Posted by Alythea on October 24, 2011
Conventional wisdom holds that effective teachers write the objective of each lesson on the board before class so that the students are aware of what the teacher intends them to accomplish. This premise seems like common sense, yet if we view it through the lens of critical exploration, we can see several ways it is flawed.
First, communicating objectives to students sends a strong message about who is driving the learning. In a conventional classroom, the teacher has the unquestioned authority to make decisions about student learning. Yet in an exploratory classroom, learning is driven by the students themselves, with the teacher facilitating the learning by listening carefully to the students’ observations and questions and helping them uncover new paths of inquiry. Stated objectives work against the aim of critical exploration by implying that the teacher will control not just the topic of the lesson but also the outcome of the students’ thinking.
Second, communicating objectives to students gives away the ending before the uncovering even begins. In a conventional classroom, the teacher reveals the point of the lesson ahead of time in order to motivate the students to work toward mastery of a predetermined skill or concept. Yet in an exploratory classroom, motivation arises instead from the students’ curiosity about the materials and about where their ideas might take them. Stated objectives work against the aim of critical exploration by focusing on the work required for students to achieve a goal rather than on the mindset required for students to immerse themselves in details, reconsider their assumptions, and construct theories that might help them make better sense of a topic.
Third, communicating objectives to students discourages students and teachers from pursuing potentially constructive lines of inquiry that appear tangential to the objectives. In a conventional classroom, where the priority is getting through the required material, students’ questions are valued to the extent that they allow the teacher to clarify concepts or instructions. Yet in an exploratory classroom, where the priority is constructing understanding, students’ questions create the pathways through which they are able to explore a topic deeply, leading to more meaningful learning. A question that seems misguided, silly, or off-topic when posed in a conventional classroom might, when posed in an exploratory classroom, provide the spark that lights an intellectual fire and helps it spread throughout the room. Stated objectives work against the aim of critical exploration by limiting the breadth and depth of questions and, consequently, of learning.
None of this is to suggest that teachers should not prepare their lessons ahead of time, have ideas about what they would like their students to understand, or conduct lessons in an efficient and time-conscious way. Indeed, anyone who has practiced critical exploration knows how important these responsibilities are to effective teaching. Yet in critical exploration, the most important responsibility is to help learners learn. The three reasons discussed above for abandoning the practice of writing lesson objectives on the board all prioritize student inquiry over teacher control. And when teachers are more attuned to the observations and questions of their students, those teachers are better positioned to enhance the quality of both the teaching and the learning in their classrooms.
Mike Fishback earned his Ed. M. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2006 and currently teaches seventh grade history and English at The Potomac School in McLean, Virginia.
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