Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wondering where this big snow is and about Shor too...

There were many interesting points in the Shor piece, but one that really made me start thinking was how participatory classrooms can be uncomfortable because of what we are used to in the classroom and what we expect from a classroom. Shor says:

"In a particapatory class where authority is mutual, some of the positive effects which support students learning include cooperativeness, curiousity, humor, hope, responsibility, respect, attentiveness, openness, and comcern about society...In addition, the participatory class can also provoke anxiety and defensiveness in some students because it is an unfamilar program for collaborative learning and for the critique of received values and taken-for-granted knowledge" (24).

This got me thinking about the question, "what makes a good teacher?" Often students define a good teacher as someone who is hard, gives lots of tests, and inudates students with notes. This is the traditional teacher, and why does being a hard teacher makes someone a good teacher? I believe my classroom is very much the first part of Shor's quote and I am proud of that. However, I even question myself sometimes, asking if I need more structure, am I challenging them enough? But, I do not think I am truely worried about this, but worried about how administration might perceive my approach to teaching. Don't get me wrong, our administration is very focused on student-centered learning approach. But, when you look into a classroom you almost expect to see traditional teaching. Take for example, the set-up of Lindsay and I's room. We have the classroom set up so much different than a traditional classroom and the students love it, but there have been several comments. I teach in another room which I share with three other teachers. I do not want rows, they insist on it; and are highly uncomftable when I change it. However, the students like the different set-up. Also, many parents complain if you are non-traditional because they expect school to be like school was for them. I find that teaching Early American Literature I have to be non-traditional and take a participatory and problem-posing approach in order to keep students engaged. I have utilized socratic seminars, reflective journals, sountracks, etc. to make the content apply to their lives. Yet, sometimes students are uncomfortable when things are put on them. It seems like they expect us to tell them what to do, what to think, what to say. How is this learning? As children parents let us explore and wonder, does traditional classrooms hinder this wonder? How do we balance it all? We need to make them respectful, responsible, critical thinkers and problem solvers. But, often how we feel is different from what the state mandates or from what parents or even students expect.


  1. Jill,

    I didn't realize that we used the same quote earlier! OOPS!

    I know what you mean about the kids being uncomfortable when we ask them to contribute. It is almost as though they want the answers when you give them a chance to think it through on their own. They have been trained to have the thinking done FOR them. It is a difficult thing to break-- my students often look at me like I'm crazy or they complain that the work is too hard when I ask them to think for themselves. It is almost as though they are afraid to try it!

    February 10, 2010 1:29 PM

  2. I agree with both of you....participation can be very difficult for students when they are not familiar with this approach to teaching/learning. I therefore think it is important for teachers to start this early (even in elementary schools). It can be very difficult, for high school teachers and high school students, if students have never participated before.

  3. Jill,

    I hear you about the whole "what do others think of my non-traditional way". I am kind of up in arms with the math teacher on my team. She is very traditional and I constantly feel that she thinks my class is "easy" because I don't fail nearly as many kids as she does. It's almost as if she is out get them. I too am proud of the way I teach and think that because they are engaged, they just naturally do better!

    It is also interesting to think about the question you ask about the balance of traditional and non-traditional. It's hard because we want them to be critical thinkers as you mention, yet we are forced in someways by the state (testing craze) to teach to the test...traditionally....booo....

  4. Your kids describe good teachers as the hard ones, with lots of tests and notes? Wow! That's interesting. My kids complain about the ones that give notes all the time (I assume because it is just lecture). While they recognize that more tests = more opportunities to pull up the grade, they don't think those are the 'good' teachers. Usually my kids say the ones that are interesting, have discussions in class and don't give a lot of homework. My kids are very surface-level...I guess they don't go that deep. :)

    I know what you mean though about the classroom. I had to travel the building my first two years and had to deal with the different set-ups. I was lucky to be in one other language room that was set up the way I like it (and that is good for the kids too) but other than that I was in with history and math teachers that used rows. One room had the row set-up and it was so bad that I had the kids move the desks everyday at the beginning of class and my next class would move them back and the end of theirs. It was hectic, but it needed to be done. We have to do whatever we can to foster participation and lower the anxiety of the kids and if that means rearranging furniture - than so be it! Although I think it is funny that something so simple can have such a big effect on the kids and even on others' perception of our styles and efectiveness as teachers.

  5. Being in the same school as Jill I completely see what she is talking about. We are told by administration and department heads that they want hands on learning. They like carousels and interactive learning. But they are consistently walking through the halls, looking into our classrooms. If they are sitting somewhere other than a desk the principal will knock on the door and make them get back to their seat. If they are actively participating, does it really matter where they are sitting? It is really hard to get the best of both worlds.