My grandfather is a great lover of jokes. I don’t mean the slightly cynical modern humor we use today. I mean the old stuff. Those hokey, outdated jokes that are more likely to make you roll your eyes than laugh. All the same, it’s fun to hear him spin his yarn, and you might even discover a grain of wisdom while you’re at it. Just take one of his favorites: The Boy and the Ham.
One day a little boy saw his mother preparing a summer ham for dinner.
“Mamma” he asked, “Why do you always cut the rump off the ham before you cook it?’”
“Well,” responded his mother, “That is what my mother always used to do. Perhaps you should ask her?”
So, the little boy ran to his grandmother and asked, “Grandma, why did you always cut the rump off the ham before you cooked it?”
“Well,” responded his grandmother, “That is what my mother always used to do. Perhaps you should ask her?”
So, the little boy ran to his great-grandmother and asked, “Great grandma, why did you always cut the rump off the ham before you cooked it?” His great-grandmother blinked at him in surprise.
“Why, so the ham would fit into the oven of course!”
Learning to Break the Mold
Like I said, my grandfather’s jokes were no knee-slappers, but it does raise the question; How often do we do things simply because we think we’re “supposed” to do them?
This is particularly important for those of us in education. Think about all the routine practices in your classroom – from your grading system to your homework to your calling on students for answers. How much of your routine is based around compliance? How much of what you do is because you’re supposed to do it that way, or because that’s the way it was when you were in school?
As educators, we strive to build classrooms around curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking. But compliant practices create compliant thinkers, and all too often we end up suppressing these qualities instead of inspiring them. So how do we break the cycle of conformity without disrupting the structure our classrooms need? Well, we can begin by building off existing practices.
Implementing New Ideas
- Grading: Like many of us, students tend to see grades rather than the knowledge behind them. Give a student an F and they’ll lament their bad grade without improving. What they really need is to sit down and reflect on where they went wrong. If assignments are formative, then consider feedback without grades. Use a rubric-based assessment instead of arbitrary 100-point system. This will allow you to highlight students’ strengths and weaknesses while giving them something to work toward (For more on grading, check out this 10 minute video on standards-based grading).
- Homework: Homework is meant to be practice. It’s an exercise we use to build a student’s mental muscles while introducing them to new material. Unfortunately, for students who have grasped the concept, it’s just busywork. For those that haven’t, homework is just a grinding reminder of their own shortcomings. Consider making your homework more output based and student-driven. Ask them to connect what they learned to something they are interested in for example. This will help reinforce the lesson while showing them its usefulness in everyday life.
- Hand Raising: Strong classroom management is essential in a positive learning environment, but it needn’t be regimented or stifling. Asking students to raise their hand and be called on divides the class very quickly into those that want to talk and those that don’t. All students need to contribute to classroom discussions, so instead of calling on one or two people, consider posing your question and making all students answer with at least two partners. Interpersonal communication is a vital skill and building confidence in this area can do wonders for students.
The teaching techniques we used 10 years ago may not be the best methods to use in today’s classroom. We need to be innovative and dare to step away from the comforts of convention. Your students deserve to have “learning” be the focus of their education, and you deserve the freedom to facilitate that learning.
What about you? How do you inspire curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking within your classroom? Let us know in the comments or share your tips over social media!
*Content for this blog was drawn from Compliance Practices Create Compliant Thinkers by Terra Tarango.