Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Questioning, Participating, and Problem Posing

Shor argues that questioning, participation, and problem posing are the missing elements to a democratic education. At one point he reminds us that this acutally would not mirror our current society, in which banks, hospitals, and most importantly our media, is not run in a democratic way. However, I couldn't help but wonder; if we did teach in a more democratic way, perhaps this trend would transfer up as the generation we teach grows up.
On page 18 Shor states "rote learning and skill drills in traditional classrooms do more than bore and miseducate students; they also inhibit their civic and emotional development". I absolutely agree with this. However, unfortunately I believe my school is moving in the opposite direction. When I first stated teaching Science at ASFMS I was in love with the methodology in place. Students were asked to be thinkers, and regularly come up with questions to test, formulate their own hypotheses, procedures, means of data collection, and analysis. These skills are so important. Even students who will not have jobs that relate to Science, the thinking process they learn from this is usful in any job, and in life. However, now with stardized tests, we are expected to 'pour-in' all the rote knowledge needed to pass the tests, and do much less questioning an experimenting. How/why are we moving backwards?
One critique I have of the piece Shor wrote is that it lacks examples, of where to start and what it looks like. I was sold on the idea early in the piece, and just kept waiting for something more tangible to help me embrace this more in my class: example of prompts, dialogues, activities, processes.....
Thinking about this on my own, I reflected back again on Coventry's previous Science curriculum. I also thought about accountable talk, which Coventry still uses, and also 'where' to best start/practice a democratic class. Accountable talk is an excellent tool for encouraging participation. I love using it in my classroom, and the kids love participating in it. I often give them the prompt, then stay out of the conversation, except for the occasional question. Without anyone raising a hand students REALLY converse with each other in order to make meaning, learn, and challenge each other. To encourage participation, the night before they are asked to reflect on the topic/question on paper, so they all have something they could share. Also, to encourage ALL students, I occasionally give grades for their participation. They all have a rubric in their notebook that explains how their conversation will be graded.
As far as 'where' I would start/practice having a democratic classroom, I thought homeroom and advisory would be best. Since homeroom and advisory are less structured times, there is less pressure of 'leaving something else out'. In homeroom I had actually had been planning on having a conversation with my students about creating a weekly schedule of events/activities to take place during homeroom. Since the beginning of the year, I have created the schedule, changing it here and there. I am hoping this works and what students suggest is reasonable, and not just arguing for more 'free time'. Advisory is also a great time for the 'problem posing' part, especially thought service learning.

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