Being illogical

It seems to be a major aspect of human nature that our ability to think logically is inversely proportional to how “close to home” we are. In other words, while the world might be crystal clear to us, we can often be completely off track when (if?) we think about ourselves.

Consider teaching. A personal epiphany occurred quite a while back during a graduate course, when I came out as a strong “director” in a teaching styles test. When I asked the lecturer about what to do he replied “Give it (teaching) away.” I reflected on this and continue to reflect.

I am now at the point where I get very frustrated with what I call the “Dead Poets’ Society” paradigm of teaching, in which the charismatic teacher inspires his/her students to great heights. While there are a lot of wonderful messages in the film, most of these seem to get overlooked in favour of the idea of the teacher as the focus of learning – in every depiction of a classroom on screen, the teacher is at the front of the classroom, filling the empty minds with knowledge. Of course, the teacher should model an enthusiastic, positive approach to learning, but that’s where Dead Poets ends.

All suitably qualified teachers have been to university, so we have a solid grounding in our subject matter. We may even have been exposed to some educational theory and practice about student learning. Those who took this into their classrooms are to be commended. But, knowing something, and being able to orally explain it so that all students understand it are not the same thing.

Somehow, particularly in secondary schools, the ancient method of transmitting knowledge orally is so firmly rooted in practice that it is taken as a truism that lecturing to students is an effective way for them all to learn – conversely, those students who do not succeed when subjected to this have “learning difficulties”.

classUntil the information revolution, the main sources of knowledge were schools, books and newspapers. But, even before the advent of computers, great teachers had their students working cooperatively using a range of resources, including the practice of simply going outside the classroom and/or school. John Dewey showed us how we should be teaching more than a hundred years ago.

There are some wonderful educators around the world whose work gives us all the tools we need to ensure that every one of our students learns to the best of his/her ability. The only difficult thing about using these tools is to change our paradigms. It is not logical, or effective, to talk every student through the same material at the same time, but millions of young people around the world are subjected to this every day. Surely, as a profession, we can do better?

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About MV Education Services

MV Education Services collaborates with governments, organisations, schools and teachers to develop authentic student learning and make a difference to communities, societies and the planet.
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2 Responses to Being illogical

  1. Nina says:

    You are very correct. And the root of the problem is that somehow teaching is simply understood as an act of providing information – which of course is far from the truth. This all derives from traditional teacher-centered practices, where teachers (as well as universities) are seen as keepers of knowledge. Very scary. Also very far from the reality of this modern age.

    We must acknowledge information obtained outside of the classroom and create opportunities for dynamic use of information, which of course means that we must allow more freedom and more choices for students. And let go of the idea of single one correct answer. The first step of changing the practice can be as simple as starting to use more open ended questions.

  2. Thank you Nina. I work with many teachers who simply cannot see that, not only is it usually unnecessary, but it is often harmful to learning for the teacher to control the pace of learning. I hope to be able to suggest changes in practices systematically in subsequent posts.

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