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In his daily blog post The difference between commitment and technique Seth Godin makes the argument that we (society) would be a lot more successful if schools created an environment where teachers used commitment as a foundational part of the learning environment. Students with access to resources are almost unstoppable if they are committed to learning.

Instead we have created an environment where learners can say:

“teach me, while I stand here on one foot, teach me while I gossip with my friends via text, teach me while I wander off to other things. And, sure, if the teaching sticks, then I’ll commit.”

This is another example of the principle of “The head won’t go where the heart hasn’t been.” Genuine commitment must involve the affective domain and until we are willing to engage emotionally our heads will not follow.

I agree with Godin that “great teachers teach commitment.” I would add that great teachers use passion to teach commitment.

Organic Learning

March 16, 2015 — 1 Comment

In a recent 3260 Professional Practice class (part of the Provincial Instructor Diploma Program) one of my learners was sharing an Ah-Ha! moment that was inspired by Ken Robinson’s Bring on the Learning Revolution TED Talk. Robinson argues that we need to move away from the industrial model of education where we stamp out standardized students and move toward an organic model in which we create the environments where learners can grow and develop in their own unique ways.

The ensuing class discussion reminded me of Mortimer Adler’s insight in How to Read a Book that teaching is an art that shares special characteristics with two other disciplines:

Without going into learning theory as psychologists conceive it, it is obvious that teaching is a very special art, sharing with only two other arts—agriculture and medicine—an exceptionally important characteristic. A doctor may do many things for his patient, but in the final analysis it is the patient himself who must get well—grow in health. The farmer does many things for his plants or animals, but in the final analysis it is they that must grow in size and excellence. Similarly, although the teacher may help his student in many ways, it is the student himself who must do the learning. Knowledge must grow in his mind if learning is to take place (p. 11).

To teach organically we need to create the environment in which the learner can do the learning, grow and flourish. We need to become proactive, start with a learner centred focus, and purposefully assemble all the key components of effective learning into a significant learning environment so that we can help our learners to learn how to learn and grow into the people we all hope they will become.

Adam Bessie and Arthur King have created a comic that illustrates the numerous attempts over the past 100 years of automating teaching. They point to Fanz Kafka’s writings and highlight several attempts at automation from Pressley’s teaching machine in 1915, to Skinner’s Box in the 1930’s and finally to the EngKey egg shaped robot that is currently used by South Korea elementary schools to help teach English.

Perhaps the most helpful or alarming fact that Bessie and King offer is their statement that:

…we don’t need “teaching machines” to mechanize Education.

Human teachers just need to act like robots, teaching to the standardized test, never complaining, following the script and making sure students do as well.

If we were to focus on significant learning environments that incoporate critical and analytical thinking rather then the regurgitation of information the threat of the teaching machine wouldn’t be a threat.