Looking back (4)

facing the wall
Originally uploaded by NEINmeister

I began to question my own values and assumptions:
* was it necessarily A Good Thing to offer more choices, more autonomy?
* what if my cultural values and those of my students were different, like Lisa Delpit describes? If that were true here, too, then I might not be doing them the favour I thought I was;
* what if all this, the “freedom, autonomy, choice, fun, reflection” schtick, were a monumental waste of time? Actually making learning more difficult for them, and less likely?

For a while, discouraged by student response including written feedback that suggested many were confused about what they were supposed to do, at a loss when faced with choices, and not impressed with the general lack of direction, I went “back” to direct instruction:
* much more lock-step work;
* more lecturing with students taking notes;
* a final exam.

Students (mostly) did the work, although attendance was no better (or worse) than before. However, enthusiasm, real learning, curiosity, initiative, signs that people were joining dots on their own, coming to conclusions of their own, seeing patterns in the language that they had not seen before and that no-one had pointed out to them – none of these made their appearance.

And I wasn’t having much fun, either.

So, all in all, not a very satisfying semester, although it did seem more in line with what students (and other faculty staff) expected.

2 thoughts on “Looking back (4)”

  1. I have heard and read Csikszentmihalyi’s work referenced by others, but have yet to read him (her?) myself. Thanks for the suggestion.

    I agree about the need for scaffolding. I have been fairly consistently unsuccessful at creating/providing the appropriate structures. My excuse is that there are multiple games going on in the classroom that greatly interfere with what should be a straightforward process.

    Finally, I’m not sure I agree that “autonomy results from having the experience and knowledge to make choices.” Autonomy IS making choices. One creates one’s autonomy by making choices. Many of my students choose not to choose because they think that’s what school requires of them. They are confused by my suggestion that they might want to make their own choices: it looks to many of them like some kind of trap or trick. “This is school, isn’t it? What’s he on about!?!?”

    I would not have realized what I thought about this if you had not written your comment. Thank you.

  2. Autonomy results from having the experience and knowledge to make choices. A lack of direction doesn’t provide experience or knowledge. What is needed is appropriate structures that scaffold students into acquiring the experience and knowledge essential to making choices.

    Csikszentmihalyi’s work on flow shows that motivation is related to finding a balance between frustration and boredom, tasks that challenge without being unduly frustrating.

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