Copyright © 1997, Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Date: Tue, 22 Jul 1997 10:23:47 -0400 (EDT)
We teachers use all kinds of "tricks" to get students to do the things they have to do to jump through the academic hoops. But, the trick is not merely to be a trickster who gets students merely to do those things without apparent reason or to forces them to do things without explanation or even threatens them with tests and grades to do things. The real trick is to instil in them a desire to come to class and to engage in their own learning.
Of course, as my good friend, Rick Garlikov rightly observes, the subject matter is so often taught--presented or transmitted are better words-- in rather narrow, deadening, parroting, uninspiring ways that make it tiresome and/or difficult for most students to learn in any interesting, exciting, meaningful or desirable way. We talk a good talk of the "wonderous world of learning" as we lead students down the forbidding levels of Dante's inferno. Most students hate a subject because previous teachers have sucked the life and meaning out of it leaving behind a dead cadaver of meaningless facts whose sole importance is to be memorized for a test or written up for a paper and be forgotten as quickly as possible. When most teachers see students busily writing copious notes, they say to themselves, "What a good day. I am lecturing great, they are learning what I am teaching." But in reality are we really John Lockes writing on the students blank tablets while the students are writing and doodling on their tablets? I wonder. More often than not, we are so ignorant of who the students are and of the fact that they--just as we did when we were students--approach academics so differently from us, we have so often inadvertently academically waterproofed their minds and hearts against intellectual and emotional seepage. I have found that when most students say, for example, "I hate ...." or "I'm no good at....", they really mean, "I hate the way such and such subject has been taught."
When we prepare a course, most of us solely focus on organizing subject content, preparing lectures, scheduling office hours, developing reading lists, formulating assignments, formulating quizzes, tests and exams. I think there is more. I am ultimately after motivating, engaging and stimulating ways for students to learn how to learn and become their own learners, ways that helps the material be meaningful and interesting to the students, ways that in a creative and imaginative and interest-stirring manner grabs them so that they can grab the subject and absorb it and retain and let it become a part of them, ways that gives the subject a meaning in their lives. I want to use ways in which the students acquire both an intuitive feeling and desire for the subject in particular and learning in general. I don't want the students to be assaulted, but embraced; I don't want them threatened, but charmed; I don't want them to be bored, but excited; I don't want them to engage in combat with the material, but to hug it endearingly. I want the students to use the material, want to use it, enjoy using it, and thereby understand its utility in their lives and those of others.
I think students, most of us for that matter--we academics call it research--learn best by actively and engagingly and meaningfully doing something rather than passively listening and being spoken to. I think I have more than a formal body of information to transmit. I teach searching, seeing, getting involved with the subject matter, getting involved with themselves and others, integrity, creativity, imagination, originality, responsibility, possibility, self-awareness, cooperation, questioning, self-worth, authenticity, risk taking; to let the people in the classroom see what they are capable of doing by doing. It is doing that they learn these things, and that are convinced of the significance of these things. In my class, I never lecture. I don't give quizzes, tests, or exams. Students do, engage, discuss, experience, venture, discover, present.
It is not an easy way to teach, but I have found that it is a lot more meaningful way to learn. You know as well as I do that true teaching, good teaching, true learning do not just happen. As I recently said, nothing is magical, nothing is automatic; nothing is instant; nothing runs itself although at time others may think so. Sometimes it looks like we sometimes play it by ear, not worry about theories and abstract constructs and just walk into a classroom and make it all happen. Sometimes all people see is the flexibility and openness but not understanding either the structure or the method to the apparant maddness. It is a lot of work --takes a lot of time and sometimes pain--to live care and love; it is a lot of work to reflect, articulate, activate; it is a lot of work to prepare, design, deliver, evaluate content and intent; it is a lot of work to get to know each student; it is a lot of work to keep track of the individual progress of each student; it is a lot of work to link theory and practice and the individual. Good teaching is a demanding, complicated art. Good teaching is hard work. Good teaching is a lot of work. I sometimes think you have to be part fool, part romantic, part hero, part seducer, part trickster, part dreamer, part realist, part architect, part construction worker, part artist, part circus performer--and work hard at somehow balancing each of those parts every step of the way for each student as would an aerialist walking a tightrope--hoping you get across this time without falling off the highwire.
Though it is a lot of time-consuming and energy-draining work,it is an enjoyable and exciting and engaging way both to teach and to learn. Learning generally goes better because the students generally teach themselves as they do the doing thing.
My challenge, then, is to intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually seduce themselves, to their too often hidden abilities and talents, their to often lateant potential, and the subject. I do so by being passionate about them first, and then the subject. I create an atmosphere of a supportive and encouraging family in the class so they do not feel alone in the crowd, do not feel like an isolated island in a foggy ocean.
When they say they can't write because they have heard that so often, I use projects that show them that they can write and poetically express themselves; when they say they are shy and can't do anything in front of people, I use projects to wean them off their reticence; when they say they are ordinary, I devise projects that lure them into the extraordinary with laughter and fun and excitement; when they say they are scared, I conjure up projects that bring out their fearlessness; when they say they are not creative, I lead them into seeing the presence and force of their imagination.
How do I do that? Well, in one of my moments, playing on the seed of an idea I got from an e-mail associate, Guy Bensusan at Arizona State, I came up with what I call, the "'S'ence of Learning in Community":
START OFF WITH A BELIEVING "YES"-- STUDENTS, ALL STUDENTS, ARE UNIQUE ARE CAPABLE, HAVE ABILITY, HAVE TALENT, AND HAVE POTENTIAL SIT THE STUDENTS DOWN IN GROUPS SET UP THE PROJECT START THE STUDENTS OFF SHOW EXAMPLES SQUASH THEIR IDEA OF DOING IT FOR A GRADE STRESS IDEA THAT THEY'RE DOING IT TO LEARN AND GROW STRETCH THEM STRETCH YOURSELF SHED THE UNIFORM OF THE SAGE ON STAGE SELECT THE CLOTHES OF THE WATCHFUL GUIDE OFF TO THE SIDE SILENCE THEIR QUESTION, "WHAT DO YOU WANT?" SURRENDER YOUR CONTROL AND ASK IN RETURN, "WHAT DO YOU WANT?" SUBSTITUTE THEIR WAY FOR YOUR WAY SING OUT--AND MEAN IT--"LET'S HAVE FUN AND ENJOY!" SEND THEM OFF STEP OUT OF THE WAY SWEAT IT OUT SWALLOW AN ANTACID PILL STUDY THEIR BODY LANGUAGE AND FACIAL EXPRESSIONS SHOW FLEXIBILITY SIGNAL YOUR CONFIDENCE IN EACH OF THEM SANCTION THEIR BELIEF IN THEMSEVLES SUBTLY ENCOURAGE THEIR SPIZZERINCTUM (LOOK THAT ONE UP IN A DICTIONARY) SKILLFULLY PROMOTE COOPERATION OVER COMPETITION STIMULATE THE BUILDING OF TRUST IN THEMSELVES AND AMONG THEM STIR THEIR SELF-CONFIDENCE, SELF-RESPECT, SELF-ASSURANCE, SELF-REGARD, SELF-ESTEEM SILENTLY REJECT THEIR "I CAN'Ts" SCOFF NOT; SCORN NOT; SNEER NOT; SNICKER NOT; SCOLD NOT; SWEAR NOT; SUPPORT LOUDLY ALL THEIR "I CANs" SMILE AT ALL THEIR ATTEMPTS STICK TO YOUR GUNS SWEAT IT OUT SUCK ON MORE OF THOSE ANTACID PILLS SUGGEST IT'S OKAY TO TAKE RISKS SIT ON YOUR HANDS STRUGGLE TO STAY OUT OF THE WAY STIFLE THE URGE TO JUMP IN SEW UP YOUR LIPS SUPPRESS THE INCLINATION TO SCREAM, "DO IT THIS WAY!" STAVE OFF THE DESIRE TO BLURT OUT, "YOU'RE WRONG!" STAND BACK AND LET THEM BECOME THEIR OWN DISCOVERS AND LEARNERS STAY NEARBY STAND ALERT SQUIRM A BIT SWALLOW STILL ANOTHER ANTACID PILL SIT UP AND NOW WATCH SURPRISE!! STARE IN AMAZEMENT AT THE RESULTS SAVOR THEIR HIDDEN AND SELDOM USED CREATIVITYf SOAK UP THEIR HIDDEN AND SELDOM TAPPED IMAGINATION SALUTE THEIR DEVELOPMENT AND GROWTH SPARKLE WITH OBVIOUS DELIGHT AND SATISFACTION SWELL WITH PRIDE SHOUT OPENLY A "YES!! SLING A TOOTSIE POP IN THEIR DIRECTION. SEE! STUDENTS, ALL STUDENTS, ARE UNIQUE, ARE CAPABLE, HAVE ABILITY, HAVE TALENT, AND HAVE POTENTIAL STAND AND APPLAUD THEM SLUMP DOWN EXHAUSTED IN THE CHAIR SIGH WITH RELIEF SUCK SATISFYINGLY ON A TOOTSIE POP SIT UP SIGH START SCHEMING FOR THE NEXT PROJECT
Make it a good day. --Louis-- Louis Schmier (912-333-5947) firstname.lastname@example.org Department of History /~\ /\ /\ Valdosta State University /^\ / \ / /~ \ /~\__/\ Valdosta, Georgia 31698 / \__/ \/ / /\ /~ \ /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\ -_~ / "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\ _ _ / don't practice on mole hills" -\____
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