Pushing Students Beyond Boundaries

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Chris Yarzab via Compfight cc

“M, you are not bad. It’s just your behaviour that sometimes needs to be better”

“I’ll be better tomorrow,” M would say apologetically. And each time we had this conversation, I would leave with a profound sense that something was not right.” –pg. 20, Against Common Sense by Kevin Kumashiro

“Why didn’t you just tell us the answer in the beginning? Did we have to have this whole discussion?”

“I didn’t want to just tell you the answer. You don’t learn when you’re just told an answer. You learn when you figure out yourself and come to your own answers.”

“But you already had the answer. Weren’t we just trying to figure out your answer?” — pg. 23, Against Common Sense by Kevin Kumashiro

Out of all that I read in this chapter, these two passages were what left me with the most to think about. I can remember specific instances in which I was in the exact position as Kumashiro. There have been times when I would get frustrated when kids like “M” weren’t listening in class because I thought that was a direct reflection on my inability to teach. I would get upset at the student because I was upset at myself; I would ask myself, “Why can’t I get through to them?” Like Kumashiro, I have come to realize that, in most of these cases, it is not my ability to teach that is in question, but the ways that I teach. Sometimes, the “traditional” classroom does not work for certain students; even though schools constantly tell students such as “M” or “N” how to act and think, kids rebel against such notions, even though they don’t realize they are rebelling at all. Instead, they are simply saying and doing what feels right to them – they are learning in ways that makes sense to them. And who are we, as educators, to say that this isn’t how you learn? The school system is overly concerned with shoving information at students – here are the outcomes that you need to master by the end of the semester and we are going to learn them on my terms. What teachers need to realize is that education is a two way street; there needs to be give and take. Of course, there are some things that the students need to learn, whether they like it or not. However, the method in which you teach these things should be altered according to your students’ needs.

Most of all, however, you should encourage students to learn the material on their own terms; don’t teach to impose your own views on students. Instead, question the common sense answers and make students uncomfortable with their current ways of knowing. Learning is not about being complacent; it is about challenging your views and pushing knowledge to the limit. Oftentimes, students just adapt the ways of knowing that their family and peers have – there is a transmission of knowledge that occurs outside of school. The job of school, then, is to address these views and challenge them. Why do you think this way? Have you ever considered different ways of knowing? Investigating these different kinds of understanding is a way for students to learn more about themselves and question “common ways of knowing.” Doing so will not only improve their critical thinking skills, but it will also allow them to become more engaged in the world around them.

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