A brief introduction to the sharing classroom

In the previous post, I attempted to synthesize past discussions to argue that the act of “teaching and learning” or developed understanding occurs through “sharing.”

This helps to create the teacher as something other than a “source of knowledge,” and students as other than “receptacles for knowledge.”

Let us consider two different types of classrooms before seeing what a sharing classroom means:

Content-driven classrooms and inquiry-driven classrooms

Content-driven classrooms are based on material to be learned and absorbed. Students are measured on their ability to recall and organize information according to their presented schema. Educators and textbooks are seen as the source of the information that students are expected to receive.

Inquiry-driven classrooms have students engage with material deeply, using source material, and conducting surveys of the context in order to create their own understandings.

While it is easy to hold inquiry-driven classrooms above content-driven ones, it is not necessarily fair. Content is important for developing understanding. It is also a result of our school systems. As the previously mentioned story of Charles Lamb, regarding the origin of roast pork warns – we shouldn’t burn down buildings to effect change, we must look at the whole context from which these situations derive (such as the institutional emphasis on trivia), and then consider how to approach it.

The necessity of content:

Firstly, we can understand the necessity of content based on the nature of standardization in the school system. We can reflect on Osborne’s comments that tests are standardized with trivial answers to aid in marking.

As well, while recollection of content does not prove understanding, it is important that students can apply their knowledge contextually.

Content not only serves to give shape to whatever topic we are discussing (how can you teach historical research skills in lieu of content?), it also helps us organize and ratify our understandings. If our methodologies are wrong, the content produced would demonstrate it.

Some meaningful questions to consider are:

From where does the content arise?

If students are exploring ideas and developing their own understanding, then the content will develop and grow meaningfully, “from the bottom up.”

If students are absorbing handed information and attempting to develop meaning around it, then the content will have a weak foundation, “from the top down.”

How is validity (truth) demonstrated?

This is where we begin to build into a concept of a “sharing” classroom.

In a content-based classroom truth is based on the single authority of the textbook/instructor.

In an inquiry-based classroom, truth is created from inquiry and analysis.

In a sharing classroom, the inquiry is then brought back into the community, and understanding is developed communally.

Students interact with each other to share and develop their understanding within the context of big ideas.

Through this interaction, students will support their existing understandings and challenge new ideas that others present. As a result of this challenge, understanding will develop as students work to prove their own ideas, and explore the flaws/benefits therein implied.

This is the mechanism in which understanding develops in communities, organizations and the natural world. Why not bring this approach into the classroom itself?

Observations of how this mimics natural comprehension development will be offered in a future post.

All in all, this leads us to a conclusion,

New ideas are challenging

We all hold different frameworks and conceptions that explore exactly how the world around us functions. New ideas challenge us to rework our frameworks in order to accommodate them. Flexibility is the sign of a strong mind, but the act of being flexible is a learned and developed skill.

One of the most difficult aspects of being an educator is to develop the mental flexibility needed to explore new ideas.

Implied in this ability, are growth-mindset and process-based conceptions of learning.

Educators develop this capacity by celebrating creativity, and validating divergent perspectives.

Students should realize the fluidity of perspective and the multiple “valid” articulations of content explored. As Kuhn emphasizes in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, new paradigms of thought do not necessarily derive from that which is most true.

A sharing classroom, properly implemented, would allow students to develop “holistic perspectives” where their own ideas do not preclude their anti-thesis (possibly held by others in the classroom).

The idea is to develop broad structure of knowledge foundations than narrow structure of authoritative perspectives.

Foundational to this approach is an educator’s perspective that is grounded in growth. Rather than refuting new ideas, the goal is to support and develop those. Most difficultly, it is the educator’s responsibility to embrace ideas that challenge their conceptions.

There is a line to be drawn about what is acceptable, as social conditioning, expectations and conventions are the domain of classroom instruction. However, in a sharing classroom, the mechanism of discourse should allow for confrontations of prejudice, and a broadening of perspective.

Terms defined:

In order to clarify the contrast, let us look at the three ideas explored arranged in a hierarchical fashion of engagement.

Content-based classrooms: Material is taught, individual recollection of material is assessed.

Inquiry-based classrooms: Big ideas are presented. Students develop their own understandings of material. Understanding is then assessed.

Sharing classrooms: Big ideas are presented. Students develop their own understandings of the material. Understanding is shared among classmates and refined as a result of communication. Divergent ideas are validated and supported. Comprehensive outlines of ideas are explored instead of single perspective authoritarian approaches.

It strikes me that sharing classrooms require further definition. We will continue to build our definition in future postings.

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