I have a confession to make.
Before I started pursuing this Masters of Adult Education degree in July, I scoffed at the idea of pursuing post-graduate certification.
Many of my colleagues suggested I could better position myself for a full-time instructor position if I obtained a Master’s degree.
That made me angry.
I have 20 years of industry-related experience. I attend professional development workshops strategically and religiously. Whenever I want to improve my teaching or learn something new, I pick up a book on the subject or I consult a colleague.
How could two years of studying—hrumph!—theoretical bumph make me a better educator? Did I mention that I was angry?
But I love teaching more than anything else on earth, so thissummer I bit the bullet and began a Masters of Adult Education degree at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.
In truth, I chose it because it’s one of the few masters degrees that didn’t require me to obtain a credit in statistics (numbers and I don’t get along) beforehand.
The program literature said something about the degree being based on reflective practice. I didn’t even know what that meant. I didn’t care. I just wanted that piece of paper that said “Masters” on it, the one that would make me more eligible for full-time college employment.The program requires all participants to attend a three-week foundations course where we learned the basics of how to research and annotate, and it showed us the value in teaching our students to think critically and reflectively. Students need to learn to reason things out for themselves and that’s why they need critical thinking skills. Self-reflection has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to retain knowledge, so they need that skill, too. Previously, I had avoided teaching critical thinking skills, mainly because I didn’t know what critical thinking was. At the same time, I figured I was teaching at a college where more value is placed upon learning practical, rather than theoretical, knowledge. I also didn’t realize just how powerful self-reflection could be—until I practised it at StFX.
So last week I started getting my students to exercise both critical thinking and self-reflection in my classrooms. I asked them questions about everything to make them think critically: Why did we do this lesson? Why did we do it this way? Why is it an important lesson? I know we haven’t studied this, but what do you think is the next step?
To get students to reflect, I used an ice breaker bridging exercise I learned at StFX that had students use art to create a metaphorical bridge image of their life before their college program, what they hope the program will do for them, and where they hope to be in the next few years.
It was one of my best classroom experiences yet and an incredible way to start the school year for many of these 130 students. Standing by their metaphor created with markers, magazine images, and coloured paper on flip chart paper, students found the courage to speak in front of others, to share, to find common ground, to express their creativity, and to set the stage for the rest of the semester. They were also able to tell me and their classmates about the skills and knowledge they bring to the program and many suggested by tone and attitude how hard or how little they plan to work.
For some, it took incredible strength to stand up and talk. For others, it was easy. I questioned those students the most and almost always found they thought more deeply than they first portrayed.
More than anything, this exercise made students really reflect (there’s that word again!) about how important this program is to them toward achieving their dreams.At the end of the ice breaker, we shared our thoughts and feelings about the exercise and then I showed students the bridge image that I created at StFX.
What happened in those classes is confidential, but I will say that I have never seen students more engaged.
I am now more excited than ever to help students to work on their critical thinking and reflecting skills. And I’ll be trying to figure out how to do that in every assignment and lesson I deliver.