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Friday, January 15, 2010

Bricks in the Wall, or What?


In much of the educational process throughout our lives, we as students want to be taught. In fact, we expect that our teachers/lecturers/professors "give" us knowledge, we see ourselves as receptacles for a particular content, and we submit ourselves to this process often without questioning its linear fashion, assuming that the educator knows best and that he or she has our best interests in mind.

Here are two quotes that for me throw a different light on the educational process. I would like to know how you view either one of these statements (or both) in the context of your own study.



Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let him know that you trust him.

Booker T. Washington


*****




A teacher who establishes rapport with the taught becomes one with them, learns more from them than he teaches them.



Mahatma Gandhi


If I said that these two statements reflect to a large extent my own philosophy of education and my expectations for not just teacher-student interactions in the courses I "teach" but even the way I structure my classes, how might you the student respond? Would you want to reconsider your decision to join my sessions -- and perhaps even withdraw immediately -- or might your curiosity be stimulated?

I look forward to reading responses to thoughts on these issues.

19 comments:

Jason said...

Adding you right now. Take care!

Jason
DEBATEitOUT.com

SoonYee said...

I think that I agree with this view on education. Learning should involve the process of interaction and not purely absorbing knowledge like a sponge. It is also a philosophy that goes well with the idea of "Teach less, learn more".

In a Plato dialogue that I read a year back, Plato asked a boy to solve a problem, a task the boy could not perform. Yet after Plato dropped hints, the boy found the answer to the question. The boy had never knew the answer nor did Plato give one. This situation led Plato to suggest that perhaps knowledge was always there, it just needed recollection.

And perhaps, an interactive class might be the way to help us "recall" the knowledge that we seek.

Rohan Rajiv said...

I agree with both..

This transcends beyond teaching to mentoring in organizations as well. In the book, How to be a great boss by Jeffrey J Fox, he illustrates that a great boss never provides solutions to the problems of his subordinates -

Manager - Boss, we have a crisis with the new product..... what should we do?

Great Boss - I don't know, what do you think? (7 magic words said in all humility)

Manager(after a bit of a pause as he isn't used to thinking..hehe) - I propose ...............

Great Boss - Sounds good to me! :)

This way, he learns, gives them responsibility and empowers them! :)

Jude Too Soon Yee said...

Rohan: Actually, as good as that book might have sounded, the 'tactic' is debatable. On one hand you could see it as empowering subordinates and trusting them and their ideas but on the other, it is a convenient excuse of shifting the responsibility off themselves. Perhaps some bosses do that everytime because they do not actually have any ideas of how to solve the problems. I would say that a balance is important. Sometimes the bosses can empower the subordinates but sometimes he has to take the lead himself. That, in my opinion, would be a much more effective way of management.

Brad Blackstone said...

Interesting discussion here, Soon Yee and Rohan. The tactic, as Soon Yee calls it, depends on the context. If the boss shrugs his own responsibility every time, then I can understand why this approach may seem debatable. However, if the boss takes the manager's ideas into consideration, then accepts responsibility for making a final decision, it would appear that he is doing his job.

Jude Too Soon Yee said...

To Brad: Perhaps this ties in well with what you have said about communications during class. You mentioned that the audience have an expectation and depending on this expectation, the same action could have vastly different results. For a manager who "expects" the Boss to have all the ideas and carry all the responsibilities, a different approach would be needed. A guaranteed "tactic" would never suffice. Interactions between people are just too dynamic, we can only try our best to create the best scenario possible for everyone.

Brad Blackstone said...

Yes indeed, Jude, dynamism is the key, I suppose. Guidelines are fine, but every new situation probably has to be judged/acted on through its own merits.
Still, it's not bad having a map to guide us through. We simply need to remember that a map is not the territory.

Looking back on an earlier comment on this same post, I'd be hesitant to evaluate ("as good as that book might have sounded") the Fox book based on one slim illustration. The book sounds interesting.

Jude Too Soon Yee said...

It is a bit too hasty to conclude without even reading the book but I do have prejudice against self-help books like such. Perhaps it could be due to the book I read a couple of years back about the whole idea of self-help.

I find this a weakness of mine in a way that I am a bit too stubborn on my stands. I might lose an argument but I seldom get to understanding the point of view of the flip side of the coin.

shihhan said...

In school many of us expects to be spoon fed. We just take in the information that is fed to us, memorise them and go for exams. This is unhealthy but I guess as much as it is in Singapore's context all of us are just concerned about the end product and not the process.

I do agree with the part that says about the one that is teaching learns more from them than he teaches them. When I teach piano, many a time I feel that I've learnt something new from teaching different students although the things that I teach are the same. This makes teaching interesting as each of them are different and there is no one fixed approach to get about doing it. (:

Geraldine said...

I think I agree with Jude that there should be a balance of both techniques. With regards to the classroom setting, I feel that teachers should give some basic information and guide their students in the application of that information. They should not spoon feed them with information and expect them to accept and memorize them all. I had that experience for chemistry in both my secondary school and junior college. I felt that it killed my brain cells in the thinking portion of my brain!

I agree with Booker T. Washington's quote as I feel that the knowledge I retained the most were the ones that I had to do my own research for.

I also agree with Mahatma Gandhi's quote as I believe that every individual has a wealth of knowledge based on their own unique experiences. Teachers have the unique opportunity of meeting many different students from different backgrounds and cultures. Hence, teachers would have many learning opportunities if they are willing to open their minds to it.

goh said...

Dear Brad,

Thank you for this inspiring post. I can't agree more with what Mahatma Ghandi said. When a teacher builds a rapport with his or her student, the teacher really learns from the student much more than the student had from the teacher. I myself had such an experience.

Early last year I taught at a tuition centre for 6 months. Throughout this 6 months I was tasked to take over 2 classes, one in which I met this defiant girl who takes no interest in her studies. She is a student in the normal academic stream. She hurls vulgarities and was a very rude child.

I tried to reach out to this girl by writing her letters and encouraging her now and then. On the last day of my work there, I was pleasant surprised to receive a sms from her. It says: "Nobody has ever believed that I can do anything, but someone who isn't related to me at all chooses to have so much faith in me. I promise you, from now on I will give my best in whatever I do."

I waited and thought: would it be a wait worthwhile?

A month ago, she sent me another text message saying: "My exam results are out, I am third in my cohort...but I am 1mark away from getting promoted to the express stream."

Over these 6 months, I learned so much from her. The greatest lesson I learned from is that when you believe in people, they do the impossible. I also learned that there's much more to becoming a teacher than just regurgitation of knowledge.

Truely, the teaching profession is a journey of self discovery... where a teacher is both a student and a teacher throughout his or her career.

lionsnme said...

Dear Brad,

Thank you for this inspiring post. I can't agree more with what Mahatma Ghandi said. When a teacher builds a rapport with his or her student, the teacher really learns from the student much more than the student had from the teacher. I myself had such an experience.

Early last year I taught at a tuition centre for 6 months. Throughout this 6 months I was tasked to take over 2 classes, one in which I met this defiant girl who takes no interest in her studies. She is a student in the normal academic stream. She hurls vulgarities and was a very rude child.

I tried to reach out to this girl by writing her letters and encouraging her now and then. On the last day of my work there, I was pleasant surprised to receive a sms from her. It says: "Nobody has ever believed that I can do anything, but someone who isn't related to me at all chooses to have so much faith in me. I promise you, from now on I will give my best in whatever I do."

I waited and thought: would it be a wait worthwhile?

A month ago, she sent me another text message saying: "My exam results are out, I am third in my cohort...but I am 1mark away from getting promoted to the express stream."

Over these 6 months, I learned so much from her. The greatest lesson I learned from is that when you believe in people, they do the impossible. I also learned that there's much more to becoming a teacher than just regurgitation of knowledge.

Truely, the teaching profession is a journey of self discovery... where a teacher is both a student and a teacher throughout his or her career.

gohchern said...

Dear Brad,

This is Goh Chern from Group 8 class. I am sorry for the duplicated comments! They are exactly the same.

Joshua said...

Interesting post there Brad.
I agree with your about your teaching style, that the teacher should have faith in the student and trusts that the student would perform his very best.
Further more, NUS is a teritary educational institue. The performance of the student is no longer the responsibility of the teacher but more of the student himself. The teacher should be more like a guide in the student's quest for knowledge.
Just a thought to add though, if you were asked how many teachers are there in the your ES2007s Grp 8 class, I would most likely reply that there are 15 teachers and 1 facilitator. Each student is a teacher himself and is responsible for his own learning as well as the learning of his fellow peers. While the facilitator would be more of a guide to help everyone in their process.

peirong said...

Firstly, I strongly agree with this perspective towards education, teaching and learning. Even though rote learning is common in Singapore, where many teachers/lecturers/professors tend to "spoon-feed" their students, I have personally experienced a change in the education style. I have came across an increasing number of educators who claim that they would not "spoon-feed" the students and stress that the students should be responsible for their own learning. I cannot agree more with this.

Having some teaching experience in a neighborhood secondary school as a relief teacher, I came to realize that teaching is not at all easier. Particularly, effective education is very difficult to achieve. It always seemed easier for me to simply pick out the important content and give a lesson on the content alone, stressing what would be important for the examinations. This, I believe is what many teachers do in schools. However, I felt that this should not be the way to do it. I believe that what education wants to achieve is not students who are capable of regurgitating the facts that were taught.

The ideal education would be the nurturing of the students, who can develop skills, values and character, that are much more important than facts alone. Sadly, I am unable to fully practise what I believe in, due to the lack of training and experience. However, if I become a teacher one day, I truly hope that I would be able to put my ideals into practice.

Education is not a one-way process. Like communication, it requires the effort of both the educator and the student. With reference to the second quote by Mahatma Gandhi, I believe this is of utmost importance in education. Most people have the misconception that the teacher is always right and that learning is always a one-way, with the direction from the teacher to the student. This is definitely not true. Educators, even those who have been in their profession for many years, continue to learn. There is always room to make mistakes, even for educators. Who says educators cannot learn from their own students?

peirong said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
peirong said...

We have to embrace the fact that different people have different ideas and knowledge. We need to have the flexibility to cope with this diversity of ideas and to be open-minded about accepting contrasting opinions. Many educators claim that there are usually no right or wrong answers to a question. What is important is how you put forth the argument to support your ideas. This applies not only to the arts and humanities, but also the sciences.

In my context, as a Biologist, mutual learning between the educator and student is important and beneficial. For instance, the taxonomic classification of some species can be highly debated, due to the fact that there are many unknowns in the world, which our technology has yet to be able to uncover them. A species that has a particular taxonomy today supported by the current gathered evidence, can be considered incorrect years later, when new characteristics are discovered. Another example would be the scientific methods, whereby a hypothesis can never be proven correct. It would only stand until the day it can be proved to be wrong.

In fact, many educators in the field of Biology remind students to embrace this uncertainty and anomalies. These educators stress that they can be wrong and encourage us to voice our views so that new ideas can be generated. This would also facilitate the build-up of the pool of knowledge in the area of study, where a scientific breakthrough can even be possible, for instance, with a discovery of a student. People look at things from different angles. What a professor would see in his point of view may differ from that of his students. Sometimes, these educators may be inspired by their students' findings that they might have neglected.

Hence, as an educator, being able to embrace learning from students is useful to both parties. With this, better rapport can be established, which can lead to possible breakthroughs.

To Brad: With reference to your education style, I am delighted to be a part of your group. It is wonderful to have an open-minded educator who will welcome ideas and opinions from all the students. This encourages me to speak up and share my ideas without the fear of being embarrassed when my answers and opinions may be "incorrect". I believe many of us feel good to know that our contributions in class would benefit everyone, including you, our educator, who value these contributions and learn from us.

Brad Blackstone said...

Having read through the comments left on this post, I realize yet again why it's such a great pleasure to teach at NUS. I learn something every day here.

You guys really do an amazing job of analyzing a written text (blog post in this case), synthesizing the ideas within your own experiences and thoughts, then cranking out insightful responses.

Gandhi would have been quite enthralled; I'm in awe.

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