Classrooms Evolved, Part IV: Overcoming Doubton December 10, 2006 at 12:00 am
Every class I have ever had has challenged this system. Students, wise from more than a decade of classroom instruction, have figured out that teachers lie to them and that collaborative learning is really just a way for a teacher to lecture and then act grumpy when students don’t talk up. So students, who don’t like hypocrisy, attempt to expose it by spending an entire class period on parliamentary procedures, or letting the class leave early after ten minutes, or some other stunt. They are, like good scientists, attempting to determine the real rules of the class by seeing what a teacher does and not just what he says.
An example of this is an election I observed in the Fall of 2006. The most lopsided race I have ever witnessed began with students offering chocolate to others who vote for them. I recognized this as a challenge, and so allowed it. Another student offered himself as a candidate, stating “I don’t know what to do, but I know this is not fair.” He received twice as many votes, and he offered nothing but fairness. Interestingly, he did this with the help of a defector from the bribers. One of those students, the last to vote, said “The class is clear what it wants. It wouldn’t be fair to vote for ourselves and so against himself. Too often we assume that students are greedy cretins and that peer pressure is our enemy. Often, the reverse could not be more true.
It is after the challenges that teaching becomes delightful. Recently, for example, I walked in early as students were negotiating how the class would be run. They understood the basic rules and knew that those guidelines would be consistently enforced. This allowed the students to think ahead about how classroom matters should be solved, and not just strategically worry about what a professor said that day.