Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Who can tell me?

Authentic class discussions are an important part of real learning. The teacher's role should at most play as an artful guide. If a stranger were to walk in the room, they might even have a hard time finding the teacher. Because teaching can often be more about listening, it is important that the teacher's voice not dominate the discussions.

Rather than hearing the teacher asking "who can tell me..." in a kind of fishing expedition for 'right' answers and seeing students sitting in rows with their finger tips stretching for the ceiling as they yelp "ooh, ooh, ooh", you would see students looking and responding to each other while the teacher plays no more than an equal member of the conversation.

Critics of this idea might suggest kids shouldn't be given a blank cheque and that they need the teacher's help to learn.

And I agree.

When traditional schooling is challenged, too often defenders of traditional practices bully a kind of false dichotomy. Either you are for the controlling and dominating teacher who dictates the learning or you are for a teacher who sits at his desk in fear of 'interferring' with the children's learning as they run amok. When phrased like this, even I prefer the former to the latter.

The good news is that dictatorships or anarchy are not our only choices.

For more on my take on this topic, see this article: If only students would STOP raising their hands.


  1. As a teacher I would teach listening skills crucial for class discussions. Instead of debate or argument I would adopt Edward de Bono's concept of parallel thinking where everyone thinks together first looking at the positives of an idea, then the minuses , and looking for anything interesting - his PMI tool to help kids be exploratory and not just critical. Design and creative thinking , problem solving needs coperative and collaborative learning. de Bono's 6 hats is another great tool.These tools provide structure and enable kids to wear diffrent types of thinking hats.

  2. I really love using the Socratic Seminar format to discuss science. Sometimes the conversations stray from where I thought they should go but they end up being so much richer for it!


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