Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Babbler Unleashed

So, in applying what I’m teaching my Foundations English students, I’m going to write a “proposal paper” for the upcoming BYU-Idaho Faculty Conference on the subject of “Improving the Quality of Our Teaching and the Depth of our Knowledge.”

Why do this?

Well, for a few reasons.

I need to put up or shut up, for one. I tell my students learning to write an argument in which you clearly state your thesis and then support that thesis with good, documented evidence is something they’re going to want to know how to do properly in life. And yet I sit back and write silly little blog posts and tinker with fantasy novels, not really taking that stance into action.

I’m also bored, I confess. Teaching this class is fun. My job keeps me busy. But this will be fun and challenging and keep me busy in a different way. And so it goes. Whether or not it’ll be accepted for presentation at the conference I don’t know, but I want to do this anyway just to say I did it.

So here’s my thesis, on the assigned topic:

As BYU-Idaho instructors, we best model the acquisition of wisdom for our students by seeking wisdom alongside our students.

Principle Four of the BYU-I Learning Model states “Learners and teachers at BYU-Idaho act for themselves and accept responsibility for learning and teaching.”

There’s no parsing of language in this statement, assigning learning to only learners. Indeed, as is stated further on that principle: “Teachers and students are expected to act in accordance with their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; these actions include diligent effort and preparation, participation, reflection and prayers, and maintaining a proper attitude toward learning.” There is no out for the teacher – the learning model impels us to learn alongside our students.

So, how do we do that?

We act.

BYU-I President Kim B. Clark explains our need to act in his Inaugural Response delivered on campus on October 11, 2005:

To learn by faith, students need opportunities to take action. Some of those opportunities will come ... in the classroom, where prepared students, exercising faith, step out beyond the light they already possess, to speak, to contribute, and to teach one another.

Though he addresses students specifically in this instance, what he says clearly applies to teachers as well, when taken in context with the Learning Model and other instruction given by church leaders and academics both inside and outside the church.

As teachers, we need opportunities to take action. In the classroom – whether it’s physical or virtual – we need to act as prepared teachers, exercising faith, to step beyond the light we already possess to speak, to contribute, and to teach one another. We can best model the acquisition of wisdom by seeking wisdom alongside our students.

I’m new to teaching. Up until I signed that contract to teach Foundations English 101 starting in May 2011, the most experience I’ve had as a teacher has been limited to stints as Elders Quorum Instructor and as a teacher in junior Sunday School and Primary. My pool of wisdom on the subject of teaching is shallow.

What is comforting to me is that those at Online Instruction who hired me, and Tyler Chadwick, my teaching group leader, know my pool of wisdom is shallow. But rather than watch me puddle-jump, they arrive with shovels and my fellow instructors and are helping me dredge the bottom of that pool so it becomes deeper. They have put a shovel in my hands and encourage me to dig as well. Together, we collectively increase the depth of our own pools of wisdom.

“If a person seeks to obtain wisdom in his life, the first step he must take is to seek the Lord, ‘to establish his righteousness,’” writes Marion G. Romney, then first counselor in the first presidency in the Liahona of October 1983. “He must come to a realization that he is inadequate in and of himself. . . .‘Seek and ye shall find’ has ever been and is now the pattern and the promise. Doing this, a person may – and it is the only way he can – be led to a knowledge of God from which springs that “profound reverence” declared by the Psalmist to be the beginning of wisdom.”

We have at our disposal a number of tools and methods with which we as online instructors may improve the quality of our teaching and the depth of our knowledge of the subject of teaching – and before you classroom teachers tune out, be aware that these same tools and methods are available to you as well, though not quite exactly in the form I’ll describe.

• Best practices discussion board
• Teaching group discussions
• Informal opportunities to “talk shop” with colleagues
• Our students

And on it will go.

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