Scrapping the Lesson Plan

Scrapping the Lesson Plan

Posted on April 30 by admin
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Prior to working at Dundurn I was employed by a tiny educational publisher that re-printed the intellectual property of Caleb Gattegno, founder of the Association for the Science of Education. Gattegno’s theories on educating using the “subordination of teaching to learning” had, in their heyday, influenced thousands of teachers across the world. Although Gattegno died in 1988, his methods are still prevalent in privately administered and chartered schools, and are sometimes used in conjunction with Montessori methods. They prioritize active and participatory learning,  stress the importance of making mistakes, and operate on the principle that “Only awareness is educable.”

But his ideas will likely never be adopted by the public school system, not only because of the difficulty of testing their effectiveness above standard rinse and repeat methods, but because they require an enormous commitment on the part of teacher. By this I do not want to infer that public school teachers are not committed – some of my high school teachers stand among the most influential people in my life.

I mean that to me it seems like it would take an iron will to face each moment with each student as a singular experience that requires its own deliberate reaction. With overcrowded classrooms and the slew of unforeseeable variables that teachers deal with, how could one not allow habitual, pre-established teaching methods to take over?

But every once in a while a teacher like Bill Sherk comes along, with the stamina and charisma to captivate a class full of teens and to stick with them for the rest of their lives. Sherk’s new book, Keep Up If You Can; Confessions of a High School Teacher, recalls the experience of a teacher whose passion and unorthodox methods made him one of those shining stars of his profession. Sherk, like Gattegno, met the challenge of teaching with creativity, ultimately breaking down the barriers between student and teacher. When teachers take it upon themselves to discover their students’ individual capabilities, they encourage them to be “producers of their own knowledge”; that’s what they are remembered for.

Think about your favourite teachers. Did they stick to their lesson plans, or did they set you free? Ideally, we go on learning after leaving academic institutions, and when we no longer have homework and mandatory attendance this is done by our own volition. Teachers like Bill Sherk are crucial because they confirm that learning is not completely dependent on textbooks, that it can be drawn from experience, and that it can even happen while you’re having fun.