Sunday, December 14, 2008

Rethinking the Architecture of Teaching

To be able to scaffold students’ learning and to amplify their cultural awareness and their selfawareness, teachers should engage in a process of investigation on how young people see the world and themselves, how they feel about learning and schooling, how they build concepts of something and how they reflect on their own thinking, doing and being.

Teachers don't know more about their students as their students know about themselves. Students and teachers are equally information providers as they are receivers of information. Furthermore, in an active learning community, students and teachers have the opportunity to collaboratively explore multiple ways to construct concepts and generate knowledge, especially if this learning community is guided by a teacher-learner concept where the adult is not necessarily the teacher and the child or the adolescent is not necessarily the learner.

My conviction is that all teaching and learning situations defined by superiority-inferiority, observer-observed, giver-receiver, knower-ignorer, naive thinker - advanced thinker dichotomies should be questioned and systematically reshaped to become opportunities for collective and critical inquiry – breaking down the boundaries between teaching, learning and research.

If teachers are supposed to engage in a professional development they have to develop a deeper understanding of the mechanisms that define educational relationships and ask questions like: Why and what do I teach or learn? Do I teach or learn what I think I teach or learn? What defines a school and an educational relationship? What differences are there between teaching and learning? What is teaching? What is learning? Who decides what has to be taught an learned?

This is true for students as it is for teachers. If young people are supposed to develop a critical attitude and critical thinking they must be encouraged to observe, to study and to analyse their context and to gain a deeper understanding of how social practices and including educational practices are generated.

But, how should young people gain critical understanding, if they are supposed to think critically about everything that happens in the “outside” world but not about what happens in school, the place where they spend a representative part of the day and the context which sometimes even structures their life and thinking for the rest of the day?

This paradigm shift in education requires an honest curiosity by teachers and an intense faith in young people’s will to learn and in their potential to acquire an understanding of the world around them by developing their own view points, by re-building shared concepts or constructing new ones.

Of course, to develop something which we may call research literacy, students should be encouraged to explore a wide range of learning styles and interest and they should also be encouraged to develop a critical position against any intellectual monopoly. It also requires teachers to become participant observers, in an anthropological sense, and to spend more time than they do today, on reflecting on education than on pre-structuring schooldays for their students and on preparing detailed lesson plans and materials in order to transmit pseudo-objective content to the next generation.

To use M. Mead’s three types of enculturation (postfigurative, cofigurative, prefigurative), I think that school is still to much based on the postfigurative model where knowledge is passed from adults to children and where adults have difficulties to conceive of another future for the next generation than their own lives.

The question remains if it is possible for teachers to act as transformative agents in an institution they are supposed to serve? Is it conceivable, that they engage in a critical discourse with their students about knowledge and social practices when at the same time they feel obliged to follow a fixed curriculum, textbooks and participate in national tests?

Yes and no. The answer is no, if teachers think that they can do project-based learning, reflective education and collaborative inquiry and, at the same time, avoid the curriculum, textbooks and tests as a object for critical inquiry.

The answer is yes, if curricula, textbooks and tests are critically analyzed and deconstructed and if their hidden objectives and underlying assumptions are made transparent. If critical thinking is one of the aims of education, then young people must be encourage to think critically about learning, schooling and curriculum, about pseudo-objective textbook contents and testing.

After the PISA surveys conducted by the OECD, Luxembourg, tries to bring major changes to education by changing the way schools evaluate students' learning. I think that indeed there is an urgent need to change evaluation practices but I have serious doubts that a tangible progress in education is possible without a fundamental redesign of the sanitized textbook and worksheets pedagogy and thus the teacher-student-knowledge relationship.

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Some Reading Milestones

  • Towards reflexive method in archaeology : the example at Çatalhöyük (edited by Ian Hodder) 2000

  • The Book of Learning and Forgetting (Frank Smith) 1998

  • Points of Viewing Children's Thinking: A Digital Ethnographer's Journey (Ricki Goldman-Segall) 1997

  • Verstehen lehren (Martin Wagenschein) 1997

  • Computer im Schreibatelier (Gérard Gretsch) 1992

  • The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter. Uses of Storytelling in the Classroom (Vivian Gussin Paley) 1991

  • La cause des adolescents (Françoise Dolto) 1988

  • Scuola di Barbiana. Die Schülerschule. Brief an eine Lehrerin. (Edition of 1980) / read in German 1982
    Letter to Teacher by the Schoolboys of Barbiana (1970)
    Lettre à une maîtresse de'école, par les enfants de Barbiana (1968)
    Lettera à una professoressa (Original Edition) 1967

  • Vers une pédagogie institutionnelle (Aïda Vasquez, Fernand Oury) 1967

Documentary Films on Education

  • Eine Schule, die gelingt (by Reinhard Kahl) 2008

  • Les temps des enfants (Jacques Duez) 2007

  • Klassenleben (by Bernd Friedmann und Hubertus Siegert) 2006

  • Lernen - Die Entdeckung des Selbstverständlichen
    (Ein Vortrag von Manfred Spitzer) 2006

  • Die Entdeckung der frühen Jahre
    Die Initiative "McKinsey bildet" zur frühkindlichen Bildung (by Reinhard Kahl) 2006

  • Treibhäuser der Zukunft - Wie in Deutschland Schulen gelingen (by Reinhard Kahl) 2004

  • Treibhäuser der Zukunft / Incubators of the future / Les serres de l'avenir; International Edition (by Reinhard Kahl) 2004

  • Journal de classe, 1ères audaces (1), Les échappés (2), Sexe, amour et vidéo (3), L'enfant nomade (4), Remue-méninges (5) (by Wilbur Leguebe, Jacques Duez, Agnès Lejeune) 2004

  • Spitze - Schulen am Wendekreis der Pädagogik (by Reinhard Kahl) 2003

  • Journal de classe, (by Wilbur Leguebe and Agnès Lejeune; Jacques Duez) 2002

  • Etre et Avoir (by Nicolas Philibert) 2002

  • The Stolen Eye (by Jane Elliott) 2002

  • The Angry Eye (by Jane Elliott) 2001

  • A l'école de la providence (by Gérard Preszow) 2000

  • Blue-Eyed (by Jane Elliott) 1996

  • A Class Divided (by Jane Elliott) 1984

  • Eye of The Storm (with Jane Elliott) 1970

Past quotes of the day

For every problem, there is one solution which is simple, neat and wrong. Henry Louis Mencken

Traveler, there is no path. Paths are made by walking.
Antonio Machado

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Immanuel Kant

The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. Albert Einstein

To paraphrase a famous quotation, all that is necessary for the triumph of damaging educational policies is that good educators keep silent. Alfie Kohn

We used to have lots of questions to which there were no answers. Now, with the computer, there are lots of answers to which we haven't thought up the questions. Peter Ustinov

I had a terrible education. I attended a school for emotionally disturbed teachers. Woody Allen

A professor is someone who talks in someone else's sleep. W. H. Auden

When I was an inspector of schools I visited one classroom and looked at a boys book. He'd written, 'Yesterday, Yesterday, Yesterday, Sorrow, Sorrow, Sorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Love, Love, Love.' I said, 'That's a lovely poem.' He said, 'Those are my spelling corrections.' Gervase Phinn

Real thinking never starts until the learner fails. Roger Schank

If what is wanted is a reexamination of schooling in terms of purpose, structure and process, then testing programmes are the wrong vehicle (...) Caroline V. Gipps

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. Albert Einstein

Act always so as to increase the number of choices. Heinz von Foerster

Another way of avoiding teaching is by relying exclusively on a textbook, workbooks, and other commercially packaged learning materials. Teaching is reduced to administering a set curriculum without giving any thought to the substance of what the students area learning or to their particular needs. H. Kohl

The right to ignore anything that doesn't make sense is a crucial element of any child's learning - and the first right children are likely to lose when they get to the controlled learning environment of school. F. Smith

Learning is the human activity which least needs manipulation by others. Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful activity. - Ivan Illich

Too often we give our children answers to remember rather than problems to solve. - Roger Lewin

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. - Mark Twain