Hard and Soft Individualism: Is One Better Than Another?

By Alisha Parikh, SED ‘17

Compare the two statements, “Sit down, get your books out, and start working.” and “I love seeing how wonderful all of your work has been, why don’t we put some of your work up on the walls?” These two phrases are a glimpse into a long held debate about the style of teaching that is best for students, particularly those in primary education. Is there one particular type of teacher that is better for the developing and enhancing students’ learning at early ages? Can one style of teaching be diminishing to a child’s natural love of learning? The answers to these questions have varied and have led to different interpretations and beliefs from educators and researchers. In my AN290: Children and Culture class, we discussed specifically two different types of teachers: those who promote Hard Individualism, and those who promote Soft Individualism.

Teachers who lean toward the hard individualism style of teaching are often seen as more strict, commanding, and disciplining with their students than other teachers. No doubt, these teachers instill a sense of discipline in their students, a critical aspect of learning. The students in this type of classroom environment gradually learn to not be overly – sensitive and learn to take criticism in a constructive way. Lessons such as these are important in the classroom, and can greatly influence a student’s efficiency and productivity in learning. However, some fear that this particular style of teaching may diminish the natural curiosity and love for learning that young children have. With constant commands and little room for sensitivity, children may over time come to keep their questions and expressiveness within themselves. In turn, this could negatively affect a child’s learning and capabilities in the classroom.

In contrast to teachers who favor the hard individualism style, other teachers lean toward a soft individualism style of teaching. These teachers lean toward encouraging children to express themselves, and to foster their natural curiosity. A common representation of this style of teaching is displaying children’s work on the walls, as a way of appreciating the students’ work and boosting their self-esteems. In turn, these students come to learn that questions can foster their learning process, and that experimentation and discovery are essential aspects of learning in the classroom. On the other side, some individuals criticize such teachers for being “too soft.” They say that students who are taught by such teachers may become overly – sensitive to criticism, and not be able to appropriately manage failures or challenges.

Considering both sides then, as emerging teachers it is critical for us to acknowledge the advantages and disadvantages of each of these teaching styles. Many say that for younger children, because learning is still much about the whole child and personal development rather than an academic focus, the concept of soft individualism is better to bring to the classroom. As children grow older and the academic work becomes more challenging and a greater focus, the concept of hard individualism is more appropriate so that students can learn how to grow from criticism and discipline. But in all, every teacher is unique and brings a different personality to the classroom. There is not one right or wrong method, the answer lies in what is most appropriate based on the teacher’s beliefs about what is best for his or her students and what style will bring out the best achievement and potential based on each child’s individual style of learning.

*Alisha Parikh is a first year student at Boston University School of Education studying early childhood education.

Finding my Roots: The ABCs of Effective Teaching

By Lauren Effune, SED 2014

Artwork by Jason Gan

Artwork by Jason Gan

It was 11:56 PM on February 10, 2014, the night before my first formal student teaching observation of the semester, and I was tossing and turning. Yes, according to teaching time, 11:56 is WAY past one’s bedtime. I was overthinking how my observation would go – trying to hypothesize every possible good or bad scenario that could happen during my lesson. Fellow student teachers, I’m sure you can empathize with me.And then after one flop from the left side of my pillow to the right, I had an “Aha” moment. I started to think of some of the most important lessons I learned as a child and being able to explain what a character trait is wasn’t one of them (not that that eased my anxieties about my observation in any way….)

I started to think about my parents and how they were my earliest teachers. They also were some of the most effective teachers I’ve had, despite the fact that neither of them holds a teaching license. So, what did they do back in the early ‘90s that has influenced my own beginning teaching today? Let’s go back to the ABCs of good teaching.

For one thing, they were perseverant about me achieving very specific goals. Lauren, it is NOT okay to pee in the flower bushes. You need to learn how to use the toilet just like everyone else – no exceptions.

They held unwaveringly high expectations about my potential to achieve such goals. I remember in second grade there was a specific spelling unit that I could not master the words (my guess? Definitely the homophones unit) What I do remember is my mom sitting through practice spelling test after spelling test with me until I got 100% of the words correct – nothing less.

They accepted that it was okay to make mistakes and even encouraged it, because that is ultimately how we as humans learn. Sorry about that time I drew on the wall when I was five and blamed it on my imaginary friends, Binky and Arthur. They learned their lesson and promise never, ever to do it again.

They were patient when things took a little longer to learn and didn’t try to force new skills upon me. I realized this lesson when I stumbled upon some home videos and heard myself calling the letter “w” “double-dee.” I didn’t quite hit the target at first, but with time and some guidance I seemed to have mastered the letter “w” just fine.

Most importantly, they taught new skills and life lessons to me with love and their utmost support. It is through this support that I pushed through 7th grade geometry, high school AP classes, and finally up to my last semester of my undergraduate education. Being supported means feeling confident enough to do all of the above –hold high expectations for yourself to achieve specific goals, be patient with yourself, make a few mistakes along the way, and finally achieve those goals.

And so, at this point, it was 12:11 AM and I shook my head at the thought of the fight with my alarm clock in 6 short hours. But, I shook my head feeling more relaxed. In college I’ve learned fancy-schmancy terms such as reciprocal teaching and explicit instruction (which are certainly important – don’t get me wrong!), but in that brief moment I was brought back to the ABCs of effective teaching.

So thanks, Mom and Dad. Your ABCs will always be in the back of my head as I take on the role as “teacher.”

Postscript: My observation went just fine!

* Lauren Effune is a senior at Boston University School of Education studying elementary and special education.

Our Major is not “Cute”

By AnneMarie Schiller, SED 2015

Meeting someone for the first time:

Non-SEDer: What school are you in?
SEDer: SED.
Non-SEDer: What’s that?
SEDer: *Sigh* The School of Education.
Non-SEDer: Oh.

…and/or

Student A: What’s your major?
Student B: Elementary education.
Student A: Oh, that’s cute! It must be so much fun.
Student B: *Awkward giggle, followed by silence* (Most likely infuriated.)

IMG_3047Yes, absolutely. The School of Education is a blast, and (in my biased-opinion) the most fun college on the Boston University campus. But please, never refer to the major of education as being “cute.” Contrary to popular belief, we are not assigned coloring pages for homework, and do not cut out shapes and letters in class. Do we get excited to prepare bulletin boards, projects or presentations that require artistic abilities? Absolutely- most of us love that stuff! But that is certainly a rarity, and is simply added on top of our normal workload, consisting of readings, papers, lesson plans, etc., and is by no means the only thing we do.

It is sad to admit, especially as a proud SED student myself, but it certainly feels as though students of other schools here at BU look down upon the School of Education. We should never feel ashamed to tell someone our major, or what school we are in, because I feel as though I can speak for a large majority of SED students when I say, we are immensely dedicated to the field of education, and proud of the careers we have chosen for our futures. However, the connotation that we do very little work, or deal with subjects that are aimed for elementary-aged children, can be quite disheartening at times.

While it is true that we are taking courses that pertain to grade levels we have already surpassed instead of dealing with harder-level material, it is not all that simple. We are not solely reviewing such information as if it is the first time we are learning it. No, we are learning how to teach it, and explain the content in ways that may be easily understood by our future students.

Photo Courtesy of AnneMarie Schiller

AnneMarie Schiller with her fifth grade class at Mason-Rice Elementary in Newton (Photo Courtesy of Schiller)

I can truly only speak on behalf of my own program at SED, as I am an elementary education major, pursuing a dual-licensure in special education; so I apologize for not representing all education majors. The majority of SED students take between sixteen and eighteen credits per semester, not including summer terms, which most students must partake in. Most semesters we spend at least one full day, typically 8 am to 4 pm in a classroom at a school off campus. Our typical week consists of about twenty hours of class, not including any homework or study periods. All-nighters are a common occurrence, and Starbucks keeps us alive ninety-nine percent of the time.

The bottom line is that we love what we do, and we are truly passionate about the road we have started down. Please do not dismiss us as any less than you, doing any less work, or putting in any less effort. Instead, take the time to talk to an education major, find out about our school, our program and our love. We are a lively bunch and I am sure that most any of us would be more than willing to enlighten you with what it is like to be part of the SED family.

*AnneMarie Schiller is a junior at Boston University School of Education studying elementary education.

Teacher Prep: Studying, Watching, and Experiencing Effective Instruction

By Colleen Mahany, SED 2015

Every time I look at the news I read about our failing public education system, our failing teachers, and our failing students. It seems like everybody has an opinion on how schools should be run, how teachers should be trained, and how students should be learning and achieving. While I would be setting myself up for failure to try to address all these topics in one sitting, I am comfortable in discussing one of my experiences in my teacher preparation journey in which I found meaning and success.

This semester I began a course entitled “Teaching of Reading.” This class examines reading development in childhood and early adolescence. We look extensively at research about literacy and discuss what the evidence means for effective instruction. Our discussions and studies culminate in the planning of reading instruction and lessons for diverse learners.

Each class we focus on a selected topic of reading instruction, such as motivation and engagement, and we take “virtual fieldtrips” to observe an instructional technique that relates to that topic. The discussions we have following the virtual fieldtrips are rich. We discuss what worked, what didn’t work, and what we would do differently if we were to teach that particular lesson. Our instructor challenges us to go beyond mere observations and link our thoughts and opinions to important educational research.

Artwork by Jason Gan

Artwork by Jason Gan

While the aforementioned model of connecting our studies and observations is an extremely helpful exercise, I have found the most meaning in the actions of my instructor. She often implements our instructional foci in her teaching with us. For example, one of our classes focused on the importance of scaffolding and cognitive modeling. Instead of simply partaking in and facilitating our discussion, which seems like a perfectly reasonable action for an instructor, she actively used a scaffold to structure our conversation. She drew a graphic organizer on a whiteboard with different categories of comments she expected us to look for as we took a virtual fieldtrip. Throughout the video and our discussion, we referred to the scaffold to focus our comments. Our task was clear, thus the resulting conversation was purposeful and thoughtful.

That same class my instructor also expertly demonstrated cognitive modeling. She gave us an assignment that needed to be completed for next class. Using cognitive modeling, she gave us an example of the type of work she expected. She explained her thinking aloud and showed us how she, personally, would structure the assignment. By giving us a window into her mind, we knew her expectations, our task was clear, and we were set up for success. For me, the anxiety and nagging sense of unease that sometimes accompanies graded assignments has greatly subsided because of my comfort in this class.

I could gush indefinitely about the ways my instructor effectively models the exact instruction she hopes we will implement in our student teaching and beyond. However, I will leave my patient readers with the bottom line; my instructor’s expert and intentional modeling of effective instruction and my subsequent positive experience as her student has made me all the more invested in immersing myself in effective reading instruction and my teacher preparation journey.

*Colleen Mahany is a junior at Boston University School of Education studying social studies education. 

Six Things I Would Tell Myself Going into College

By Jessica Gulotta, SED 2017

Looking back on this year, as a freshman, there are six key things that I’ve learned and would tell my recent high school graduate-self.

Think about what truly inspired you to do what you want

I always knew I wanted to be a teacher but I was never really sure what. I took biology in 10th grade and had literally the world’s best teacher. He completely inspired me to be a better person, student, and future educator. I thought that since I excelled so well in this class, that I was meant to teach biology. I ignored my innate ability to analyze readings and my love for writing because I was blinded by my inspiration from my biology teacher. I realized that my teacher planted a seed inside of me to be an influential educator; biology was just the outlet in which he did so.

Don’t peruse something based on the money you will make after college or the amount of jobs available to you

I’m planning on being a teacher, so I’ve pretty much accepted a not-so-glamorous life at this point. One reason I was holding onto science education, was because I knew I would get a job right out of college- we need good science teachers and schools are desperate for them. However, I spent most of my freshman year unhappy, studying things that I really wasn’t passionate about. It took me a long time to have the courage to admit that I was studying science for the wrong reasons and I needed to switch to English education.

Have faith in people, but don’t put your guard down too much

Photo Courtesy of Jessica Gullotta

Photo Courtesy of Jessica Gulotta

When you get to college, you’ll meet people you never had exposure to before. Good and bad. You’ll recognize good qualities in people; maybe because they remind you of your amazing, wonderful best friend from home, or maybe you just clique with them. However, you’ll also see sides of people that remind you of the people who you don’t want to be- acknowledge that. College is the time to pick and choose everything; you get to make all of your own decisions without any outside influence; don’t take that for granted. People are going to disappoint you and hurt you, but people are also going to surprise you with the good in them and show you that there are so many beautiful reasons to believe in good people. Keep those people close.

Find an outlet 

When work gets too consuming, sometimes we break down and forget that it’s just as important to take care of ourselves than it is to get our work done. Find something that makes you happy, while also positively influencing your life. First semester, my outlet was binge-watching Breaking Bad on Netflix; this was a black hole of no return. I started to convince myself that it was more important for me to watch five episodes of Breaking Bad in one night, rather than sleep. Don’t do this. Find an outlet that is good for you. Walk along the Esplanade, find a hidden coffee shop, go boxing, whatever it is, make sure it’s something that makes you happy and lets you escape.

There are no mistakes, only lessons learned 

You’re going to make mistakes. Maybe it’s pulling an all-nighter when you should have just studied in advance, or maybe it’s saying something hurtful to someone that you didn’t mean. Whatever it is, don’t think of yourself differently because of it. This is a huge change in your life and you’re going to do things slightly out of character. That’s not a bad thing. It helps put things in prospective and makes you realize the qualities in yourself that you want to hold onto.

Make sure you’re growing on your own

We often grab hold of people who we love. Sometimes this is a friend, family member, or boyfriend/girlfriend. When you get to college, you have to make sure that you’re able to grow on your own as an independent person. Don’t depend on anyone to make you happy because when you’re separated from that special person, you’ll be searching for happiness that you’ll only find when you’re with him or her. A big part of college is learning how to find ways to become a better best friend to yourself, and in that, we can find happiness in ways we hadn’t before experienced.

*Jessica Gulotta is a first year student at Boston University School of Education studying science education.

Learning from our Government: The Parallels Between the State of the Union and our Future Classrooms

By Claire Buesser, SED 2016
Written February 7th, 2014

President Obama recently gave his State of the Union Address. Eloquently written and remarkably presented, our country’s leader presented his goals and reflected on the progress (or lack thereof) his administration has made this past year. Amidst the planned pauses, the “please stand now” moments, and the impassioned pleas for equality, Obama weaved in clear messages to Congress and to Americans: Obama is fed up with Congress’ childish stalemates, and he thus promises to enact executive orders. He seemed to be saying “I have some pretty good ideas, and if you are all too stubborn to accept my ideas, I will find a way to get ‘er done!” I may not agree with all of Obama’s ideas, but I do share his admonishment at the stagnant nature of the Congress. I mean, a government shutdown? Really? Can’t you people agree on anything?

I bring politics into this discussion to highlight the parallels between the state of our union and my own education views. I want my future classroom to be a place for debate, discovery, compromise, and progress. But what I fear is that my classroom could become like the modern Congress – stubborn, unrelenting, and proud.

I want my students to form and reshape their world views in healthy ways. Sometimes politicians are judged for changing their stances – but what is the point of being a learned person if you stop learning and adjusting your personal frameworks? At what point should I decide to maintain my views until I die? I want to share this passion for learning and development with my students. From the most basic level, I want to challenge their views…but they have to be open to altering their schemas. We must create an environment in which students feel comfortable sharing their views, and then we can debate, posit, and consider. And then we may come to an agreement. But should we find that there is not one right answer to our question (i.e. moving from “why is the sky blue” to “what is courage?”), we must not view this as the end of our progress; rather, it is our signal to continue developing our ideas.

I want to show my students that we can make progress even amidst differing opinions; and we can do so without the need for executive orders. Naturally, as “president” of my class, I will have to strike the gavel occasionally. But as teachers, must we only act as master of the class? Can we have discussions with, not just to, our students? I think this is a large component of Obama’s frustrations: he wants to participate in meaningful discussions with his fellow “classmates” rather than yell at them for disobedience. Clearly, Obama’s administration does not adhere to a common class rule: “leave it at the door.” If you have alternate agendas, or worries like voter turnout or family bickering, try not to let that affect your engagement in the class (or Congress); rather, allow yourself to be present. I, in turn, plan on voting for my students. I will demonstrate my support as we work through the politics of elementary school and the politics of America.

What kind of President will you be? Will your Congress support each other or will they halt all progress? As teachers, we must model positive leadership and inspire collaborative learning; after all, the next president may be sitting in your classroom.

*Claire Buesser is a sophomore at Boston University School of Education studying elementary education.