What I Believe about Teaching & Learning

This is an excerpt from my application for Colorado Teacher of the Year (I was a semi-finalist).  It explains much of what I do and believe in about education.  I hope this explains a bit about this blog.

In today’s world of Google and the internet, knowledge is accessible to virtually all citizens. Our students realize this and have become disenchanted with the schools that they attend. Teachers who still think that they are the disseminators of knowledge need to see that there is more to learn than they can ever hope to teach. The greatest gift we can give our students is the ability to learn and adapt to new situations. We must give them the gift of learning so that when they leave our halls, they will have the tools to succeed in the complex world in which we find ourselves.

Outside of school our students live in the connected world of facebook, twitter, texting, the internet, and their own social spheres. Unfortunately many of today’s schools require our students to scale back when they walk into the schoolroom. They have to turn off and dumb down. Instead of fighting the digital culture, we as educators need to infiltrate the digital culture. As we do this we will be embracing and using the tools of the future. When schools are designed for the benefit of students, they will see the connection between the classroom and their lives and will realize that schools are their launch pad into the larger world. I have seen some of our best and brightest students give up on school because they feel that it is not relevant to their lives. We cannot allow this to happen. Our schools can and should be a place where all students have equal access to the best possible education.

If this is to happen, educator roles need to change. The old model of the teacher as the giver of all knowledge needs to disappear. Instead we need to act as coaches and guides to our students. As educators, we can guide and nurture tomorrow’s leaders, not just teach them specific content. This all has to be done in the context of caring and nurturing relationships. When our students realize that we won’t ever give up on them and that we believe in them, they will truly become the leaders they are meant to be. As our schools are transformed into hubs of learning, our country will become a better place, and our schools will again become the envy of the world.  

As we move into the 21st century, students need to be able to solve complex problems, work collaboratively, and synthesize their knowledge and experience. Gone are the days when teachers covered content and hoped that students would learn. My classes are a laboratory of learning.

For decades, many people have talked about mastery programs, but successful implementation has been difficult. With the explosion of technology, it is now easy to make interactive video podcasts that teach specific objectives.

In this model, students take responsibility for their learning in and out of the classroom. They watch video podcasts on a number of digital devices, work on assignments, conduct experiments, interact with the class Moodle website (course management system), and have one-on-one discussions with their teacher. Students are allowed to work through the content at their own pace while meeting pre-described milestones. When they complete a unit, students must demonstrate that they have learned the content by taking an exit assessment that includes both a written and a laboratory component. If students do not demonstrate mastery by meeting the pre-established objectives on these exit assessments, they must go back and relearn the concepts they missed and retake the assessment.

A huge benefit of this teaching methodology is that every student learns at a level that is developmentally appropriate for each individual. Differentiation occurs for ALL students. Some students are given the extra help that they need to master the content while other students are allowed to move ahead at their own pace. Because I am now a mentor instead of a lecturer, more time is available to interact with all students and to give them individualized help. Since every student is now required to master the content before progressing, all students are engaged in their own education. This has been a radical paradigm shift; I have seen students of all ability levels mastering rigorous content. Using this model assures that all students learn at a high level and I am able to asses them continually. When students “don’t get it,” they are required to go back and relearn the concepts until they master them.

5 Responses

  1. Philip McIntosh


    I am on board with your ideas and am working hard to implement my own version of autonomous mastery learning in my middle school math classroom. I was inspired to do this after visiting your classroom as part of a teacher group that came up to visit you last month. Thanks for all you do.

    I wrote up a brief description at my blog about what I have been trying: http://tinyurl.com/39htpxl

    1. I wholeheartedly agree that onnlie learning should not be place-based and should be available to ALL students, not just those enrolled in traditional, brick and mortar schools. Here, in NC,we have the NC Virtual Public School, what our Governor describes as a whole new world of educational opportunity for North Carolinians, no matter where we call home. Apparently, this wonderful opportunity is not for all of us, though, because those of us that have decided to lawfully school our children at home have, until recently, been barred from the system. (How’s that for open access? Why should it matter whether the student is public, private or homeschooled? We all pay taxes to support the system.) Just recently, NCVPS opened up enrollment to homeschoolers under a school’s “visiting student policy”, but my children are not visitors to a physical building (we’re talking “onnlie classes” right?), plus, the state wants to charge us exorbitant fees for courses. Florida has been running a virtual public school for years, which is free to residents, whether public-schooled or otherwise. I fail to understand NC’s “lack of vision” with regard to this issue. If the Governor truly cared about the students, ALL of the students of NC as she claims, then she would give us all access.

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    1. Classroom lectures are aspsive as well. Video has the following advantages. Here a just a few:1. It allows a school staff to share in the creation of content.2. Its available 24/73. Can be repeated and reviewed without interrupting4. Consistent5. Measurable

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