Friday, February 17, 2017

Getting to Expert

Teachers are the experts. In some very real ways, we should be most of the time. As a history teacher, I should understand deeply my content area. But I shouldn't create a class where I have to know everything. I will have failed it I do that. Teachers shouldn't, really shouldn't set up a class where they have to be the expert all of the time. Instead, teachers should set up class in a way that encourages students to play the role of expert. Too often, a teacher has a certain idea in mind and wastes time asking when we should be telling. Instead, the questions we ask should be probing and asking students to make their own meaning and find their own answers. Of course of course, sometimes mastery of some facts matter. But how often?

How many teacher led "discussions" have you seen where the real game is for students to guess what is in they teacher's head? "Anyone, anyone, Bueller?" Of course this scene exaggerates, but by how much? This bastardization of the Socratic method too often passes for teaching. We've all seen it. Surely in my sloppier moments, I've done it.

So, to remind myself and others, some thoughts and tips.

  • Learning shouldn't be about giving answers! 
  • The audience shouldn't always be the teacher. Have students search for meaning by talking to each other in small groups. Give a prompt that gets students to do that. Remember, calling on one student of the time means for much of the class most students are passively listening. Get them involved! This week, I had my IR students get up and walk around the room engaging in different conversations with their peers. They weren't giving me an answer, they were exploring a topic with a partner. By the way, research suggests that mobile students activate their brains far more than their sedentary counterparts. 
  • PBL. Project based learning encourages students to play the role of expert. Simulations and role plays put students into expert roles. Have students know their decisions matter.
  • With all the world's knowledge at a student's fingertips, why do teachers still think they need to do most of the talking? 

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