Come to the edge,” he said.
They said, “We are afraid.”
“Come to the edge,” he said.
He pushed them. – Guillaume Appollinaire
I came across a picture recently where a parent or teacher was holding up a sign that said, “Excessive Testing Stifles the Love of Learning.” I agree. You could take an otherwise engaging activity (whether it be in the classroom, on the basketball court, in the wilderness, or even on the playground), and turn it into monotony by filling it with testing. That is just poor instructional design. Feedback and tracking progress are good, even important in many contexts, but testing isn’t the only way to do that. Just throwing tests into otherwise engaging learning environments does little to improve the learning environment. In fact, it can sometimes do the opposite. Yet, testing is not the focus of this article. As much as I agree that excessive testing stifles the love of learning, excessive teaching also stifles the love of learning. Excessive learning, on the other hand, is what I want to see.
What do I mean by excessive teaching? I’m referring to teaching that doesn’t leave room for students to learn how to self-direct and self-regulate. I’m talking about obsessive talking and explaining, filling in all the blanks, not leaving room for messy learning, and running the classroom like one is trying to control a team of bridled horses. As a way of explaining what I mean, I’ve included a series of six quotes followed by a brief commentary.
“Schooling, instead of encouraging the asking of questions, too often discourages it.” Madeleine L’Engle
Excessive teaching is about asking questions and often answering them too. What we want is a learning spaces where teachers ask questions, but students ask even more. And students are the ones exploring and grappling to find answers that often lead to more questions.
“None of the world’s problems will have a solution until the world’s individuals become thoroughly self-educated.” – Buckminster Fuller
Self-education and human agency go hand in hand. If we want to nurture a growing sense of agency in people, then that means less explicit teaching and more nurturing people on how to own and manage their learning.
“When you teach a child something you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself.” ~ Jean Piaget
Discovery is a precious gift. Excessive teaching robs learners of that gift. Or, it is at least a bit like running up to someone and unwrapping their birthday presents for them. Where is the fun and excitement in that…at least for the person with the birthday? We want to remove the equivalent in our classes. Teachers, please stop opening all the presents. Give the learners a chance at the fun and excitement.
“I think schools generally do an effective and terribly damaging job of teaching children to be infantile, dependent, intellectually dishonest, passive and disrespectful to their own developmental capacities.” ~ Seymour Papert
“Children learn how to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions.” ~ Alfie Kohn
We want authentic, real-world (or at least simulated) activities where the learner is making decisions, experiencing and reacting. This is where some of the best learning happens.
” I learned most, not from those who taught me but from those who talked with me.” – St. Augustine
Augustine’s quote represents the distinction between learning from and learning with. One is about control. The other is about community. If we can nurture robust and vibrant learning communities, then I think we can address many serious concerns about modern education. The answer is not more or excessive teaching. It is creating spaces for excessive learning.