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The United States Has Plenty to Learn About Learning

Learning

Many people come to the United States in search of a new beginning, greater opportunities, and to broaden their horizons. People enter our country with high expectations since we are a super power of the world and we have a higher standard of living, including the quality of education. Though many countries try to emulate how the United States implements education, there are many benefits to be gained from observing education across the globe. We, four students at Queens College, have experienced the positives and negatives of the United States higher education system first hand; we have experienced graduate students teaching classes where they do not care if you pick up the material or not. We have also experienced professors who have motivated us to work harder, dig deeper, and taught us in a way that made learning easier and even a bit fun. Thus, we have come to believe that the United States should consider foreign countries’ educational methods, emphasis on teaching preparation, and models of the teacher-student relationship.

Teaching Methods

What constitutes a “good” education? As college students, a factor that triumphs above all are the teaching methods. Schools may have limited resources due to lack of funding, but a school should not have limited amounts of active teaching. By active teaching we mean an intimate, engaging method of educating in which creativity and independence are encouraged. The problem is that lectures are often the most common teaching method used in the United States higher education system, however, this does not engage the student’s attention anymore. Recently, Slate published an article by Rebecca Schuman, a former professor, who argues that lectures should not be the main method of effectively teaching a subject because lectures only teach to the very few students that can teach themselves. In addition, a group of college students from the University of Illinois claimed that teachers should get to know their students instead of teaching in a way that does not work with them. They stated that lectures are a detached activity between a teacher and student: sitting in a lecture hall with a professor reciting a PowerPoint is not an effective teaching method and is no longer appealing (if it ever was).    

Students have different learning techniques. Lecture halls aren’t for everybody. Today’s students learn better when they are truly engaged in the topic that is being taught. Countries around the world, such as Finland, have created school reforms which emphasize the importance of providing active learning for students. In “What we can learn from Finland’s successful school reform,” Linda Darling-Hammond describes how, in Finland, it is a rare sight to see a teacher lecturing their students. Instead of sitting through an entire lecture, students are more likely to be out of their seats as they conduct workshops, work with other students in small groups, and most importantly, ask their teachers questions enabling open discussions. But the United States has its proponents of active learning as well, including many of the Hybrid Pedagogy authors. For example, Cathy Davidson, a CUNY professor, currently applies active learning techniques in her own classroom and has proven how beneficial it can be for a student’s success. Colleges should take into account Davidson’s low-cost suggestions to create student-centered, engaged classrooms.

Studies have shown that active learning has a significant impact on student performance. Active learning encourages students to learn the material and consider how the knowledge will help them grow, not just focusing on graduation requirements that will get them a decent job in the long run. It promotes getting students involved and synthesizing information with the help of hands-on activities. Unfortunately, many students in the United States feel discouraged sitting in a lecture hall where they are simply part of the audience instead of an active participant. It is time for the U.S. higher education to recognize how we feel as students and to change how lectures are the most commonly used teaching method. It is time to evolve with modern time.

Emphasis on Teaching Preparation

Surprisingly, research has found that countries who invest a lot in education are not guaranteed to have the best academic performance. The United States isn’t an exception. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in comparison with other G20 countries, the United States was reported as the highest total spender on education. Although educational spending is essential, the most relevant aspect of spending for education is how the budget is spent. Other countries invest money into their education differently than the United States and end up with better results. OECD studies indicate that the countries with the best performance in education are those that invest the most in their teaching faculty and staff. Examples of this are found in Canada and Finland. Canada surpasses the United States in teacher preparation and Finland leads the most qualified teaching training around the world. Both Canada and Finland rank above the United States in quality of education.

In “Why Students in Some Countries Do Better” , Ludger Woessmann explains that even though the relation between school assets and performance is vague and per-student spending does not reflect a positive outcome in performance, having the adequate instructional materials and experienced, knowledgeable educators do indicate beneficial outcomes. We strongly believe that teachers must receive constant training to keep themselves updated with our ever evolving society to teach their students in the best possible ways and to design and develop educational plans according to their resources. For example, we would like to see teachers integrate digital literacy into their classes, promoting the critical and creative use of technology to meet the changing demands of today’s society.

Models of the Teacher-Student Relationship

Nowadays, many American educators have forgotten how to care for their students. Teaching good content alone is not enough to properly educate; teachers must reemphasize caring for their students and getting familiar with the way they learn. This alone enables teachers to speak to their students like they would to a friend, and students to listen in the same way, maximizing communication and respect, along with increasing care for the topic they are learning. Other countries, such as the Dominican Republic, make it a point to focus on the relationships teachers have with their students to help their students get the best education they can.

One of the authors of this article came from the Dominican Republic to pursue her second bachelor’s degree. She was used to interacting with teachers who are passionate about what they are teaching and care about their students:  they knew their students’ names, created close bonds with their students and did their best to provide the necessary information and advice to help their students to thrive in their fields. Coming from a country with limited resources for education to a country that is considered to have the highest education standards, and to then hear a college professor saying on the first day of class, “I am a doctoral candidate and the program I am in requires that I teach a class. You don’t have to come in for class, you just have to come in for the exams,” made the student feel frustrated and very disappointing. One problem in the United States higher education system is that while teaching is required for most doctoral programs, Ph.D. students often have minimal training in teaching methods. Professors teach many classes for minimal pay, making it difficult for them to provide that crucial kind of attention that students often receive in the Dominican Republic.

 

The purpose of education in the U.S. has shifted from growth to survival. People only care about what will get you a job and not necessarily what will make you more enlightened about your environment. Despite being one of the most powerful countries in the world, we are still lacking in effective methods for education. There are many educational methods across the globe that we can implement on ourselves. Active learning allows for students of all learning types to truly participate in class, and make a deeper connection with whatever is being taught. Improved attention to teacher preparation better equips professors for the multitude of learning styles they will encounter from classroom to classroom. A more personal relationship between teacher and student raises the respect and passion behind every classroom interaction. Our system is overdue for an overhaul. Educational requirements should be altered to keep students in classes where they will succeed instead of in classes that do not hold their interest. Our budget should be examined and distributed as evenly as possible amongst our educational faculty, to motivate teachers to motivate students. It is safe to say that the United States still has plenty to learn about learning.

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