"The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow."
~ Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
I think that the more I "let go" of having all of the right answers, I might just become a better teacher. Read on to find out why.
This weekend I was talking to a colleague about how I want to make my classes more student-centered this year. She gave me a copy of Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
That was less than 48 hours ago, and I've already read the book. And I'm wondering: why isn't this book required reading in education classes? The book is taught in sociology, philosophy, and political science classes, but in my seven years of undergraduate and graduate study, not a single professor has introduced me to Freire.
In Pedagogy of Freedom, Freire writes:
"To teach is not to transfer knowledge but to create the possibilities for the production or construction of knowledge."
and further on:
"Whoever teaches learns in the act of teaching, and whoever learns teaches in the act of learning." ~ Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom
Nothing has taught me more about this idea of "if you want to learn something, teach it" than my recent shift in career from high school English teacher to technology/computer teacher.
The fact is: today's young people are in a unique situation. For the first time in history, society's youth is more knowledgable than adults (about technology, that is, and upon reflection, many other things, too.) Many of my students know more than me about certain computer programs. I could choose to feel threatened by that, or I could step back and do the following:
- if a student knows a piece of software better, give her center stage and let her teach. She is learning a valuable lesson: how to teach. And, it's great for her self-esteem to know more than the teacher. Plus, students prefer learning from their peers than from an adult teacher.
- pair a student "expert" up with those who are struggling. There's no greater sight than seeing students helping each other learn. Plus, it takes the pressure off of having to personally assist every student with their hands waving in the air.
- Say to the class, "I don't know! Can you help me?" Inevitably, a solution to the problem is eventually reached by trial and error, and the students have learned, which is the whole point, anyway.
Recently, a friend needed some graphic manipulation work done for a project. She came over, and we tried to create the design she needed on Photoshop. Now, I know a BIT about photoshop, but I haven't mastered the "magic wand" feature, and I'm still working on understanding layering and masking. At her suggestion, I decided to ask one of my students to help me out.
The next day, I walked into my Computer Applications class and said, "Who's the photoshop guru in here?" Everyone looked over at Little O, the one with glasses, and the one who can already type 55 words per minute at 100% accuracy without looking at the keyboard. So, while the rest of the students were practicing their keyboarding skills, I watched Little O do magic. He was quicker than a wink. Within half an hour, he had turned this image
and this image
into this image:
And, by watching him work on this design, I learned how to use that magnetic magic wand.
I think that the more I "let go" of having all of the right answers, I might just become a better teacher.
According to Freire, teaching from a model that views the teacher as the "dispenser of knowledge" and the students as the "receptacles" and "containers" that need to be filled, is detrimental to learning. He says, in fact, that
"Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other."
I want that type of classroom. Where the students are inquiring, and the teacher is the facilitator who acts as a guide to learning.