Monday, September 22, 2008

The Power of Talk

Our next unit in English is a Media Watching unit. Students will need to track a news story across the media and analyse the ways we are positioned towards a particular point of view.

While trawling the web today for interesting stimuli to use with my classes to help engage them I came across this great TED talk. This is one I'll certainly be using to get the discussion flowing.

One of the biggest shifts for me since I started down the path of a hybrid eLearning approach in my classrooms was from a mindset of "must teach the content" to one of "let's figure it out together."

Presently, the sad truth is that our education system stiffles conversations - we are locked into blocks of time, age groups and topics, and the teachers are to be treated as the "source" of information. And those engrained features of our system make engaging students in real conversations about their learning a more challenging way for a teacher to function.

Students are entering our classrooms prepared to be talked at, they'll take the notes they're told to, they'll learn the information they're instructed to. They're used to not having their opinions heard, to being told to put their hands down, to not speaking unless the teacher calls on them.

That's really sad. And it certainly isn't helping any of us.

So how do we change it?

As teachers we need to let go of the controls just a little (now, I realise that for many educators this is a terrifying thought, but it really will be ok), we need to acknowledge that our students have valuable contributions to make, we need to encourage them to share those with us, and we need support them in a shift from feeling their opinion isn't as important as their teachers' to feeling confident they have a right to be heard.

I taught short story unit earlier this year. Fairly easy genre and one the students have undoubtedly been exposed to many times over the years. I took two very different approaches with my two classes. One I taught the "traditional" way (ie, "A short story has these features..."), the other I didn't "teach" short stories (we read 'classic' short stories, we shared our opinions, we wrote short stories and we shared those openly, we collaborated and we talked). The second group did a lot better - in a way not related to their abilities. They came out of the unit with more confidence, more ideas and more opinions...those outcomes weren't on their criteria, but they're certainly valuable, perhaps more so than how to write a short story (if we're being really honest).

That unit showed me that talk has the power to engage, inspire and teach.

The last term has been pretty manic for me and out of laziness and exhaustion (and a degree of peer pressure from my colleagues) I've succumbed and slipped into old habits. This media unit I want to kick the cobwebs again, I want to reinspire conversations amongst me and my students. I want to be a learner with them. I want to share the ride.

Talk can see it happen.

What have you talked with your students about lately?

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