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Think for myself? I don't think so!

Ok, ok, I know my previous post was waxing lyrical about the benefits of getting the students to think.  The wonderful advantages of teaching students to become lifelong learners, to internalise knowledge in order that they might go forth and use this knowledge to create their own masterpieces. These are all noble ideas indeed and I do truly believe in an approach to teaching that embraces such thought.  For this reason I created a course for my Year 10 students using wikispaces that allowed them to think through threshold concepts and construct their own knowledge.  I approached the task with gusto and felt sure that my Year 10 students would greet this creation with similar enthusiasm and indeed a number of them did.

However, it was not to everyone's liking; there were issues and I am not talking about problems with logging on and learning to navigate round the wiki.  Of course, we did have a few hitches in that respect but the interactive whiteboard came into its own as I was able to show the new members of the wikispace round the pages.  The real issue came from some of the students who found it hard to shake off their classroom expectations.  What disappointment for me; they like being and wanted to be passive recipients of knowledge.  They did not want to read, investigate, explore or discover knowledge. Not for them the opportunity to work through threshold concepts and work out problems themselves.  

For many students (and perhaps many other parties) the most important issue is results.  What is going to get them the best results?  The critics in my Year 10 class belittled my efforts.  They wanted me to give them the answers, a worksheet that explained everything, a writing frame with an outline of an essay that would give them top marks.  No matter that I had aligned my objectives with my assessment, these few students were not prepared to think for themselves because they have become accustomed to receiving information and dare I say it being spoon-fed.  

The biggest issue for these students is understanding that a focus on "thinking, reasoning, understanding and meaning-making" (Toohey, S: 55) will take them beyond the relational and lead them to the extended abstract and thus enable them to access higher marks. 

The biggest issue for me as their teacher is helping them to understand this fact so that I can enable them to develop their intellectual abilities. This calls for a paradigm shift both in their behaviour as learners and in my approach to teaching.  I am a strong proponent of such a change as this post hopefully proves, however this is a battle that I cannot fight alone.   This change has to be played out across the whole school and there will be many colleagues who will fear moving away from the tried and tested traditional approach.  For them, there is a concern that in so doing the results will not be so good.  In this respect they have a great deal in common with some of my Year 10 students.  Undoubtedly, the best way to start embedding this approach is to bring it into play from year 7.  At this stage the students have not lost that wonderful urge to get out there and discover building on previous experience and ideas as they generate new knowledge.

Embracing a constructivist approach will be a bit like crossing the Rubicon for some teachers and students and the trick will be crossing it peacefully bringing everyone with us with the right mindset.  Otherwise, even our best students will only continue to demonstrate understanding of knowledge and will fail to reflect, hypothesise and generate new alternatives. 

How do I propose to affect this change?  Technology surely has an important part to play in this whole process....but thoughts on that are for another day.


Toohey, S (1999). 'Beliefs, values and ideologies in course design' Designing Courses for Higher Education: pp46-69

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