An Incident and Some Questions
Recently, I’ve been doing reading on critical incidents as a way to problematize reflection on teaching. This reading had me thinking about a specific example that could illustrate this. I came across one the other day, involving a lesson that was being taught by myself and another teacher to different classes. We were teaching to the same type of class, and on paper it looked like we were teaching the same lesson. However, the bit of the lesson that I witnessed the other teacher teaching, seemed very different then the approach I took. I attempted to give my students freedom to work through the activity/lab themselves, which also meant leaving room for my students to make mistakes. When I saw the other teacher doing the same lesson, they were being walked through the activity step by step, with the more technical sections being completed by the teacher. Though this most likely reduced the mistakes made by the students, I worry that it also reduced the opportunity for students to work through problems on their own. I have the perspective that working through problems is at the heart of scientific inquiry, and it is also a skill that needs to be developed. If we never cut the strings as teachers, it will be difficult for students to function independently when they are at last faced with that freedom. This may not be the perspective of my colleague. My colleague may think that a strong foundation is necessary before the big inquiry can begin. In this particular case, I can’t know for sure that either of us is right…or maybe we both are right. There may be more than one way to reach the same end goal.
It would be dangerous for me to make assumptions looking on the outside in. I don’t see this class everyday. I don’t get to see what the teacher is building. I, unfortunately, have not had the opportunity to sit and hash out the teacher’s motivations with him. I know that this teacher wants to create critical thinkers, however, I think the daily pressures of classroom requirements inhibit the creation of an inquiry environment. I see a combat between desire and practicality. I want to find a way that we can help each other to move and reshape practical pressures so that educational desires become educational reality.
This is not only a lesson in the dangers of assumption or jumping to conclusions, but the need for us as educators to work together–to inquire together. For us to find and then solve the problems together. Because too often they will be more complex then then first appear to be.