Teaching for Hope – Walt Werner: Reflection

Whereas the previous article emphasized student engagement and interest so education can be meaningful, this article discussed ways to foster that engagement without falling into the trap of overwhelming young learners.

Werner emphasizes the emotional impact that some of these conversations can have on young learners. “… Pictures of a broken world speak directly to their future. Implied is their tomorrow. Whether this realization occurs in a dramatic moment of insight or slowly awakens as a vague awareness, the consequence can be uncertainty about the future or, even worse, some loss of hope.” (p. 193)

Despite the difficulties that occur when confronting these topics, Werner emphasizes that we should not shy away from them. Rather, we should introduce them in a way that helps develop students’ capacities to approach and deal with these problems. That way? Hope.

As Philip Phenix said (quoted by Werner) “Hope is the mainspring of human existence … conscious life is a continual projection into the future. … Without hope, there is no incentive for learning, for the impulse to learn presupposed confidence in the possibility of improving one’s existence.” (p. 193)

I believe that the notion that learning stems from a desire to improve one’s existence is insightful. While it does not necessarily play to our modern sensibilities, it is important we remember that knowledge development comes from within, and how we relate with the world is in relation to our own self-perceptions (or ego). I think this is a somewhat controversial topic, and I will try and expand upon it soon. To sum up, because knowledge is created internally, there is a self-centered (I use this term to deliberately provoke) aspect to its development. If we accept this, then we will view the development of concepts like communities, and citizenship differently in our classrooms.

Foundational to creativity, as defined in the previous module is a consideration of student perceptions of self-efficacy. The desire to create new understandings and devise new “intellectual innovations” that help us broaden our perspective of the world, requires us to believe we can make a difference. In Werner’s terminology, for students to create, they need hope and belief in their capacity to do so. (As an aside, could belief be a faith in internal capacities while hope is a faith in external elements?)

The outline offered by Werner is interesting, but due to my own interests and the expectations of this assignment, I would like to broaden our approach.

If we look at Werner’s outline of how to approach difficult topics with hope, we can first ask about the intentions behind this outline. By approaching topics with a consideration for emotion, information, vision, and efficacy, (p. 194-195) we are helping students to build a ground-up understanding of a topic.

In my own classroom, I have begun using a design-oriented approach to learning and understanding. It guides students in conducting a survey of the field being explored, developing background and contextual information, as well as exploring their own preconceptions and established ideas. From their understandings, they can create a general framework for the information they are tackling, and develop from there.

By building upon their prior understandings to create a vision, sharing and collaborating with classmates, and then making an action plan that is actually put into being, students develop meaningful connections with the work.

I appreciated the simplicity that Werner brings to the topic, as well as the broad application of it. If I were to ask him a question, I would wonder “Do you think that student anxiety can be broader than cataclysmic worries of dire world-events? Can’t your model be used more generally to develop student engagement through a model for personal understanding (emotion and information), vision for applications, and a sense of personal capacity to apply the information (efficacy)?”

  • Werner, W. (2008). Teaching for hope. In R. Case & P. Clark (Eds.), The anthology of social studies, volume 2: Issues and strategies for secondary teachers (pp. 193–197). Vancouver: Pacific Educational Press.

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