Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

Creating Space for Learning

Shewmaker with students

One of the most enjoyable aspects of moving from practicing school psychology to teaching and training students, and then to serving as a teaching consultant for college faculty members, has been my increasing awareness of the joy of teaching.

When working with students, I see myself as a guide and mentor. When choosing books,  creating learning activities or leading class discussions, it is always my goal to provide students with the best opportunities for learning. But how do we, as teachers, do that?

I’ll tell you the ways I try to do that. I want to help the student apply difficult concepts to knowledge or skills that she’s already learned. I also need to help the student apply whatever theories or concepts we’re trying to learn to real life experiences. It’s especially important to think  about issues that are important to the student him or herself. I try not to provide students with direct answers to their questions, but instead, guide them through the different theories or concepts that we have been discussing in class to help them decide where they stand on significant and controversial issues. For example, in my Child Psychology course, we talk about different ways parents might respond to common misbehavior from their children. A lot of my students may have grown up receiving only one type of discipline, so as we think about how they’re going to work with families, they need to be able to think about all of the different kinds of techniques that they may be helping a family choose and learn to use. This might range from allowing natural consequences to occur to identifying consequences provided by the caregiver, such as time out.

The learning activities, class discussions, and assignments I develop focus on helping the student think through the important issues in the field of psychology, and then decide what they themselves think about these issues. In order to do that, I make my classrooms active learning environments.  We do things like reflective writing, debates, student led presentations, class discussions, and case studies. In this series on Creating Space for Learning, I’ll share some strategies for active learning, including the use of the practices of creativity and contemplative pedagogies.

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