N. (2004). Cognition and the language myth. Language Science, 26, 525-544.

Love, N. (2007). Language and the digital code. Language Science, 29, 690-709.

Reed, E.S. (1996). Encounter the World: Toward an Ecological Psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Van Lier, L. (2000). From input to affordance: Socio-interactive learning from an ecological perspective. In J. P. Lantolf (Ed.), Sociocultural Theory and Second Language Learning (pp. 245-259). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Van lier, L. (2004). The Ecology and Semiotics of Language Learning: A Sociocultural Perspective. Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Young, M., Barab, S., & Garreit, S. (2000). Agent as detector: An ecological psychology perspective on learning by perceiving-acting systems. In B. Fishman & S. O’Connor-Divelbiss (Eds.), Fourth International Conference of the Learning Sciences (pp. 299-300). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Zheng, D. (forthcoming). Caring in the dynamics of design and co-action: Exploring languaging in 3D virtual spaces. To appear in Language Sciences.

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