Imparting What is Needed

Every educator, in spite of that common goal of ‘educating’, really has his/her own individual set of values which he integrates into his own pedagogy. I’ve been reading The Last Lecture lately and this passage, which I’d like to share and possibly develop on in the future, really provoked much reflection in me about the kind of teacher I have been and want to be.

It is an accepted cliche in education that the number one goal of teachers should be to help students learn how to learn.

I always saw the value of that, sure. But in my mind, a better number one goal was this: I wanted to help students learn now to judge themselves.

Did they recognise their true abilities? Did they have a sense of their own flaws? Were they realistic about how others viewed them?

In the end, educators best serve students by helping them be more self-reflective. The only way any of us can improve – … – is if we develop a real ability to assess ourselves. If we can’t accurately do that, how can we tell if we’re getting better or worse?

Some old-school types complain these days that higher education too often feels like it is all about customer service. Students and their parents believe they are paying top dollar for a product, and so they want it to be valuable in a measurable way. It is as if they’ve walked into a department store, and instead of buying five pairs of designer jeans, they’ve purchased a five-subject course-load.

I don’t fully reject the customer-service model, but I think it’s important to use the right industry metaphor. It’s not retail. Instead, I’d compare college tuition to paying for a personal trainer at an athlete club. We professors play the roles of trainers, giving people access to the equipment.. and after that, it is our job to be demanding. We need to make sure that our students are exerting themselves. We need to praise them when they deserve it and to tell them honestly when they have it in them to work harder. Most importantly, we need to let them know how they’re coming along…

A professor’s [teacher’s] job is to teach students how to see their minds growing in the same way they can see their muscles grow when they look in the mirror.”

Going along the same theme of imparting the skills of self-assessment in students is another extract which I read when looking into modes of alternative assessment today (will elaborate on this in the future, if time permits).

The context of the extract is that the author is arguing for the need to move away from teacher-centred assessment to empowering students to make their own assessments of their abilities – and no, this in no way reduces the work of the teacher.

The point of “This Is Your Brain on the Internet” is to show how, in Internet culture, we are often judging, responding, offering feedback, and working together through crowdsourcing but our educational system rarely if ever does anything to prepare students for offering or receiving feedback.   In fact, very little in our society prepares us for responsible and responsive exchange.  Typically, we learn how to please a figure in power.  We do not practice or learn principles for helping one another through an iterative, interactive process.  In a digital age, everyone is offered an invitation to participate.  But where in our schooling or even in our informal learning process do we teach young people how to take responsibility for representing themselves in public, for participating in public dialogue?

I’m fascinated that the blogosphere was so annoyed with me for wanting to teach responsible judgment practices as part of my pedagogy. I think it is because grading, in a curious way, exemplifies our deepest convictions about excellence and authority, and specifically about the right of those with authority to define what constitutes excellence.  If we “crowdsource grading,” we are suggesting that those without authority can also determine excellence.  That is what happens in the non-refereed world of the internet, that’s what digital thinking is, and it is quite revolutionary.”

How do we teach our students today not just what they need to know, but how to track their own and their peers’ progress such that we build a learning community not centred on the teacher, but where feedback and growth takes places in a network of peer to peer sharing?

The fundamental mindset change must take place not in the student, but in the teacher. The teacher must be willing to withhold judgement and train students to discover their own flaws and mistakes. The teacher must be willing to ‘give up’ that authority to judge and devolve it to the student so that he/she can be trained to be a ‘critical’ friend.

Imagine the possibilities if this were to happen!


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