As mid-summer preparations for the 2015-2016 school year begin, it behooves us to pause and consider the ways Latino students enter public school classrooms having already internalized certain norms about how to behave in class. As most teachers can attest to, too often, those internalized norms frustrate their expectations for student participation and engagement.
As mid-summer preparations for the 2015-2016 school year begin, it behooves us to pause and consider the ways Latino students enter public school classrooms having already internalized certain norms about how to behave in class. As most teachers can attest to, too often, those internalized norms frustrate their expectations for student participation and engagement. It is worth considering how, as classroom teachers, we contribute to, and/or exacerbate, the student participation and engagement “problem” by failing to explicitly articulate our expectations, the relevancy of their participation and engagement and, most importantly, how to participate and engage. Thus begging the question:How can we, as educators, help our Latino students create a deeper understanding of informed decision-making that is applicable to not only studying, but for the daily use of rational thought and action?
Let’s get specific with regards to what becoming “educated” or “thinking for oneself” truly means. Distinguished Professor Richard W. Paul states that “education is a process of deciding for ourselves what to believe and do. It implies a self-motivated action upon our own thinking and a participation in the forming of our own character. It is a process in which we learn to open our mind, to correct and refine it, to enable it rationally to learn; thus to empower it to rule over its own knowledge, to gain command over its own faculties, to achieve flexibility, fair-mindedness, and critical exactness.” The process of becoming educated empowers an individual with the incredible ability to control the meaning she assigns to things and the meaning she allows things to have. Why is this important? The meaning our Latino students assign to the world around them will ultimately control what they will accomplish in life, as well as determine the quality of their life.
To encourage our Latino youth’s ability to think for themselves mandatorily requires that they, first, be trained as students, i.e. develop the requisite skills, habits and strategies of a competent student. For instance, inculcating decision-making techniques that illuminate salient aspects of student development and are necessary to promote classroom participation and engagement. By focusing on and capturing student interest, inside and outside of their classroom time, the student will be afforded the opportunity to rehearse on a daily basis the following decision-making techniques: 1) purposeful listening; 2) “articulated” long term goal setting as a daily guided reflection; 3) mental preparation for losing; and 4) improving focus and clarity. All the aforementioned decision-making techniques can and should be integrated in the minds of our Latino students. Once implemented, students are empowered to develop self-motivation.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a French philosopher, brilliantly captures the importance of emotion and spontaneous self-expression in his statement: “I felt before I thought.” Why is emotion and spontaneous self-expression, in contrast to structured and rational thinking, relevant to developing a strategy for student learning? Simply put, “I felt before I thought” captures the ambiance of a classroom of adolescent teenagers prior to the commencing of instruction. As humans, our perceptions, or more commonly our misperceptions, of the world we live in determine how we feel about ourselves. This results in us typically looking for things outside ourselves to help control our mental state and feelings. Our self-esteem is substantially tied to what we convinced ourselves certain things mean. To “capture student interest” we must seek to understand the different beliefs of the students in our classrooms. Everyone holds their own unique set of beliefs and attempts to question or change these beliefs will only prove frustrating. We must seek out and work with our students to understand their beliefs. If our students perceive their teachers as having beliefs similar to their own, or even having such beliefs recognized, they will be much more likely to accept the instruction and the teacher will ultimately achieve more success in her instruction and obtain greater professional satisfaction. It is therefore fundamentally critical that to capture student interest in their own education, educators must deliver a decision-making methodology that enables any student to decide for themselves what they want out of high school, college and/or trade school and provide them with the tools to map out a plan to make it happen.
Successful Latino and minority role models share a common eureka insight. Mainly, the moment they realized that how they felt about themselves was determined by how they controlled their mind. This eureka insight, the ability to direct your mind and control your emotional/psychological states, was the impetus prompting such role models to confront challenges and cease their past practice of denying their own personal convictions in favor of adopting the convictions of others. Latino and minority role models alike share the common experience that, as students, they developed courage to deal with adversity and/or failure. Sometimes this even meant embarrassing themselves because the actions they took were grounded on their well defined beliefs, values and priorities. They identified, nurtured and protected their own feelings, pride and needs. They made time to reflect upon who they were as individuals, what direction they wanted to pursue in their life and took the necessary steps to make such pursuits come to fruition. It is through this ability to direct their minds and control their emotional and psychological states that helped them adapt and not “drop-out” (the “courageous mindset,” if you will).
This perseverance and commitment to their own convictions gave these role models the confidence to develop the necessary “grit” and “persist” in their chosen goals and aspirations. It is only through a genuine, unique and true understanding of yourself, what you value and the ability to accurately express those values, through your morals, ethics and lifestyle, that allowed such role models to have a greater probability of staying with and completing their educational process.
As you prepare for your fall semester and contemplate ways to help your Latino students understand the relevancy of your course, consider the importance of classroom engagement and participation as a mode of learning substantive course information, as well as a way to become “educated” (i.e., learning to think for themselves). Student development skills need to be substantively taught with one major goal: to give students practice in thinking like a student. As a result, students learn not only how to interact and behave in the classroom, but also how to identify, refine and improve their study skills, habits and strategies. Through this mode of instruction, students come to see the significance of student development thinking both in their own personal lives and in their lives as citizens. Student classroom participation and engagement, in the student’s transformed mind, is no longer a set of strict and boring rules made up by instructors they do not relate to, but rather a method of self-managing how they feel about themselves and how they choose to view the world they interact with. In short, a way to think and make smart decisions in the present and plan for the future.