Academic journal article Education Next

Trial by Format: The Fine Art of Not Teaching

Academic journal article Education Next

Trial by Format: The Fine Art of Not Teaching

Article excerpt

Two years ago, the school system in North Rhine Westphalia (NRW), Germany, was suffering from a dearth of qualified teachers. The state created a two-year program in which one could teach a nearly full load at full salary while at the same time earning German certification. It was an offer I could not refuse, having just finished a two-year teaching stint in Dakar, Senegal.

I taught the usual load minus three hours allotted for attending seminars. I was also expected to mark papers, prepare to teach classes, and observe fellow teachers on a regular basis while concocting elaborate lesson plans for 10 observed teaching visits. I was initially undaunted and looked forward to becoming an expert in my craft.

The first step involved constructing lesson plans, an exact science in NRW, down to the verbs that are permitted when describing pupil progress in the space of a single lesson ("students are able to summarize, to analyze," etc.). Germans are great fans of the scientific method and enjoy being able to measure and quantify things, a laudable trait. But is it ever possible to prove that all pupils have learned in a given hour what the teacher set out to teach? In this unexpectedly Kafkaesque world, 1 was stymied as to how one might go about doing this. This led to the first furrow in my brow.

Next we learned the desired lesson format. One should begin each lesson not by asking to see homework but with introductory material, such as a video clip designed to jump-start class discussion. The material should lead the students to state the aim of that days lesson themselves, an interesting reversal of those dinosaur days in which the teacher would write the aim on the blackboard. I frequently spent 10 minutes trying to get my students to intuit the question I'd had in mind. Was this really time well spent, I wondered? Furrow number two made its appearance.

Once the question of the day is sorted out, the class discusses how to go about answering it. Students, rather than the teacher, decide whether a debate, role play, mind map, or some other method best suits the topic at hand. Furrow number three was born.

Students then work in groups, jointly preparing their results. …

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