Career, Change, Learning

Teach As If

Classroom Active

The path of least resistance and least trouble is a mental rut already made. It requires troublesome work to undertake the alteration of old beliefs.

John Dewey

If only we still believed students were containers. We could pump them full of data and deposit them, ready to perform, on the job market. Our task would be so much easier. We could rely on the old models. We could stand at the front of the class and, through sheer force of will, hold court on subject matter we have mastered.

Sometimes we tell ourselves that because our professors taught us in the traditional models and we managed to learn something, our students should be able to do the same. Even as we try to convince ourselves that we can coast on familiar habits, we know better. We know too many students who have fallen through the cracks. We see students able to perform problem sets but unable to function on a team. We notice how they arriving at the end of a semester having somehow missed the skills they most need to flourish as professionals, creative thinkers, and contributing members of our communities. 

We know, even as we continue to write the same tests and deliver the same lessons, we have far more to offer our students. And our students have far more to tap in themselves.

No one can pour learning into someone else. Learning happens through the interplay of cognitive, emotional, physical, and social processes which a learner must experience directly. We need a new starting point. Subject matter is only as important as its application to real-world problems, and it is no longer a reliable guide. The learner must serve as our compass point. The engaged teaching approaches we practice — active, reflective, collaborative, experiential, and inquiry-based learning – help our students integrate content and make use of it through practical skills.

No matter how tired we feel, no matter how stuck in our ways, we can revitalize learning. As long as we have students in the room, we can open up a window. We can re-imagine our classrooms as places of engagement, excitement, and experience. We can practice what we aim to create.

The call is simpler than we imagine: Play with ideas. Require the active and sometimes exhausting contribution of every student. Do the heavy lifting and make room for learners at the center of our teaching. Model dynamic and critical participation. With each lesson plan, in each interaction, act as the reflective practitioner and engaged citizen we hope every student becomes.

Image credit: Wright State University

2 thoughts on “Teach As If”

  1. I think more radical changes are needed, something more akin to apprenticeships where people learn by working with masters in problems over years (this happens some with research sciences, engineering and design lab), as for learning in groups and all sounds lovely but how will profs who have gotten where they are thru solo research going to manage to teach what they don’t know let alone try and grade such efforts?
    the majority of liberal arts colleges won’t be able to shift gears at anywhere near the pace of cultural/economic changes/demands, for better or worse the kinds of unbundling that did in the makers/sellers of record albums and is now pulling apart the cable industries distribution packages will continue to take market share away from traditional higher-ed.
    see “nano” degrees at:

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