"[I]f I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week…The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature." --Charles Darwin

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Teaching outrageously

This review of a book called Teaching Content Outrageously may overstate the case for bold antics in the classroom, but if you cast your mind back to your own student career, you will probably find that you remember the outrageous teachers first before the others.

Hopefully, you will also remember what it was they were trying to teach. That's the trick: to connect the surprise and even effrontery to the central goal of the lesson.

I have gone so far as to concoct an entirely bogus quiz, full of outrageously trivial questions, even questions to which the assigned reading offered no answers, complete with vocabulary questions on non-existent words. Imagine my disappointment when none of my students were angry at me! They have become such a docile bunch--at least in the comfortable suburban town in which I taught--that they simply did their best to comply and blamed themselves when they didn't know the answers to unanswerable questions.

I let them stew for about half a period, then did a de-brief. Finally, I got to the point I wanted to get to--to ask them what SHOULD be on a literature test. Sometimes it was pulling teeth to get them out of the box they had been put in somewhere around 3rd or 4th grade, when they started reading chapter books. But finally we got to talking about the larger themes and synthesis of material, higher-order thinking, instead of that bottom 15% where multiple choice tests dwell.

Finally, the outrageous tactics must point to the lesson and not to the teacher. Outrageous teaching can reinforce "sage on the stage;" at its best, it directs students to examine themselves and their own assumptions, rather than teacher performance.

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