Monday, May 28, 2012

The child-centered classroom vs. the child-friendly classroom, II

Another thing I’ve noticed in my classroom observations is how, especially with primary school students, the more child-centered the class discussions, the more children tune out.Young children are often long-winded, inarticulate, unfocused, and slow to get to the point. Many of them routinely raise their hands before they’ve formulated a response. Soon their classmates are fidgeting and talking amongst themselves, losing the current thread and, along with it, the ability to say something relevant when it’s their turn.

Countrary to some people’s intuitions, then, the way to keep young kids engaged in a whole-class activity is to minimize their airtime, to interrupt and redirect them frequently, and, generally, to control the conversation tightly enough to keep things on track and moving swiftly.

It is, of course, the youngest children whose combination of short attention spans and unfocused, long-winded responses require the tightest teacher control. But I saw a similar need while in college and grad school seminars. After all, over-eager students who think they have something important to say that all of us should listen to at great length aren’t specific to primary school. I’ll never forget how frustrated I was with one particular professor who exerted so little control over the graduate student windbags that by the end of the 10-week quarter we were two weeks behind where we should have been. He was a brilliant scholar, highly articulate and full of revelations, and it was him I had signed up to listen to, not my fellow classmates.

Were people to bother asking students what they prefer, I wonder what sorts of students would say they prefer student-centered discussions to teacher-centered ones.


TerriW said...

Oh, I *hated* that in college.

I was working 40 hours a week in a bakery to pay for college (back when you could do that sort of thing) and we had so many windbags that I started calculating how many dollars of mine per minute they were wasting. And then I calculated how many minutes (*hours*) of my time at work they were burning through, just to stroke their own egos.

It's a wonder I didn't develop an ulcer.

Anonymous said...

Today's educational gurus seem to assume that children and teens have no life outside of school. Actually, they do. And that is where they learn how to operate in groups better than they can or should in the classroom.