One of my senior students, Vaishnavi Katta, asked if she could write a guest post on my educational blog. I very enthusiastically said 'absolutely!' She talks here about classroom environment, and its effect on learning. Enjoy! Jeff Watson
Hello, my name is Vaishnavi and I recently finished with my senior year. Having recently wrapped up 13 years of education at home has got me thinking about the importance of a classroom’s environment in learning. Now more than ever, I realize the value of interaction between students in an educational setting. An interaction I believe is best emphasized in a student-centered classroom because it motivates students to learn. I have struggled to find this motivation several times these past twelve years. It’s not like I was a bad student. I got my work done, got good grades, and got along with my teachers. Still, I was motivated by an outside pressure to do well. I learned whatever I needed to learn because I was told to. My focus on my grades outweighed my focus on the content of the subject. I was always passively processing what was taught to me. However, in the long run, this mentality is dangerous. Especially in a subject like math, where the intention is to take abstract concepts and see their connection to the real world. My lack of critical thinking made it hard to care about what I was “learning”.
That was until I entered high school and saw a shift in teaching styles. Some lecture-based classrooms were replaced by more activity-based ones. Only when I experienced this combination did I see the gap in productivity between these learning styles. In the more lecture-based classrooms I found that we got through the material quicker and had a predictable schedule. Although there was a sense of security in always knowing how the classroom would go, the methodical nature of it made it hard to get excited about learning. On the other hand, there were more activity-based classrooms. These were a lot less predictable and were often slower paced. The activities were there to cement understanding and for that reason, it took a long time to complete them. To be honest, I hated these classrooms at first. I thought the activities were excessive and the unpredictability was annoying. It was much easier being told what to do. It was only when I left those classrooms did I begin to appreciate them more. I realized what I learned in them stuck with me longer. Having to figure things out on my own instead of being told how to do something made it easier to recall the memory. It’s like my brain understood not only what I was doing, but also why I was doing it. After noticing this, I found myself more motivated to learn than before because I could see the fruits of my labors. It was a lot more challenging, but at the same time more exciting.
The thing that I found most interesting though was that my growth as a learner was not limited to one subject. As soon as I started thinking critically in one class, that thinking carried onto other classes. More thinking also led me to make more connections. I could now take what I learned and apply to situations around me. This was especially true when it came to the sciences. I took the knowledge out of the classroom and began looking at the world differently. This provided me a new motivation to learn. No longer was I learning to get good grades, but I was learning to understand. Grades still felt important, but they took a back seat to the content I was learning. I think this domino effect is really valuable in education. Starting to teach students how to learn enables them to carry those skills with them outside the classroom. I am very grateful to all the teachers that have given me this opportunity. Even though their classes were harder at first, I feel more ready for college and life because of them.
Vaishnavi Katta is a recent graduate of the International Academy East in Troy, MI USA. Vaishnavi is planning on attending the University of Michigan in the fall as a pre-med. Her major is currently undecided, but she is interested in both psychology and neuroscience. She loves to travel and is hoping to study abroad whenever it is safe to do so.
Jeff Watson is a Math teacher at the International Academy East in Troy, MI. His work as a software engineer made him realize the need for problem solvers and critical thinkers in the workplace today. Jeff believes that the secondary math classroom should be a place of critical thinking, collaborative learning, and exploration which will cultivate the problem solvers and thinkers needed today.