OK, dumb question in a world with no dumb questions! But I have to wonder how many of us teacher-folk really walk the walk. I’m reminded of this this week by my good friend, Leslie Maniotes who sent me this blog post which triggered a conversation about not only allowing students to think, but actually setting up the opportunities to force them to think. As I was aware of this, it also triggered some observations of my own practice and the practice of those that I work with.
The fact that a teacher is asking if we should encourage students to think should feel ridiculous. It’s school, and the students are there to learn. How can you learn if you don’t think? But the reality is that so many of our systems and behaviours actually get in the way of that. Standardized testing has been lambasted to death (or at least I would hope that it had died) as a practice that encourages memorization but not thinking. If I hear, “but it’s not in the textbook” one more time, I’ll likely find a high precipice to start practicing base-jumping from. Yet, we get in the students’ way, over and over again.
How many of us set up a class discussion with the hope of getting students to think and explore a topic themselves and then find ourselves jumping in to correct some misguided opinion, or simply add to the discussion? SHUT UP!!!! Let the students’ come to those realizations. Be patient, they will. Or if they don’t, ask more questions that might guide them, but don’t simply give them the information. Yes, it takes more time. Yes, they may get more lost before they find their way. But in the end, the learning and thinking that they’ve done in the process are much more powerful. Your job as a teacher, isn’t to provide information, it’s to push the students to their own learning.
How many of us set up that wonderful assignment that actually allows students to connect to a topic in a way that has personal relevance and then push personal agendas on the decisions students make? Yes, again it takes more time for students to make these connections, but by introducing personal pet interests to the discussion, students may see taking your topic as the easy way out or worse, as the way to please the teacher. If you truly value student autonomy in the choice of research topics, then SHUT UP!!!! Let them decide. Yes, you might have curricular demands that you have to meet, but ask the student to connect their interest to the curriculum, don’t do that for them. Let them think and figure it out for themselves.
How many other ways do we as teachers get in the way of our students’ thinking? I know that I do it all the time in the interest of saving time or because I act out of old patterns. I know that this is not a new topic, but it’s on my mind this week. Descending soap box…