As I start out this course on instructional strategies, I am reading Student Engagement Techniques: a Handbook for College Faculty, by Elizabeth F. Barkley. Within the first four chapters, I am already seeing the strong argument being made for the teacher to step down from the front of the classroom, and take a role as designer of learning moments instead of dumper of learning information.
I have seen this happen in my own experience, both where the teacher was not concerned about showing off how smart they were, and have had instructors that were all about the lecture. I can tell you, I excelled in the first class, and did terribly at the second.
One of the biggest differences is that I wanted to do well in the first class. I felt engaged, and could see the content of what I was learning linking to the skills and knowledge needed for success in my career path. I wanted to go and apply those skills in the world, proving the relevancy of what I was learning.
In the second class, the skills and knowledge was actually just as useful and relevant, however, the way that it was presented seemed to be distant, and unreachable. Sure, the teacher sounded smart, but was unable to figure out that lecturing at us was not teaching us, but talking at us. I walked away from the class forgetting most of what was said.
I am not trying to suggest that lectures are not important, and cannot work. Depending on the course content, sometimes a good lecture style delivery can be appropriate and even refreshing from all of the group work that happens. For me, I think that a blended approach is so much more valuable, especially if there is a lot of new information that needs to be shared, and new information that might be more difficult to break down than what can be delivered in a five minute group breakout project. As a side note, I have also been in classes where it seems all we do is break into groups to discuss, our own thoughts, and share back with the group. It feels that the teacher has nothing to contribute themselves, so makes the group do all the work.
It really comes down to balance. We come to class because we hope the teacher has something to share, to empower and grow us. But we do not want to be lectured to, or talked at. We want to be active partners in the learning process, and yes, partners, not just participants, and not doers of all the work.
So what does that mean for me? It means that as I develop curriculum, lesson plans, and maybe even a short lecture or two, I need to be asking myself how are the students going to be engage, active partners in this learning moment, not just how will I get this information across.
The changing education…Sadly, even though I hear so many great stories of inspiration in education, I do not see the change happening at the same speed of the world. There is a struggle happening between economics and the real world, and how to survive in it. Years ago, it was enough to have a high school diploma, and sometimes not even that. Then it was not enough, and a Bachelors was needed. Now it is moving into the time and age where Masters and Doctorates are needed. Please don’t get me wrong, I do not think that MA’s and PHD’s are not worth the effort. Sure enough, in the right field I would want nothing short of a PHD. However for those to get ahead in life, education is one of the best weapons. Until you get to the stage where you are overeducated for the position you want, so you are seen as unhireable, or too costly, or sometimes you have all the education but none of the real world experience needed either. What a double edged sword! We encourage booksmarts to the point where we have leaders who have lost all streetsmarts too. There must be a balance, and I fear the pendulum is not swinging in the way of balance.
Sir Ken Robinson shares great perspectives on this in his video however the video stops before any real solution comes out. There needs to be a change of perspective, and a change of culture, and I believe it can be done, but it will take several generations before we are truly there. I don’t have the answers either, although I would love to be a part of the change. I hope that my own teaching strategies help address and change this culture.
There is another great article that addresses the culture behind our lifestyles, including our education. http://www.raptitude.com/2010/07/your-lifestyle-has-already-been-designed/
Anna Coote, from the London New Economics Foundation speaks to this as well, and challenges us to rethink society, and what makes us happy. Our education, our work, and our lives, are in the fast lane, built on economics, and not balance. How many things, stuff, dictates the standards of living? We work hard to earn money to collect and gain stuff. We need education to have the jobs that pay so that we can buy and collect stuff. Do we need it all? Where is the true worth of education if this pressure was taken away? (here’s a clip of her thoughts:” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IMYV31tZZ8)
So how do we change our culture? It can start in all aspects of our lives, including in our education system.
I am an introvert, living in an extroverted world. The more I age, the more I realize that I am an introvert. This is not to say that I am shy, or timid. Nor does it mean that I do not like people. In fact, I really love people, and when asked what I am passionate about, I often will say I am passionate about people. I love hearing their stories, watching them interact, seeing what makes them thrive. But if you look at those verbs, hearing, watching, seeing…these are very passive, introverted ways of interacting. I have no problem interacting with people, and I hope I don’t being that I am in retail. I have no problem being on stage talking to large groups of people. However, at the end of the day, I feel “peopled out.” I need to spend time with myself, regroup, recharge, refresh.
Susan Cain has written a wonderful book on the power of introverts, and has given a TED talk about it, as viewed above. As I watched, I pulled out a few of her key concepts.
1. Introversion is not about how shy you are, but more how do you respond to stimulation. This means that we need to put ourselves in a zone of stimulation that’s right for us, whether in class, work, or life situations
2. Solitude matters. She calls it the transcendent power of solitude, and later made the point “No wilderness, no revelations.” In our new culture based on the evolution of business and economy, we no longer work and live with the same people we grew up with, and now everyday we are having to prove ourselves in front of strangers.
So what does this mean? What are the implications? Thankfully Susan gives us some ideas:
1. “Stop the madness for constant group work!” This is not to say that group work is a bad idea, since many amazing ideas come from collaboration and shared ideas. Instead, we need to ensure we are allowing much more freedom for privacy, much more autonomy, and the opportunities to have solitude for thought. We need to teach introverts how to work together, but we also need to teach extroverts how to work on their own.
2. Go to the wilderness, unplug, get inside our own heads.
3. Take a good look into what’s in your suitcases and why did you put it there. What is important to us? What are we carrying around with us? And how do we share that with those around us.
Looking back at some of my blogs and journals, it only confirms that I am an introvert, and have an aversion to so much group work. I can admit, however, that group work has it’s place, and is a useful tool. As any carpenter can tell you though, a hammer can place a screw into the wall, but it wont work as well as the right tool will. In the classroom, are we using hammers when we should be considering other tools as well?