Teaching and learning, two faces of the same medal?
When I was a student, like the majority of us, I had some subjects I loved and some I did not particularly like.
Make me interested with the former was a relatively easy task for the teacher.
A direct approach was enough to give me the stimuli necessary to produce answers and “create” knowledge.
My motivation to learn, combined with teaching methods especially oriented towards developing reading and listening ( the so called receptive skills ) made easy to focus on something I was interested with anyway.
The main question is really trying to understand why the subjects that I was really into at a certain stage of my learning turned into something I disliked and why others became more relevant to me.
Was this the result of changing in my personal motivations and needs triggered by the teachers and the evolution of teaching methods applied by them in the classroom like the constructivism theory implies, or was just the consequence of changing in my thinking triggered by mechanisms already in my mind like the cognitivism theory assumes.
Teachers and teaching methods are, of course, a very important factor to these changes.
When I started going to school, the majority of the teachers were mainly worried on developing microskills related to grammar.
This was mainly done through deductive teaching that is, teachers were focused to develop student’s ability by following the education programs dictated at a
national level with the goal to help them pass the final exams.
Teaching was mainly oriented towards a meaning focused outpost.
Students nor had a lot of opportunities nor were particularly encouraged to show any form to fluency.
At this stage of my learning, this controlled teaching, which turned into controlled practice and, in a certain sense, controlled learning, focused
more on accuracy than on fluency, suited well my needs and expectations and was enough to motivate me in my learning process.
Subjects associated with this rigid teaching model such as mathematics, science and even second language ( english ) were my favourite ones.
However, as the years go by, these subjects started becoming less and less interesting if not outright boring mainly because of the passive role I was having in the whole learning process while others started suddenly becoming more and more interesting ( such as latin and literature ).
Part of these changes were, for sure, already inside of me: growing up, changes in my relation with the external world ( both interpersonal and intrapersonal ) came out and expressed themselves in new needs and motivations, part were the result of stimuli from others around me ( teachers, fellow students ).
In my own personal story, the most important role was played by one single teacher.
She was my latin and literature teacher at the time of my teenager years: an eccentric genius with two degrees.
What did she do to have such a dramatic effect both on my view of learning, and on my goals?
The first thing I can immediately think of was her ability of building a rapport with the students and engage the classroom like no other teachers had done before.
From a teaching grammar based model focused on deductive teaching and accuracy, we switched to a more direct method focused on inductive teaching and fluency.
We, as students, were sort of pushed to be active part of the lesson, no more mere passive participant of it.
Once engaged by one particular topic, we were almost eager to study, develop it and participate actively during and after class time.
Another trait that, in my opinion, made this teacher different from the rest, was the fair way she teated all the students; whether you were up or struggling with the lesson, you were almost always feeling part of it ( and an important part of it too).
This type of teaching really helped me to activate a strong interest in humanistic studies; an interest which had obviously always been inside of me but it had never been engaged before in such a way to allow me to express it both in school and in the day to day life.
It really helped me to go through my teenager years and left a defining mark in my adult life.
While all of this was happening, other favourite subjects, such as mathematics and science, turned into a sort or repetitive and boring ones.
The reason,being just the logical, structural teaching associated with them or the mere change of direction in my learning, is difficult to say.
Would a different approach by the teachers have helped to avoid or slow down these changes?
Would a teaching methods less focused on accuracy have helped me to keep my interest alive in these subjects?
Would a more participatory approach have been enough to motivate me to keep on developing the logical / mathematical side of my learning?
In the early stage of my learning, grammar model method, based on the behaviourist theory, focused on accuracy and following step by step rigid syllabus with controlled practice and never-ending drills seemed the right way to help me to study and activate my knowledge.
However in the following stages of my education, this approach started feeling inadequate and not sufficient to motivate and help me cope with new exceptions and goals.
I needed different motivations, new opportunities.
A more communicative approach, based on Cognitivism theory, focused on fluency, with the teacher acting as a motivator but at the same time be able to identify and meet your needs and expectations became the right model for me.
Of course, no all my fellow students felt the same way.
We are talking about a large class full with students each ones with their ones expectations, needs and goals.
It is true that teaching depends on the teacher but, on the other hand, it is even more true that learning depends on both the teacher and the students.
A teacher’s job is clearly one to build a rapport , be positive,and be able to engage with the class but on the other hand students’ motivations, both the ones already inside of them and the ones coming from the world outside are in continuous evolution, modifying both their needs and expectations, affecting their personalities and their approach to learning and life itself.
Not every students could be engaged at the same time and in the same way.
I could personally find engaging reading “The Divine Comedy”, studying the esoteric theories associated with it to activate my interest with finding out correlations between Dante and secret societies, but other students might find all this boring and absolute no fun in the classroom.
What I am trying to say . it is that, in my opinion, is very difficult to put all the blame on the teachers for losing part of the class while engaging the other.
Learning must and should be a trade between the teachers and the students and, if and when something goes wrong, it is usually the result of both failing to see each others’ motivations, needs and expectations.
Bearing this in mind, I can’t but stress enough the importance of the teacher’s job to be able to build rapport in the classroom and his/her ability to recognise learners’ expectations in order to promote knowledge.
The key word is Engage
By recognising students’ prior knowledge, understanding their needs and meeting their expectations, we, as teachers, should be able to motivate and activate their interest for learning.
In other words, teachers need to be both motivators and, at the same time, be able to play as “playmakers”, that is be able to lead the team into a position from which the other players can score.
In a scholastic jargon. we teachers have to engage the students into a position from which they can activate their knowledge in order to score in whatever goals they have
both in learning and in their life.