My Epistemological Beliefs as a Social Science Major

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A photo of my nephew when he was still a baby.

First, I believe C.S. Lewis when he wrote in his book “Miracles” that it’s actually hard to take any person–even a scientist–so seriously when he or she claims to be so sure about all the details of a particular element or topic that he or she would disregard other possibilities. I believe researchers would also agree on this. Even the subject Calculus may be appreciated or perceived by a mathematician as if he or she knows all about it, but a social science major may offer historical, social, and political insights as to the development of the subject (even if the social science major may find it hard to make the necessary calculations using the formulas given by the mathematician on the subject).

 

I believe that knowledge can be both certain and relative. It seems more certain when there seems to be a legitimate authority that affirms it. As a social science major, I perceive that the legitimate authority can be the Supreme Court, Houses of Congress, the President and his or her executive departments, and the top established institutions of the time of inquiry. History also shows that religion may find its way in justifying or legitimizing a particular knowledge and authority.

 

However, I do acknowledge that even those said sources of certainty may be wrong both in the time a subject was inquired of and the in the times and generations that came before or would come after. This why I would not cancel out the possibility of error and the chances wherein the knowledge deeply held today for a particular time and context is actually relative.

 

But I do believe in a Higher Authority or Being that would help teach us all things pertaining to truth, life, and godliness (Jn. 14:26), and would continue even if we do not get His messages immediately. He has His own learning objectives and pedagogies that He can pursue and implement with all the resources available for Him to use.

 

How have these beliefs been facilitating or inhibiting to the ways I learn?

 

They facilitate my learning by knowing that I do not know everything, which is why I must continually study and even seek out knowledge, whether new or fresh, from others. I may also seek out for insights. This can be true even for topics I feel comfortable about and even if I majored in them. This is more so because my M.A. degree is in Transformational Leadership, and we were taught to be in the look-out for ideas and methods that we can use to help develop communities if they prove to actually work for the benefit of our objectives regardless of the formal expertise of the source of those ideas and methods. Then, we can always analyze it later through scientific inquiry.

 

These beliefs inhibit me from learning when I do not feel motivated to achieve or know something because, after all, there is a possibility that I could never get all aspects of it at once. This is especially if I have short-term objectives and I need quick understanding.

 

To overemphasize on religion may let me produce insights that even my religion actually discourages. To base everything from the three branches of Government may confuse me, especially when there is a political or constitutional crisis or disagreements among them. What if at least one of them capitalize on fake news or false information? That can also be a problem.

 

To have my understanding in total agreement with the top-most and sophisticated universities may let me know more about theoretical stuff without knowing how to apply them properly, and I may find myself inadequate in imparting them to others if I do not have the opportunities and other resources my training tells as necessary for me to achieve my learning or teaching objectives.

 

My own beliefs may discourage me to learn because I believe I cannot know everything. Even if I know everything that can be known today, it doesn’t mean that I can know everything that can be known before and after a hundred years have passed!

 

Because I am aware of my limitations, I may delve only to topics and discussions I deem as necessary for me to achieve my own learning and professional goals. Aside from that, I can say that I would only learn them by chance or because I have modified my goals.

 

So how do I deal with this? I was advised to take one step at a time, especially now that I have been feeling mixed emotions and some health concerns. Perhaps, right now, I am looking for peace of mind while I am told to achieve basic professional requirements such as passing the Licensure Examination for Teachers (LET) as soon as possible.

 

I am learning to take one day at a time as I look forward to the future even today.

 

P.S. I am not so sure if I have to put other punctuation marks in the sentence I wrote before this.

 

Reference:

 

Lewis, C.S. (2009). The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. New York, New York: HarperCollins.

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Reflecting on My Class Performance Task vs. Exam Content Tactic

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A photo of me with my former college students who are now my co-teachers in Senior High School.

For lack of better terms, what I meant with the title of this eJournal is a style which I–together with some colleagues–have operated with in our Senior High School social science subjects. This focuses more on the instructional design aspect of the subjects we are teaching.

 

I believe that if we want to develop Higher-Order Thinking Skills (HOTS), we must involve students in performance tasks where they could apply what they learned in its actual, practical context or at least give them the opportunity to elaborate their informed ideas–whether through recitation or essay–with the necessary references cited somehow.

 

NOTE: Before I go on further, it must be noted that the grading system for Senior High School gives Performance Task (PT) a total of 50% of the total grade, while exam and other written works (e.g. quizzes) are given only 25% for each for all core subjects. For non-core subjects, PT is given 45%, written works are allotted 25%, and exams comprise 30% of the total grade. In any case, there is much weight on the performance task.

 

Last year, in the first semester that our educational institution operated Senior High School, we had students write papers, journals, and even essays in both quizzes, performance tasks, and exams.

 

Although we have seen that this is beneficial for students to elaborate their perspectives, we found that this can be really tiring, especially for teachers like us who were used to teach in college–where there are less forms and documentations to consider for almost every aspect of our work, both inside and outside the classroom. Add to this, the burden of the possibilities that a student may be given a failing grade due to poor references used, improper citation, poor spelling, and poor grammar–which, at times, affect the substantial meaning of the concepts they wish to convey. There was also a time when the references some students used were hoax or fake news.

 

This is why some of us created instructional design schemes.

 

As for the essay work, some of us chose to just do recitation instead. This would be counted as performance task. However, it must be noted that there are some subjects that cannot completely avoid having students pass essays (e.g. psychology-related subjects can still require weekly journals). Yet, there are subjects where the objectives of an essay can better be done through recitation or the passing of student-made videos. This would somehow help teachers grade their works better and faster. Why? Because the idea of coming across wrong spellings (even for words that sound sort of similarly but are spelled differently and also do not mean the same thing, for example, the words “wander” and “wonder”), substantial grammatical errors, and poor citations can be easily corrected or avoided during in-class recitations, role play, or report. These can also be done in groups.

 

Also, in our school, some teachers were allowed to have 50% of an exam derived from a performance task the students would do in full knowledge that what they are doing is part of the exam. Instead of having essays, a teacher did individual verbal examinations. Another teacher also had students perform a mini-produced role play, theatrical performance, or skit for his subjects on religion and arts.

 

As for the substitute for practical-actual in context performance tasks, I am not sure as to how exactly they can be substituted, especially if the situation requires students to go off-campus if there are no in-campus equipment or facility to do the performance task, however the school administrators are disposed to usually not approve off-campus curricular activities. This is quite sad, especially for passionate social science teacher like me who can suggest so many off-campus activities or trips students can visit, interview, and the likes for them to appreciate culture, society, and politics even more. However, I could not do everything I wish – even the mere going to the National Museum, which is one jeepney ride away from our school, if administrators would keep on not approving my off-campus activities. In fact, the Malacanang Palace that offers free Presidential Museum and Library tours on a first-come-first-served basis is more accessible and near to our school, however even that did not push through when I recommended it.

 

I wrote all of those to convey that there can be many pedagogies used to develop HOTS for students. However, I am still wondering if essay can actually be avoided, in Senior High School, if we can due to the demands of the workload of teachers. It’s weightier than the workload of college professors. The stress and pressure experienced by Senior High teachers like me, I think, can affect as to how we grade students’ activities. I know it may be hard to lessen the forms, because even those forms achieve a pedagogical and legal objective.

 

I am just saying that I believe that there can be several ways to develop the critical/analytical thinking skills of students. It’s just that, since Senior High School is new, and I am more comfortable teaching in college, I feel that I have to make a scheme as to how to let the students develop HOTS as I also note and attend to my other responsibilities as a teacher, aside from teaching.

 

I wrote this eJournal also to solicit the thoughts and opinions of my classmates here in UPOU as I reflect on the pros and cons of the instructional design schemes that I am inclined to do.

 

Moreover, all of these make me realize that I do need a mentor, I do need to continue studying for me to become a better teacher, and I may need to join professional organizations to help me gain fresh insights regarding the content and application of what I teach in different contexts and given the limited resources and opportunities available for me and my students.

Lee Kwan Yew or Lee Min Ho, What Students Know

Last week, I asked my students if they–in their generation, since most of them were born in the year 2000 and so–are aware of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew. In some of the classes, I spelled out his name on the chalkboard. In other classes, I simply mentioned his name verbally. Nevertheless, in all of my classes where I mentioned Lee Kwan Yew, most students associate his name with the South Korean actor Lee Min Ho.

 

Before I mentioned Lee Kwan Yee to them, I was discussing about the need to look for and maximize the opportunities that are available to them right now for their career. We were talking about social and political changes, and how the opportunities we utilize can affect our future. When I was spelling out the word “opportunities” on the chalkboard, there were others who seriously thought I was going to write “Oppa” with allusion to “Oppa Gangnam Style” and to the term itself, which in South Korea is a term used by a girl to refer to a man older than her (but not ten years or so) as a word of respect. This is because they always watched Korean movies, not the translated ones but those they can watch online in their original language–only with translated subtitles. Prior to the start of this semester, I saw posts of different students–and even my own cousins who are already college graduate working professionals–them wanting to watch Korean movies! This may be an indicator of how their minds process words and social phenomena in their cognitive development, as well as what we can expect of the constructs they have formed prior to coming to class.

 

When I am communicating a point, making analogies, and even cracking a joke, sometimes I make reference to movies I have watched (e.g. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Indiana Jones, Elvis Presley movies, et cetera) or songs that became my favorites while growing up (e.g. songs by Elvis Presley, Engelbert Humperdinck, Frank Sinatra, et cetera). Sometimes, I would make allusions to the late actor screen named FPJ! However, I realized that some of my students could not anymore relate to my concepts, thus fail to grasp the understanding of the concepts I am trying to share.

 

I could simply dismiss them as “uncultured” or that they lack fine, sophisticated taste in their choice of art (although I must admit that some of my choices also belong to what certain Filipinos call as “bakya” crowd during their time). However, this presents to me a challenge of what they actually know due to their collective experiences, which after they have processed them, affect their cognitive processes and value-systems they bring and operate with in class.

 

To balance my previous examples, I would also like to state that there are instances when I am talking about a particular topic, however students connect or relate it with another concept or topic that is not directly involved with what I am discussing but they find it easier to understand, remember, or memorize our topics if they relate it with those concepts they see can relate it to, whether because of their reflected experiences, similar spellings, similar uses, and somehow with those they sound alike.

 

All of those are said to point out that I have in my classes students who are born in the 21st century, and even if I am at least five or six years older than them (because I was born in 1995, and that year still belongs to the 20th century), I observe in my classes the reality that they are different than me.

 

Before, I remember, I get upset when my teachers in college do not know how to use the technology we were using from 2008 to 2012. However, today, I found myself asking my students to help me use technologies that were updated or being used by them today.

 

I think it is a challenge for both learner and teacher-facilitator to assimilate a concept, accommodate it so that both older and newer concepts can make sense in their proper context, and achieve a state of equilibrium–although at some point of those three processes, there may be a state of disequilibrium.

 

Right now, I am asking myself on how I would impart the concepts I must teach them this week, based from the cognitive processes or concepts they have manifested to have known or not know. This might be a good scaffolding experiment or endeavor if I would teach them the basic concepts first before moving on to the next. More so, I believe I must see their Zone of Proximal Development to know how to bring them to the point I want them to be in from where they are now. This is why there are days when I simply ask students to share what know without any harmful consequence to their grades. If there are wrong concepts or associations, I may then insert concepts that either implicitly or explicitly say to convince them to accommodate a new knowledge or understanding.

 

Pedagogy in facilitation may sometimes need to adjust to what the students actually know rather than surprise them with concepts without tapping their current knowledge, whether or not what they know is directly related. I am still amazed how people can possible learn new concepts based from other concepts that a scholar may find it hard to relate them. I think I have to read more research or studies on this.

 

If, with a clear conscience, I can watch the movie, see the photo, or hear the song that affect their cognitive processes, I would–given that I have both time, resources, and willingness to do it.

 

Generally, I must always know where students are coming from and reach them out from there. The kinds and forms of produced art and literature (e.g. movies, song, paintings, origami, et cetera) they like or have been exposed to may help us know their mental processes, or at least the background where they are coming from.