When a student leaves my classroom, they should not only know the content integral to the course, but be able to develop questions, assess information and morph it into pertinent recommendations. Learning how to think and assess information and situations is a skill beyond rote memorization, facilitating learning beyond what I can provide in the classroom. For example, to improve critical thinking in a greenhouse production course, a previously implemented primary literature review assignment was amended. Before students only answered questions about the manuscript including the objectives, treatments, the plant material used, major findings, and more. I added a significant portion to the manuscript summary asking the students what the practical significance this paper is to the industry. They were to write their answer as if they were giving a recommendation to a grower taking both the paper and what they have learned in class into account. Students were evaluated on the appropriateness of their language, the accuracy of their recommendation, its practicality, and the completeness of the recommendation. Over the course of the semester, their recommendations improved!
Creating a safe and synergistic learning environment is an integral component of my teaching philosophy. There is almost always a grain of truth in every answer. Finding that grain and kneading it into the main point of the question is important. After students turn in their primary literature review papers, I like to discuss the manuscript with the class. This allows me to provide informal and timely feedback as papers often take a considerable amount of time to grade. Armed with my notes on the paper and the enduring knowledge I would like the students to retain, the students form groups to discuss the main points of the manuscript. I visit the groups to ensure they are on the right track and make notes of groups that have great points. Coming back as a class, each group shares some of their ideas. This creates the opportunity for introverted and extroverted students to collaborate in a more sheltered and inviting environment. It is easier to share ideas with the class if your group members validate your idea and the instructor can pull the main point from it to create a lesson for the entire class. Facilitating students learning and watching them grow as horticulturists, thinkers, and people is why I teach. Helping people is one of the most fulfilling responsibilities one can have.