Honoring the Diverse Ways Students Learn and Develop

H1: Honoring student diversity and development. Honoring student diversity and development means respecting that students are at different stages in the learning process and need varying levels of support in order to develop and be successful. During my internship, two instructional strategies I incorporated to honor the diverse ways in which students develop were scaffolding and constructivist learning activities. For example, while teaching Othello to sophomores, I and another student teacher taught students how to analyze a soliloquy and write a rhetorical analysis. Only two students had written rhetorical analyses before, so we started from the beginning. We dusted off our understanding of the persuasive appeals in order to evaluate their effectiveness within each soliloquy. In order to scaffold this writing assessment, we designed questions to guide student thinking, as well as an essay outline, so students could practice writing according to the essay structure that would be expected of them for their final writing assessment.

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As a class, we annotated a soliloquy for the appeals and then drafted the outline of an argument together. As their second writing assessment, students were given a new soliloquy, and asked to annotate and construct their rhetorical analysis with a partner. Finally, after two scaffolded, constructivist practice attempts, students were responsible for annotating a third soliloquy on their own and then writing a complete rhetorical analysis essay. For this third attempt, students were given the outline graphic organizer, just as they used in their previous two practice rhetorical analyses. An emphasis on constructivist, cooperative learning is founded on the philosophy that learning in isolation limits understanding, but working with a partner or group allows student the opportunity to navigate different social dynamics, while constructing new knowledge by learning from one another. According to John Dewey, while the school is “primarily a social institution,” a concentrated form of community life, constructivist ideology centers on unity and cooperative learning while still maintaining an emphasis on individual accountability (Dewey, 1897, p.2). With each scaffolded, practice attempt, students became more responsible and accountable for the process of annotating and writing their rhetorical analyses, until they were held completely responsible for completing the writing assessment on their own. When asked, majority of students felt this process prepared them for success—the result of effective scaffolding and collaboration. Moving forward, I will continue to use scaffolding and collaborative learning strategies, as well as seek additional and varied ways in order to support the unique and diverse ways in which students learn and develop.

Self-Directed Learning

Self-directed learning is an important teaching and learning strategy that engages students in the learning process to acquire higher-order thinking skills such as constructing their own understanding and meaning, learning to reason, problem solve and think critically about content (Borich, p. 330). In this approach, the role of the teacher is simply to mediate and adjust the flow of content and complexity toward the intended outcome or objective; there are no wrong answers.
According to Borich, when it comes to self-directed learning, my role will be more of a “monitor and co-inquirer than an information provider” because the knowledge and skills that the students are intended to acquire are not regurgitated or pre-packaged, active exploration and engagement is necessary to reach the finished product (Borich, pp. 332, 334).

I remember English classes in high school where teachers would lecture at me and I became a very passive learner–which probably plays a large role in why I did not realize my love for literature until college. In college, self-directed and discussion-based, cooperative learning was the foundation of each class session and we were required to take responsibility for our learning and to be active participants in the inquiry and discovery of meanings in our texts. This method of learning made all the difference for me and so I intend to employ it when instructing my future high school literature students.

Borich, G.D. (2010). Effective Teaching Methods (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

A Constructivist Perspective on Education

Constructivism operates on the theory that knowledge is received actively through experience and cooperation. Knowledge or the cognitive organization of this knowledge allows from subjective interpretation of reality as every individual constructs knowledge. The process is organic and new, not reproduced or predetermined and requires thoughtful reflection on all elements of experience especially context and content.  One cannot construct knowledge alone, but rather knowledge is received and experienced in collaboration, “by the participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race” (Dewey, 1897).  According to Dewey’s “My Pedagogic Creed,” this process begins unconsciously almost at birth and is continually shaping the individual’s powers, saturating his consciousness, forming his habits, training his ideas and arousing his feelings and emotions” (Dewey, 1897). In this way, an individual finds meaning within the social group and seeks to meet and adhere to the demands of his social situation. And as a member of the group, the individual becomes responsible for the welfare of that group.

Dewey believes the school is “primarily a social institution,” a concentrated form of community life, a vessel for social progress (Dewey, 1897). This constructivist ideology centers on unity and cooperative learning while still maintaining an emphasis on individual accountability. Within the classroom, cooperative learning operates under the philosophy that isolation limits understanding, so individuals work as members of a group or team in order to learn from one another. This interaction benefits not only cognitive learning, but also the building of social skills. Collaborating and working together affirms the value and contributions of others while affirming once sense of being valued by his or her peers.



Dewey, J. (1897). “My Pedagogic Creed,” The School Journal, 54, (3), pp. 77-80.

Image retrieved on February 10th, 2013: http://www.scoop.it/t/5e-s-learning/p/456714456/constructivist-education