From a day three and a half years ago

“Drawing the readings and “speaking” the story as students follow and take notes which amount to clustering seems to work well and to smoke out those who don’t want to engage.”

This was a note I made on how classes were going back in January of 2006. I thought it worth repeating here b/c there are so many posts on fl teacher listservs about how to monitor students’ learning. That was always one of my biggest concerns, even when I was teaching social studies at the beginning of my career. How do you know they’re getting it?

At several tprs sessions I heard the phrase, “Teach to the eyes.” It seemed to be their way of making sure students were engaged. Recently on flteach there was a discussion about engagement. There seems to be a contingent of teachers who do not think it is their task either to engage students or to present interesting material. I guess their thinking is that they are the masters and the students are the disciples who are there to sit at the master’s feet and absorb the wisdom dripping from his lips. That excuses desultory, ill-informed and formless presentations. How many of us have been subjected to that kind of teaching?

So here is a quote from an author of a book on teaching via tprs. I will post this somewhat edited on flteach without identifying the author. It is Ben Slavic. I will not even identify the book, TPRS In a Year, b/c with some of the list members, the letters tprs provoke a shutdown. But I thought it was an excellent description of what engagement is and I will post it on that thread on flteach. Here it is.

Page 34
“Are you making eye contact with your students? In any class, the students are constantly making decisions about how engaged to become in their learning process. So also, you are making decisions about how much to engage your students with you.

Engaging students visually requires courage and honest. By establishing a “two-way visual street,” however, you reduce discipline problems. You are so busy engaging them in eye contact (esp those who are deliberately avoiding you) that they have less of an opportunity to act out.

When your students understand that they will be engaged in fairly active eye contact with their instructor, there is a look of trust in their eyes. It is an almost invisible response – only you can see it – as if they are saying to you as you continue on through class, “Thank you for caring about me in this class. Thank you for making this material comprehensible to me! Thank you for making sure I don’t get left behind!”

This kind of eye contact adds much discipline to the ** classroom. The students simply do not act out because they are authentically engaged in real learning. They are doing an activity that is interesting and meaningful to them.

In that sense, [it] is part of a tremendous revolution in the very concept of disciplining children in schools. Up to this point, the teacher was often seen as a force in the room, requiring students to pay attention. There was a kind of tacit understanding that certain children were intrinsically flawed and needed to be “guided” into proper behavior by a capable adult. But are these children really behaviorally flawed, or are they just bored?”

It’s easy to see how this will enrage some teachers. The very idea that someone, anyone, would declare their lifeless lessons boring (BTW, how does one manage to make history boring? Or literature, or math? But they sure mangage). I love how some schools try to achieve engagement on the cheap, by calling their teachers “masters” and the principal “headmaster” and so on, trying to evoke this non-existent time when children were compliant and capable of absorbing vast quantities of disembodied data. When was the Battle of Waterloo? 1815. Significance? No idea. Who cares?

Whether or not there is a “tremendous revolution” going on is highly debateable. I see no evidence of it. But maybe this author is right. It’d be nice. Real knowledge of schools and teaching indicate that students in the past walked out on boring blow-hards. Now they must show their ability to absorb great amounts of b.s. in order to graduate. Students do not get a voice in how they are taught.

This comment from Laura Gibbs could not be posted in the usual way. Here it is:

Pat, this is even more true at the university level, where faculty members often had no intention of becoming teachers; rather, many of them end up teaching simply because they are required to do so in order to carry on their intellectual lives as scholars and researchers, with their primary duty being to the subject matter itself (often so arcane as to be incomprehensible to the students), and with the strong assumption that to pay attention to the students themselves violates the scholarly sacred trust of the university endeavor itself. To engage with the students and their interests is generally referred to as “pandering” to the students. The etymology of pander in this regard is very suggestive, ha ha:
pander (n.)
“arranger of sexual liaisons, one who supplies another with the means of gratifying lust,” 1530, “procurer, pimp,” from M.E. Pandare (c.1374), used by Chaucer (“Troylus and Cryseyde”), who borrowed it from Boccaccio (who had it in It. form Pandaro in “Filostrato”) as name of the prince who procured the love of Cressida (his niece in Chaucer, his cousin in Boccaccio) for Troilus. The story and the name are of medieval invention. Spelling infl. by agent suffix -er. The verb meaning “to indulge, to minister to base passions” is first recorded 1602.

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