Teaching Can Look Different


Teaching Can Look Different

There is the impression that teaching looks a certain way.  That a student is made ready to learn, and that a teacher delivers knowledge to children. Through practice and repetition, a child can know a great many things.

I want to believe that there are alternatives.

I think teaching can look like this: that a student is encountered with a question or idea, researches that endeavor with or without help, and that new ideas are created and used along the way.  Through self-motivated investigation, a child can know how to have ideas and to think critically.

I want to believe that this is what we want for children and all people who receive education.

A Scenario

I imagine that if a child asked me five or six years ago how to write his name, I would spend enough time with him until the child wrote down every letter, in the correct sequence, legibly, and with an exactness that could be repeated.  That is very useful to the child.  That is what he asked for.  There is value in that kind of teaching.

But that is not the kind of teacher I now aspire to be.  I would not respond in that way.

If a child asked me now how to write their name, I would ask a question.  Something like, “Well, what letters do you know are in your name?” or “What sounds do you hear?” And from there I would let the child experiment with his name.  Playing with letters in a way that a child could manipulate, perhaps present some magnets or writing tools.  Perhaps I could focus on the sounds and record different letter sounds to listen to and manipulate in some way.  We would reflect on the work that was done, and decide how to move forward.  I am still honoring the request to learn how to write the name, but in a very different way.

What Am I Thinking?

I am thinking more about a process to not only write a name, but to write anything.  There is an immediate jump to thinking about a bigger picture, about pursuing a bigger idea.

I am thinking more about a process for thinking.  That through questions, investigations, and a reconstruction of previously held notions, I am actually teaching how to think rather then how to do without thinking.

I am thinking more about starting from what the child knows about a subject rather than what I know.  In that sense, the child is building on what they know, reconstructing whatever they find to clash with their beliefs, and then building some new idea.

I am thinking about the point where new ideas are created.  I am not frightened by (Actually, I even encourage) mistakes.  By finding out that our ideas are valid and useful as starting points to learning, I am hoping that an intrinsic motivation for learning is fostered.

I am thinking about creativity and imagination as a goal.  Instead of promoting a preciseness or exactness to thinking, I am promoting a way to simply have ideas.  Instead of one answer, I would love to see 300 answers to a question.

I am thinking about how the child can take thinking, learning, and motivation into their own hands.  How can I expect that the child’s learning starts and ends with me or any other teacher they have?  It is their own responsibility and the child should view it as such.

It as is if a child wanted to learn to play the guitar.  I could give a guitar with one string.  The child can get some use out of what that one string can do.  In and of itself, that string is something that can be used.  I’d rather give the child all the strings.

It as if a child asked for something to write with.  I could give a pencil.  That pencil is a good tool for writing.  I’d rather give the child a stocked inventory of art media with which to write.

I’d rather teach children how to get answers as opposed to giving the answers.

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2 Responses

  1. Bundy says:

    Sounds like you’d be a supporter of Montessori education. Is that the case or is it a little extreme for your taste?

  2. David Oh says:

    Hey Bundy,

    Thanks for joining the conversation!

    The quick answer to your question is actually yes. I do support Montessori education and other forms of progressive education.

    The longer answer to this is that I am not necessarily against direct teaching or teacher centered approaches or really any form of pedagogy. What I want to drive home is that there are alternatives and options to how education is done. I think a lot of people have a limited scope or perspective on what education actually looks like in practice.

    I actually work in a center that is inspired by the municipal schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy. Some of the philosophies are closely tied (social constructivism and the importance of the environment, for example).

    But in regards to what I believe, it is more that I think teaching is contextualized in the social realities of each individual teacher and their own beliefs.

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