To Begin at the End

So why another blog added to the blogosphere? And why another blog that deals with teaching and learning?

I readily admit there are a lot of educators out there with more knowledge and experience than me and a lot of great ideas about how authentic learning occurs. I am a professor in higher education and have grown passionate about the classroom and how teaching can be engaging and alive. In this age of information, I believe much of education has taught students how to shuffle and move information about but has failed to create “Aha!” moments of meaning and integration to see the bigger picture. And the more I study this topic of authentic learning, the more I have settled on the fact that I am a learner-centered teacher as opposed to a content-centered teacher or a teacher-centered teacher.

What does a learner-centered teacher look like in everyday practice? Maryellen Weimer defines this concept simply and succinctly in her text Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice:

The Light At the End of the Tunnel
The Light At the End of the Tunnel (Photo credit: Out of Chicago)

Being learner-centered focuses attention squarely on learning: what the student is learning, how the student is learning, the conditions under which the student is learning, whether the student is retaining and applying the learning, and how current learning positions the student for future learning.

And so to my blog title: To Begin at the End. Though it may seem somewhat paradoxical, it simply means that as teachers, we must always start our thinking in terms of the end: where do we want our students to be as a result of our immersing them in our learning environment? To think otherwise is a potential pitfall to get enraptured with our content or with ourselves as the content authority.

I don’t know about you, but I find it is easy in my own classroom to fall into ruts because I get too focused on just covering content and lose sight of the end goal: my students “getting it.” So allow me to answer my original question: so why this blog? Four reasons come to mind.

  1. To provide one more encouraging voice of having an amazing classroom experience. I know when I read that it sometimes takes the fourth or fifth time before things start clicking in my own head.
  2. To provide tools and resources that have helped to make me a more effective teacher. No matter how many tools I have in my “tool belt,” there is always room for one more.
  3. To challenge thought. Our education system has been stuck in a model that still resembles an Industrial Revolution mindset – cookie cutter students with a lack of focus on individual needs.
  4. To scratch an itch. I fear becoming dull in my calling and profession. Writing means I have to be reading and considering new thought, and writing forces me to think through what I really believe and get out of my own box of comfort.

So there you have it. Nothing profound but hopefully I have whet your appetite for what can be if you feel you need some inspiration for your classroom. I hope you will join me once in a while for the ride, but if no one else enjoys the ride, I know I will! I always want to be moving forward.

Reflection: So what do you think? Is education in a rut? Why or why not?


6 thoughts on “To Begin at the End

  1. Great thoughts Dr. G! I love how you think on this. Too many of us focus on what is coming out of our mouths rather than what is going in to the hearts and minds of those sitting under our teaching. Also, I believe the isomorphic pressures in education drive all teaching to be the same…a new trend sweeps and we blindly follow because we like new things…finding things that work with this generation and, more specifically, your students is key to learning. Sure do miss our talk times friend!

    • Thanks for your thoughts my friend. When you go back to the Colonial time period, education was much more about the relationship between teacher and student and less about an “information dump.” The more I read the more I hear the cry for getting back to what education used to be. Without creating meaning for our students, purpose is lost. And with the proliferation of information today, the relevance of the teacher is more necessary than ever before.

  2. In my small but growing experience, the student has to be able to walk away with something they didn’t have before for education to have truly made its valuable connection. For coaching actors and directing a crew of designers – I can info dump and entertain and assess all day, but at the end of that day I need to be able to see practical, tangible results for the show to be successful – for the actor/individual to be successful in a given area or field. Those “Aha” moments are exponentially invaluable for a stage director (who is also an educator in every sense of the word). Without them, you can count on an uninspired, poorly motivated, and badly executed show. Similarly, in sales, we talk about building a rapport with the customer – that is to meet them at their level and connect personally with the potential client. After this connection is made, intellectual, emotional, and psychological connections can also be made. Once you have assessed the client’s level, you can then determine the necessary bridges you will need to build for them to cross to the next level – (make a sale). In education, this is no different. Students need to be evaluated prior to a professor dragging them through a slough of content that they may or may not be ready for. I have had the privilege of being educated by exceptional men and women who largely have understood this, but I believe it is safe to say that the concept of building rapport (assessing the student’s level and building bridges to higher levels) is an idea that is sorely undervalued in the classroom. It is easy for educators to lose focus by furiously attempting to “cover the material” before the next deadline (mid-terms/final/etc.).

    • You have some very relevant thoughts, Johnathan, and I appreciate your insights. With all of the advances we have made in multiple areas today, connecting with the learner on a personal level still wins at the end of the day. Relationships are king even though the concept is old-school. Your comment of “walking away with something they didn’t have before” hits the nail on the head. Unfortunately, if some content is good, more must be better in many eyes. It is no wonder we have so many frustrated students. We are bridge builders as a teacher – what a great thing we can be part of!

    • Thanks for the affirmation on that, Paul. I would agree. My blog is new as of this past January, so I am just getting on the scene. In working through my doctoral degree, I really began to appreciate and fall in love with the process of learning and how to create a learning environment that is authentic and engaging and provides a big “wow factor” for my students. By the way, have you read Seth Godin’s work titled Stop Stealing Dreams? It is free and really articulates well why our educational system today is stuck in methodologies of the past. You would enjoy it if you have not read it yet. Thanks again for stopping by my site.

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