Sylvia Gist, the dean of the college of education at Chicago State University has it that “good teaching must be purely instinctive, a kind of magic performed by born superstars.” Quite an interesting submission for the seasoned magicians in the classroom. But how about the amateurs- those who are not particularly “born superstars”? What magic tricks should they have to make learning more effective?
The trick is to make the classroom more learner centered. Most critiques of today’s teaching would disagree to this on account that such classes are sometimes floundered by naughty incorrigible learners who disobey teachers’ instructions, and veer class discussions away from the lesson plans. Truly, during one of my peer observations, I witnessed a teacher spend several minutes debating with a student about why he didn’t have a pencil. Another, divided her students into two groups to practice multiplication together, only to watch them turn to the more interesting work of chatting. It would therefore be too subjective to disregard the criticisms against learner centered classes.
However, pushing off such a vital teaching strategy due to a few drawbacks is completely unwarranted. Besides, such an argument reduces the concept of a learner centered classroom to a student controlled class. Learner centered techniques do not relieve the teachers of their responsibilities but rather makes them captains to steer learning using activities that engage learners more and reduce on the teacher talk time. You will agree that the scenarios described above can only occur if the teacher is not in control of the class. Why would one engage a student in a debate about a pencil? Now this having been said, how can a teacher have a more engaging classroom?
There are many teaching strategies that can help teachers undertake the shift toward a truly student-centered education. One of these is prioritizing student voices. When teachers move from the front of the room and encourage students to be the primary thinkers in the classroom, the dynamics of learning change to center on the responses and ideas of the students. This is not to say that teachers should disappear: They must facilitate, consult, and do the intellectual work of designing inquiry-based units and framing learning in order for the model to succeed. They still should maintain the role of the sage on the side; not the debater on mundane topics like having a pencil.
Similarly, emphasis on relationships rather than compliance also works magic. When students know that they are valued as people and that their teachers care about their well-being and not just their grade, the dynamics of the classroom shift. There are many ways to check in with students and snatch time for short conversations that transform stereotypically adversarial student-teacher relationships. Good teachers don’t simply teach but transcends the classroom structures right through the heart of the learners. With a good rapport, learning takes a whole different level.
A good stance of inquiry within the classroom also engages learners. When we reframe teacher voice and truly learn from students, teaching and learning become rich experiences that continually challenge both teachers and students to examine their beliefs and assumptions. Students are drawn to this central position in the learning process. Inquiry for teachers and students requires units built around big ideas and essential questions that are designed for collective examination. Teachers can use both dialogue and co-teaching (among other strategies) to share and create knowledge with students.
When all is said and done, very little learning occurs in teacher centered classes as opposed to the learner centered ones. If you really wish to richly impact on the lives of your students, make them experience true learning by creatively engaging them.
The writer is a Language Consultant