When Norbert Wiener was thinking of a machine that could replicate the behavior of life, he thought this was possible because it is not so much the medium that is important but the information. He imagined that life had developed and survived because of information exchange. I too believe that information exchange is at the heart of life and that is why teaching, the explicit structuring of information, is so involved in shaping the future of a country. The better students are trained, the better the chances of significant progress for all. This is especially so, when teaching is grounded in the student‘s experience and knowledge, creativity and continuity. These constitute the three major components of my philosophy of teaching.
1. Grounding knowledge in students' experience
The first component of my philosophy of teaching is grounding knowledge in the students’ knowledge and experience. I try to start my teaching from the very place where the students are: the knowledge they have about development, learning to walk or pekaboo. Then I bring infants to class to be observed, I send my students to the park or to the mall to look at emotion regulation. I do this to ground new concepts in direct experience. If I need to teach them about the development of the senses in the womb, I put them in a dark room for a few minutes and ask them to just feel what is happening. This I call first-hand grounding. I also use second-hand grounding which is anchoring a concept with a video clip. You know the famous citation “a picture is worth a thousand words”. In my experience, deep comprehension is rooted in those two types of groundings. As a result, my students are better able to generalize the concept, to make connections between domains when they are exposed to this type of learning rather than the pure conceptual learning.
The second component of my philosophy of teaching is to develop creative questioning. At the beginning of the semester, I tell this story to my students: when I was a student myself, some of our youngest professors were dismayed by our passivity. We did not dare ask questions. But how does one come up with questions, and possibly with smart ones? I did not solve this for myself at that time but this has been a central interrogation of mine and I have developed some answers and techniques: my first technique consists of creating a learning environment that welcomes any question, remark, comment, testimony, etc… My class is a protected environment against censorship of ideas and censorships of questions within oneself or between each other. The goal is not to declare a winner. The goal is to bring out from each and everyone the richness and the idiosyncratic experience of life they have so that we can built a common network of emotional, social, verbal, non verbal intelligences, and my experience is that all these will inevitably flourish in new insights and new connections. The second technique is the toolbox for “thinking out of the box”. I have developed a technique to enhance creative questions in my students that is based on object perception in a scene and movement (see lecture example).
The third component of my philosophy of teaching is to make their knowledge become active or a savoir-faire. This is realized by having different forms of continuity throughout the semester. One form of continuity is to consider that learning is about building a narrative. When I was a child, I loved stories, I think, because they brought me insight into connections among distant places (and ideas) and my own life, they were easy to remember and I could use them as connectors to attach different experiences in time. And today when I teach developmental psychology to my undergraduate students, I try to build a narrative and to bring new ideas through books and stories. I read them a passage in class, like my teachers used to, to convey to them the amazing power of Piaget’s observations, for example and we study one book, “Ghosts from the Nursery” which is a case study of a teenager who committed murder (see annexe). Having a case study, they can apply the newly acquired concepts and this helps them extend and integrate them further. The second form of continuity is conceptual: I use consistently two main connectors: the body as the principal vehicle for learning and some of the concepts of the dynamic systems approach. And everything I do is connected to these two fundamentals. Methodologically, I have them read selective experimental articles that present the concepts already seen in class, and they have to answer methodological questions throughout the semester. Each aspect (conceptual, methodological, structural) are constantly feedbacking on each other so that the students experiment this continuity first-hand and incorporate it in their output. I always looked forward to reading their final essay!
My students describe me as a fair, respectful, enthusiastic, approachable, dedicated, innovative and knowledgeable teacher, my peers would add courageous and generous and I am also a woman with broad cross-cultural experiences. These are, I believe, the qualities an institution might highly benefit from especially in the perspective of greater mobility (geographical and conceptual) for the American Universities in the next decades. As for me, I am honored and thrilled to participate in the adventure of the American Universities into the 21st century.