The tao of teaching in ambiguity

image: Shadowed Crones by Rudha’an, found on flickr and offered under a creative commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 license.

What I love about keeping a blog is the insight I glean from those in my blogging community. The other day I published a post called Understanding the Machine and in one of Christopher‘s comments I found a pearl:

…but until I know who I’m going to be teaching, and how many, I’m stuck at an exploratory stage.

This describes how I feel each time I prepare for a new group, whether they be elementary school students, high school students, university students, or any of their teachers and support staff. In fact, I feel that I am always at the exploratory stage and as soon as I feel I’m not, well, it’ll be time to change gears and start teaching something new.

It also pretty much sums up the foundation of socio-constructivist approaches to teaching and learning like Differentiated Instruction.

I was always amazed at teachers who were able to create detailed course outlines at the beginning of the school year. I remember asking a colleague how he could do so before he spent some time with his students and he answered, “Simple – there are 32 chapters in the text book and 4 terms in the school year. I just do the math.”

I can’t see it as simply as that. Even for content courses with standardized testing (like Secondary IV Physical Science or History of Quebec). Until I get to know my students things are somewhat ambiguous because they make up most of the meat of anything I teach.

My job is to continuously replenish my toolkit so that I have as many options as possible to explore with my students so that I can be sure the strategies I use mesh with the way they need to learn.

I think that part of the magic of teaching is learning to live with ambiguity, yet to do so with inner authority and compassion, allowing course design to emerge based on community (classroom) needs. Oh, and to keep learning learning learning about as many different strategies as possible so that, as I create my courses (an ongoing process), I can say, wait – I know what might work here, let’s try this!

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