a lab instructor for introductory psychology and research methods, I
see students at two critical points, the beginning and the end of their
undergraduate education. My students in introductory psychology are
typically freshman, many of whom are non-majors or newly-declared psychology
majors on the cusp of deciding whether or not they want to begin or
continue with Psychology as their major. My students in research methods
are generally upperclassmen, nearing the point where they must decide
whether they want to continue on with psychology, either in graduate
school or a psychology related field, or to begin a career in a non-psychology
related field. Keeping this in mind, I base my teaching philosophy on
two key concepts: instilling the enthusiasm I have for Psychology in
my students and encouraging them to play an active role in their education.
When students become enthusiastic about the topic, they play an active
part in their education. Once students are enthusiastic and involved,
critical thinking, thoughtful synthesis of their knowledge, and good
grades follow suit to encourage the students to realize that they can
use their psychology education in every aspect of their life. I achieve
the goal of instilling enthusiasm and encouraging an active role in
three ways: creativity, flexibility, and constant feedback.
learned that many students come into Psychology with the assumption
that this topic, much like other topics they've had prior in school,
is based upon memorizing facts and concepts, but this is simply not
the case. One of the things I make sure to tell my students on the first
day is that Psychology is unlike math, English, or any other topic they've
had before. Psychology is about studying people, and being people themselves,
they already bring in a wealth of knowledge. I keep this in mind when
preparing my lessons, spending a lot of time thinking of creative ways
to relate the material to everyday experiences. (Some of my favorite
examples are displaying a large picture of effervescent Alka-Seltzer
to explain the difference between efferent and afferent nerves, or using
the 80s song Jenny to explain that phone numbers, like 867-5309, are
examples of chunking.) I push students to be creative and involved with
their learning as well by encouraging them to bring in outside examples
from their lives into class. I'll admit my favorite questions to hear
begin with "This might be a bit off topic, but...". Although
the question itself might be slightly off-topic, the related conversation
is enlightening and worthwhile for the entire class (myself included!)
and demonstrates the students' ability to think critically synthesize
what they've learned.
Another important part of my teaching philosophy is flexibility. No two classes or students are alike, and this is a crucial fact to understand to be an effective teacher. I've learned that the more time spent planning the specifics of a class, such as scripting word-for-word what I'd like to say, the less likely it is that the class will go as planned. With this in mind, I create my Powerpoints to be talking points that supplement and guide the lecture, rather than a script to read from. When my lessons are not set in stone, the off-topic question that sparks five minutes of important dialogue on another aspect of psychology enriches the class instead of derailing it. On a larger scale, I attempt to be as transparent as possible with my teaching objectives. I never assign anything major in class without putting a lot of thought into the activity, and I want my students to understand that the assignment has a larger purpose. When students understand why I'm doing something in such a way, I've seen more active involvement in the activity or assignment. For example, when I set aside the end of class as a writing workshop, I explain why I think it's useful to exchange and review papers with a partner. Seeing another student's paper allows them to correct a fellow classmate's mistakes and to see how their paper could be written in a different way.
back-to-back night sections of research methods has taught me that every
student is different and it's important to read them and adapt as much
as possible within reason to their needs. Many of my students are non-traditional
students who work a full day and take care of a family before coming
to class. I try my best to understand the different life circumstances
that all of my students bring to class and be as flexible as I can to
their circumstances. I've found that something as simple as a one-day
extension on a paper for a valid reason pays high dividends in the form
of enthusiasm and involvement in return.
I feel that constant feedback from both the teacher and the students
is crucial. I begin each class asking students how they're doing in
my class as well as in the academic and real world outside of class.
At the end of class, I make sure to ask the students if they liked a
particular way I introduced a topic or assignment. This allows me to
learn from my mistakes and teach more effectively the next time around,
as well as change my methods to adapt for the class. Constant feedback
coming from the teacher to the students is important as well. I believe
that learning is a dynamic and interactive process. I never want the
final due date to be the first time I see a paper. The writing process
is an important opportunity to learn and I take advantage of that opportunity
as much as possible. I encourage my students to send me drafts and ask
me questions throughout the writing process. This allows me to point
out areas for individual improvement along the way but also to keep
a watch on what the class understands as a whole. Teaching two sections
of research methods, I've oftentimes found small topics students from
one section understood but the other did not. Knowing this along the
way permits me to talk about relevant topics that seem unclear to the
people who need it most. For example, one section of research methods
was unclear of what to list as materials in an APA-style writeup, often
listing paper and pencil, instead of the measures used. I was able to
re-explain the topic to that section before it was too late. Had I not
reviewed drafts along the way, I would have missed the opportunity to
teach an important topic until after final papers had been submitted.
I again attempted to be as creative as possible, using the childrens'
book character Amelia Bedelia as an example and that section has understood
the mechanics of the materials section ever since.
In my few months of teaching at George Mason and the opportunities I've had to teach as an undergraduate, I've found that enthusiasm and creativity have been the key aspects for teaching success. My ultimate goal as I begin my lifelong academic career is to encourage students to be as enthusiastic as I am, applying the knowledge they've gained in class to the world around them.