Guest post by Colleen McIntosh
As a peer tutor and a supplemental instructor, I meet a very similar group of students every semester. With a few exceptions, my students are the ones who either come for the extra credit or because they are hoping to scrape by with my help. For some peer tutors, this inspires much frustration, but the incurable optimism in me sees potential in every one of them. They could be the next best thing coming out of college if they wanted to be. That is my challenge and my ultimate goal: to inspire those who do not want to be inspired and to convert that student willing to settle for a D to a willing learner who wants to engage their world.
Through my studies in learning styles, I have picked up on a three tiered system of learning that lies under each description. These are: memorization, engagement, and creation. Memorization is the base level of learning, where students learn the material exactly as it is taught in class and can repeat it back to you in the same format. The level of engagement incorporates memorization, but here the student is also able to relate this knowledge to material from outside sources. Finally, there is the level of creation. At this level, students are able to identify ways in which the knowledge they have learned can apply to real life situations. This level of learning is the one used by teachers of the material.
The level of creation is the place I would like my students to be by the end of the semester. I would like them to not only be able to do well on their tests, but to feel confident in explaining class material as well as creating their own. I have found over the last two years, however, that this is much easier said than done.
In order to accomplish these goals, one must first change the expectations of the purpose of learning in a classroom setting. Essentially, the teacher, as well as the supplemental instructor and peer tutor, must begin a process of changing the culture of the classroom. The communicated end goal of the semester can no longer be memorization, but that students will leave the class having created something that either gives back to the class or to their community. This requires that there be opportunity to create new content in a loosely structured setting; one that sets expectations, but encourages innovation and creativity.
The best places to foster this creation is outside of the classroom with the help of supplemental instruction. This setting allows a relaxed environment where a student is completely responsible for engaging their own learning. In this environment, students should be guided to engage the overarching ideas and themes introduced in the class. It should serve to teach students how the in depth knowledge of class material fits into a broader perspective. In the end, it should lead to the creation of new material.
This sets the requirement of a supplemental instructor to a much higher stake. They should no longer see their job as a repeater of material, but as a facilitator of discussion, and an equipper of new opportunities. Engagement through activity, will not only help those who learn in ways other than auditory repetition, but will also begin a process of broadening a person’s engagement of the material. This requires that supplemental instructors are innovators and creators themselves. It requires that they have learned to engage material outside of that required for class and are able to engage creativity in others.
If creation is the ultimate end of learning, then opportunities should be given to students to produce a learning experience for themselves. The class should teach them not only subject content but critical thinking and innovation. This step requires changing the purpose of learning, and in essence changing the culture of the learning community.