kitchen table math, the sequel: I see Socrates

Thursday, October 8, 2009

I see Socrates

Niki Hayes sends a link:

When we consider constructivist teaching, or a constructivist approach to learning, what comes to mind? For me, I see Socrates standing not in the center, but to the side of his students.

I imagine him pondering their comments and questions, and carefully crafting questions of his own, which he contributes -- selectively. Most importantly, he doesn't lead, but follows the line of questioning of the students.

That's really what it's all about: being an questioner, an investigator side-by-side with your students. That doesn't mean we shouldn't have a solid lesson plan ready to go each day, but we should be ready -- and willing -- for the students to take the class into unchartered waters.

Let me give you an example from my own teaching experience. In an American Literature class I taught a while back, we had made our way through transcendentalism, stopping off at Henry Thoreau. Here, I had a few lessons on civil disobedience planned.

Day one, we watched a video excerpt on Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat...


Then, the students began talking about racial profiling and wouldn't move on.


Mostly African-American and Latino, my [11th grade] students began sharing stories of racial profiling from their own lives, and the lives of their families and friends.

One thing leads to another, and 2 weeks later students hand in their culminating projects:

  • "One group made a brochure titled, 'How to Protect Yourself When DWB (Driving While Black/Brown).'"
  • "Another group created a presentation poster on the history and statistics of racial profiling"
  • "[Teacher's] favorite project was an instructional video for police officers on how to build trust with the community."
Letting Go in the Classroom by Rebecca Alber 10/6/09
So I guess the entire class is filled with visual learners.


You'd think there'd be a couple of verbal/linguistic types mixed in somewhere.

Guess not.


TerriW leaves this comment:
At what point do you really need to stop calling something an "American Literature" class -- what percentage of the class should be, I dunno, American Lit?

I mean, at a certain point, you have to start calling it "cheese food" instead of cheese...


Ari said...

"oh we were supposed to learn about Transcendentalism? But ideas aren't as FUN as kindergarten projects..."

Catherine Johnson said...

I wonder what the teacher evaluation process is like in this school.

TerriW said...

At what point do you really need to stop calling something an "American Literature" class -- what percentage of the class should be, I dunno, American Lit?

I mean, at a certain point, you have to start calling it "cheese food" instead of cheese...

Jo Anne C said...

"at a certain point, you have to start calling it 'cheese food' instead of cheese..."

What a great line, thanks for the good laugh Terri!!!!!!!

Allison said...

Doomed. We're doomed.

Anonymous said...

There are so many ways that teacher could have turned the class discussion into productive English lessons that don't involves posters, the surest sign one can immediately observe in a classroom that meaningful education is probably not taking place.

How about:
1) a research paper, written in MLA format, that discusses changes in American law and presents statistics to prove whether race relations have improved.

2) a literary essay discussing portrayal of minorities in American literature. Take it a step further and show how the portrayal has changed (or if it has) across literary movements.

3) to be creative, the students could write fiction, in the style of an author or period (with direct instruction to teach those techniques) that presents themes from the class discussion.

4) push them out of their area of interest and comfort and make them research the rise of other marginalized groups. So many people today lack the historical immagination to link the experiences of people across time and space. A paper could compare and contrast the organizational techniques of the suffragist, the Irish (or any other)immigrants, migrant workers, etc.


Allison said...

My favorite part of this thread was this comment about the film The Class, that Catherine wrote about before.

Submitted by Emmanuelle (not verified) on 10/7/09.
constructivism = turning any lesson into a teachable moment :)

Have you seen "The class", winner of the last Festival de Cannes ? ("Entre les murs", en fran├žais). At one point, the class is asked by the teacher to write their self-portrait. A big guy from Guadeloupe starts reading his text : "I am French...". One of the "second generation French" interrupts : "You're not French, you're from Guadeloupe !" "So what ? Guadeloupe IS French". "Well, says the girl, I'm not Fench... at least, i'm not proud to be French."
At which point the teacher interrupts : "This has nothing to do with our subject. Let's move on !".

This had everything to do with the subject, which was, basically, "who are you ?". The fact that this girl was defining herself by who she is NOT, or what she doesn't want to be seen as, was more than relevant -not only to the subject, but to the ultimate goal of school, which is to create a communal culture and a sense of belonging.

Had this teacher been a constructivist...

Why of course. That movie highlighted what was wrong with traditional teaching...

Catherine Johnson said...

oh my gosh - I didn't see that comment...

In fact, the teacher in Entre Les Murs apparently prides himself on using the Socratic Method.