Resident Reflection: Student Learning

How do students learn? In all honesty, I couldn’t have given a decent answer to this question when I unpacked my things in Crosstown this summer if my life had depended on it. Knowing now what I wish I had known then, I am finally beginning to see why I was so incredibly ineffective at fostering student learning during my student teaching experience. A year ago, I was so focused on designing creative learning experiences for students that, unfortunately, the “learning” fell by the wayside and students were left with nothing more than “creative experiences.” When students showed minimal growth or progress compared to their peers in experienced teachers rooms, I knew I needed to make a change.

Enter MTR where, for the first time, I discovered teaching practices that actually lead to student learning. For instance, before MTR, I thought backwards planning was all about where you wanted students to be by the end of the lesson. I couldn’t have been more short-sighted, which I realized when we began to discuss things like mid and end of module assessments. Learning to dissect and internalize curriculum for long range learning goals that drive my daily planning decisions was one teaching practice MTR equipped me with. I’ve also  learned (and am still learning) to circulate during students’ independent work time with purpose, ensuring that students are meeting behavioral expectations and getting a sense of where students are in their understanding of the content. For that matter, I learned that student learning depends on opportunities to practice the skill being taught independently. Before, I thought the mark of a classroom where students were learning was constant collaboration and teacher instruction. Truth be told, I thought students working on their own was a waste of time. Now I know that students need this time to refine their understandings, synthesize their knowledge about a topic, and experience the process of applying what they’ve learned. I need this time so I can identify persisting or newly created misconceptions in order to address them with the class. When it comes to teaching for student learning, there’s so much to unpack and uncover. I know it’s a journey and I’ve still got a ways to go, but when I think about how my beliefs regarding teaching and learning have changed since arriving, here’s what I know:

  • Student learning is all about students thinking. My job is to find ways to guide and push student thinking toward the learning objectives without doing any of the thinking for them.
  • Students have the right to be confused (temporarily), because if they’re never confused you haven’t given them the chance to develop independence, persistence, or critical thinking.  
  • Students learn when they feel safe, known, and respected. The best environments for learning are those where students are dignified and take ownership.

From how content is introduced to how mastery is assessed, student learning informs every move an expert teacher makes. Student learning is the heartbeat of excellent teaching, and MTR has equipped me with knowledge and structures that will shape my teaching practices for the rest of my career.

-Bailey Garey (MTR resident, Class of 2019)