School Talk

Guest Post: Learning on a Prayer

By Blake Harvard

Today, on twitter, Tom Bennett shared the below image with the comment, “Pray your children get the first classroom.”

This sparked a bit of a debate among several members of edutwitter and created a bit of a stir.  Here is a link to Mr. Bennett’s original tweet.  As a classroom teacher, I’d like to give my take on this situation for two reasons: 1. I think this is an important conversation.  2. It’s my blog. I can do what I want.

The first aspect that jumped off the image was the obvious assumptions makes about the traditional classroom; that students sit quietly, do not speak, and never do any of the things occurring in the deeper learning classroom. As I look at the six descriptors associated with the deeper learning classroom, I don’t see one that cannot be accomplished in the traditional classroom. Not one. It is quite presumptuous to illustrate that students sitting, reading, listening, and learning in the traditional classroom cannot become lifelong learners, develop a positive mindset, or think critically in a collaborative way about/with material.  It simply is not true. My classroom would assuredly be labeled as a traditional classroom, and my students are daily provided the opportunity to interact verbally, self-assess, check for understanding with a partner/group, ask questions of my instruction or others’ statements, et cetera. The image, quite incorrectly, proliferates the myth that traditional classrooms are somehow inferior environments for learning…especially, as the board in the traditional classroom indicates (math 101), if the material is foundational for further understanding of more complex problems contained in future courses.

I also worry about the message this sends to teachers and administrators.  Especially within American edutwitter, there is a massive push to forgo traditional teaching and classroom settings for more flexible seating, maker environments, and creativity within the classroom.  Let me be clear, I am not anti-creativity, anti-technology, or anti-collaboration…but I am more pro-learning and refuse to harm the learning environment in the name of fun. Allow me to focus on the creativity bit for a moment.  Creativity does not occur without knowledge. You cannot be creative with information you do not have. Novice learners, who are acquiring the knowledge to be creative, learn better in a more organized classroom with fewer extraneous distractions.  This is best illustrated in the traditional classroom. The teacher as the expert and the students as the novice. I know that ruffles some feathers and many believe they should be the ‘guide on the side’ and not the ‘sage on the stage’, but just hear me out…how can your novice learners be required to teach others and create with the knowledge they are just beginning to understand?  They cannot do it well and may be harming their learning and others by incorrectly ‘teaching’ their peers. Their time would be far more efficiently and effectively used having an expert communicate their knowledge, assess the learning, and then move to applications of the learning.

I can almost hear veteran teachers saying, “Yeah…of course.  Teach them and then allow them to collaborate, create, etc. That’s a given.”  I’m not so sure that’s what those new to the profession are hearing/seeing on twitter, though.  I fear all they see on various blogs, edchats, and websites is the expectation of students constantly in conversation, constantly creating, and constantly up and about.  The realities of most classrooms is not that for 45 to 90 minutes a day. When I began teaching 12 years ago, there was no twitter or pinterest…and I’m quite glad. I cannot imagine the pressure new teachers must feel when viewing others’ classrooms and hearing of their dynamic lessons.

So, a message to the new teacher and teacher trainee:  Relax. Know your subject. Teach your material cleanly and directly.  Imparting knowledge is the best thing you can do for your students. Yes, relationships matter.  Yes, student well-being certainly matters. If you set clear boundaries/expectations for the classroom and share a bit of yourself along the way, your students will respect you and the relationship part will take care of itself.

A last clarification:  Prior knowledge matters. I teach AP Psychology and my students come in with very little understanding of the material we cover on a daily basis.  If you are teaching a course where students already have a firm grasp of the curriculum, that changes things a bit.

So, to end, I would like to paraphrase Jon Bon Jovi (and Tom Bennett a bit):

“Woah, sit down in your chair

Woah, learning on a prayer

Take some notes, you’ll retrieve it I swear

Woah, learning on a prayer”


*Notice how the traditional classroom is darker than the well-lit deeper learning classroom?  What’s up with that?  Biased much?

Blake Harvard describes himself this way at his blog The Effortful Educator:

My name is Blake Harvard.  I am the AP Psychology teacher at James Clemens High School in Madison, Alabama.  I have been teaching for about a decade and received my B. S. and M. Ed. degrees from the University of Montevallo.

I have a particular affinity for all things cognition and psychology; especially when those areas are also paired with education and learning.  I wanted to start a blog to highlight research being done on learning, memory, and cognition and their connections to the classroom.

What do you think?

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