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Sculptors of Lives: Pedagogy and Communication

Sculptors of Lives:
Pedagogy and Communication
Cathryn Jackson
Communication Theory
Dr. Justin Walton
December 1, 2008

Sculptors of Lives: Pedagogy and Communication

Abstract
After taking an Introduction to Teaching class and observing many secondary education
classrooms, I became acutely aware that secondary education students are not really learning
information. They are simply memorizing information. I believe that the education system in the
United States has valued simplicity and assessment over understanding the complexities of
learning and the human condition. This paper looks at alternative ways of approaching teaching
and learning through communication. I believe that true learning is facilitated through
questioning, dialogue, encouragement, and reflection. This paper does not attack or blame; it
simply points out flaws and offers advice on a new paradigm of teaching.

Sculptors of Lives: Pedagogy and Communication

Sculptors of Lives: Pedagogy and Communication


During an online discussion for an Introduction to Teaching class, the professor asked
each student to name two philosophical orientations that he or she most closely identified with
and to give reasons for his or her answer. The professor also asked the students to identify a
philosophy they did not agree with. One student said his least favorite philosophy was Social
Reconstructivism, because he felt that teachers should not have the power to reconstruct society.
He believed that the majority should vote and decide what is best for society. But what if you
weren't the majority? Is the majority always right? Asked another student.
A third student responded that it is not important who is in the majority. Children go to
school to learn school things. She said. Teachers are hired to teach subjects and when you
get into Reconstructivism then the teachers [sic] opinion and his/her beliefs begin to take a role
in how the child is then taught.
School Things? Is it so ambiguous and unimportant what society is teaching its students
that it has reduced the academia to school things? American society is more focused on
memorizing school things and getting good grades than learning how to actively apply and use
the information being taught. The framework of the United States education System has lost
sight in how to find intrinsic value in thought, and would rather give reward and monetary value
to memorization and simplicity.
The phrase school things demonstrates how the education system in the United States
has valued simplicity and assessment over understanding the complexities of learning and the
human condition. True learning is facilitated through questioning, dialogue, encouragement, and
reflection-four things that are not often found in the average secondary classroom. Higher order
thinking skills are not just important for getting through school (which goal for some students

Sculptors of Lives: Pedagogy and Communication


generates a So what? attitude) but also are critical for getting through life. (Williams, 2003,
p.8) Thats the purpose of education, preparing students for life, not just the A.C.Ts or college.

Questioning
Questioning is integral to developing reflective and metacognitive thinking. It requires
students and teachers to reflect their understandings and can lead to changes and improvements
in learning, thinking, and teaching (Jan, 1993, p.66). Questioning starts as soon as a person is
born. It is the natural curiosity of our world; and it requires reflection, not just the absorption, of
information.
Piaget (1929) says that children have Theories of the Mind where children cannot
recognize the difference between imagining, dreams, and reality. They then question everything
on the same physical plane. Only when children get older (around the age of 11) do they
recognize those differences. However, it is my opinion that the differences between imagining
and reality have been conditioned by society, and that without those differences children would
be able to question their world more imaginatively and more in depth (Feldman, 2004,
p.235,236).
The American education system has a major flaw in questioning. Most ask the students
about the content of the subject being taught, the who and what versus the why and how.
Effective questioning for education and thought should be focused around three areas: The Self,
The Future, and The Subject.
The Self
Questions for students dont have to be limited to the information presented in the
classroom--history, math, English, etc. Questions help a student ask who they are, who their
families are, what their purpose is, and what their world represents to them. These questions

Sculptors of Lives: Pedagogy and Communication

allow a student to build a better foundation of self and will encourage self-esteem and selfconfidence, two traits that are more and more important in our society. Questions lead to
reflection on what one has learned during the day, week, or year, and how it applies to his/her
self-development.
Not asking a question is a method that American society uses to avoid conflict. It is easier
to ignore the hows and whys than to answer a difficult inquiry. However, conflict isnt something
that should be so quickly avoided. Conflict allows a person to think on various levels about a
situation, to come up with multiple solutions, and to explore all possible variations. Through
conflict we find critical thinking and problem solving skills.
Conflict also allows a person to find where he/she stands on an issue. If he/she knows all
of the positions on an issue, then he/she is better suited to understand his/her thoughts on the
issue. When looking for answers to questions (although there are many questions without
answers) a student may have recourse to self, searching his knowledge and experience to recall,
to deduce or to construct an answer (Dillon, 1988, p.24). In every question life brings us,
teachers must find a way to pull out that inquisitive child, that Socrates with in us, to use
questions to learn, to think, and to discover.
Conflict in inquiry prevents assimilation, the sameness that can integrate its way into a
classroom. If students can ask why a trend is being practiced and can explore all of the answers
to that question, they may be more likely to not practice assimilation. Rather, they will develop
their own stance on a subject. They will learn to think and to question for themselves.
The Future
The future warrants many questions. Questioning the future means questioning policies,
questioning life paths and focuses. It is important for students to understand not just what they

Sculptors of Lives: Pedagogy and Communication

want to do with their lives but also why they need to do something. Students should be directed
to question their take on what is happening in the world today and how it is going to affect the
students future. However, if a teacher were to say, Does any one have any questions about his
or her future? Students might regard the teacher as being somewhat daft. Questions have to be
facilitated through a teacher. Dillon says that we must provide for student questions. To provide
for student questions is to dispose the conditions under which they can arise and be expressed
(1988, p.24). Students are encouraged to think about what college they are going to, but often
that is as far as it gets. Students need to be prompted more on the whys and hows of life paths,
not just the whats.
It is important for students to learn how to critically view what is happening in their
world right now, and to deduce how that will affect their future. Students are bombarded with
technology, blogs, news, advertisements, and magazine articles, etc. every day. They are being
told what to do, what to think, where to go to school, and what to do with their lives on a
consistent basis. When language is controlled in schools, thought is controlled in the future
(Wink, 2005, p.3). One must learn how to critically question these sources of information, what
they view, read, and hear (Godinho, 2008, p.1). If they do not learn how to question the world
around them now, then they will be servant to whatever they are told in the future.
The Subject
For a teacher, letting students ask the kinds of questions this paper refers to will require
courage. It encourages the teacher to put away the teachers editions, the guided practices, the
workbooks that they cling to for support. A teacher must accept that he/she may not have an
answer to all students questions. That is a hard thing to do. In his book, Insult to Intelligence,
author Frank Smith criticizes the crutch that teachers have turned to: The Teachers Edition.

Sculptors of Lives: Pedagogy and Communication

There are pages of instruction for the teacher before each test and subtest that tell the teacher
what to say when asking questions and in responding to various answers (1986, p.6).
By allowing those sorts of questions to be asked (the ones a teacher may or may not have
the answers to) it creates a cooperative learning environment for the teacher and the students. It
separates the Teacher/Student barrier that might make students feel uncomfortable or inferior to
the teacher. Teachers must accept that they, like the students, do not know everything and that the
students are not the only ones that are learning in the classroom.

Dialogue
Very few classroom settings focus on dialogue in a peer-to-peer sense. In fact, the teacher
usually does much of the speaking in the classroom. Because of high student-to-teacher ratios,
many teachers find it easier to limit the amount of discussion in the classroom to prevent
disruptions and chaos. However, it is difficult for students to have questions about a lesson or
lecture if they do not discuss it with others.
When I was observing students working together in the classroom, one student was
reviewing her partners math homework. There was one answer she believed she had right, until
she looked at the other students paper. She didnt question her method and she thought she
understood the lesson until she was presented with an alternate answer. Many times, students will
talk about their lessons after class and will latently gain additional information about through
dialogue and discussion. Discussion in a classroom allows the teacher insight into the thought
processes of the students, which is essential for the teacher to adjust the lesson(s) as necessary
(Cazden, 1988, p.99).
Critical thinking, reasoning , and problem solving are all skills that can be developed,
expanded, and maintained through dialogue. By encouraging childrens awareness and use of

Sculptors of Lives: Pedagogy and Communication

talk as a thinking tool, teachers can help them to develop intellectual habits that will not only
help them in their study of the curriculum but should also serve them well across a diverse range
of situations (Littleton, 2007, p.57). Speaking skills, in the small group and dyad sense, are
often overlooked in the classroom. Since communication and thinking skills are difficult to
measure they are often disregarded and seldom used or encouraged in the classroom.
A teacher once said if she was talking the students werent learning. Many students find
lecture without discussion boring. Boring is bad. Students need prompting in the way of
discussing the material. This might be in the form of group activities in which each student has to
state an opinion. Even if his/her opinion is similar to another students response, he/she can
elaborate on the subject. However, it is important to know that discussion in a classroom can be a
lot of work, and requires a skillful teacher (both as a leader and a communicator) to employ
discussion effectively (Lieb-Brilhart, 1984, p.149).
Dialogue in the classroom can allow students the opportunity to discuss ideas on a
particular subject and how information can be used. Dialogue allows students to explore
subjects, and to explore his or her relationship with the rest of society. I believe that many
teachers feel uncomfortable with dialogue in the classroom because the conversation might move
into unfamiliar territory. Just like in questioning, it is imperative that a teacher finds comfort in
not knowing every answer for a subject. It is important that teachers understand that learning is a
collaborative process, and appreciate the knowledge that students can bring to the classroom.

Encouragement
Even the best of teachers and peers may find themselves lacking when it comes to
encouragement. Encouragement in this paper refers to encouraging choice, creativity, courage,
and independence. It also means encouraging students to do what they think is best in a situation,

Sculptors of Lives: Pedagogy and Communication


no necessarily what they have been told. The education system in America has been treating its
students like numbers to be filtered through a process. Encouragement can be used to see
students as individuals rather than numbers or names. Encouragement occurs in, but is not
limited to, three basic forms in secondary education: Teacher-Student, Peer Encouragement, and
Teacher-Teacher.
Teacher-Student
Arthur T. Jersild warns in his book In Search of Self that it has become the duty of
education, specifically public education, to take responsibility for the well-being of its students
both cognitively and emotionally. He writes that many young adults in secondary education
display common signs of emotional trouble anxiety, hostility, defensive attitudes toward
themselves and others, feelings of guilt, inferiority, or other forms of self-disparagement and
self-distrust. (1952, p.5)
This was written in 1952, and it is more than obvious that these traits have increased
leading to school violence, suicides, and massacres. Many of those traits are not abnormal;
however, it is the lack of having someone to connect to, or having someone that understands,
that will allow a small number of those youth to become clinically depressed and lead empty
lives. At that point, it is the responsibility of educators to not just become the tellers of
knowledge, but to become the sculptors of lives.
Often students will find themselves labeled by the time they get into Secondary
Education. These labels, ascribed statuses given by peers, teachers, and even relatives can
determine how well a student does in the classroom. Some teachers will get too focused on
reputations or attitudes a student might have going into a class and regard the student differently
according to those labels such as: smart, not smart, lazy, or over-achieving. Any label can be

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harmful to a students learning. Over-achieving students, or students that are leaders, might be
placed in groups with other students that are less likely to do any of the work required. The
students who let others do all the work will obviously be unable to fully learn from the lesson.
However, the situation might also encourage the over-achieving student to participate in class
less, or not work quiet as efficiently on a lesson to avoid having to do all of the group work in the
future.
There is more than enough evidence to prove that one cannot label a student based on
certain behaviors, attitudes, or even learning styles. There is a story of a boy who was slow to
learn to walk and didnt even speak until he was three--most children begin learning language at
about one and a half years old. The child didnt play games or play with toys, and would often sit
alone for hours rarely socializing with other children. His parents were afraid he was mentally
retarded. When the boy went to school, he did poorly in most subjects, and his instructor
declared that he wouldnt amount to anything (Feldman, 2004, p.233). The boys name was
Albert Einstein, and it is fortunate that he ignored the labels given to him by his family, peers,
and instructors. But it begs the question: how many Einsteins, scientists, musicians, artists, and
philosophers have been affected by labels given to them, making them unable to achieve all that
they can in life?
It also calls to question the material taught in the classroom. Dewey (1915) says it is the
material that should motivate the child, not bribes, test scores, or any other form of motivation. It
is important to instill a sense of intrinsic value for learning as opposed to monetary or material
gain.
From the beginning they [the students] are hungry to make sense of their world. Given an
environment in which they dont feel controlled and in which they are encouraged to think about

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what they are doing (rather than how well they are doing it), students of any age will generally
exhibit an abundance of motivation and a healthy appetite for challenge. (Kohn, 1993, p.199)
Therefore, encouragement should come not only in the verbal/nonverbal form from the teacher,
but it should also stem from the challenges presented in the material. The encouragement of
active, meaningful learning is central to good teaching (Henderson, 1992, p.4). Students are
rarely motivated to learn or even to work; they need encouragement to find that motivation.
Peer Encouragement
Instead of focusing on assimilation, education needs to be compassionate and celebrate
the differences of each student. If a student can learn to accept him/herself as he/she is, then that
student can also accept his or her peers. Acceptance is vital in reducing school violence and a
host of other problems that occur in high schools around the nation. Students need to be
encouraged to be who they are, to feel fulfilled in what they do, and the generation they
represent.
This will also help create an effective learning environment for the students. If students
feel more comfortable and encouraged around their peers then they will feel less insecure about
discussion and inquiry in the classroom. Learning about one another can be encouraged via the
teacher. Introductions, group work, and other activities can help facilitate a shared understanding
in the classroom environment.
Teacher-Teacher
Burned out teachers, with administrators and achievement tests breathing down their
backs, are feeling the pressure of teaching the test. The magnitude of information and
assessment that each student must be exposed to is enough to distract any good teacher from
viewing students as individuals, but as capsules to be filled with so called knowledge.

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Teacher support is essential to working through the vast number of obstacles surrounding the
teaching profession. Henderson calls this peer coaching and says it affords the teacher the
opportunity to provide feedback on one anothers teaching. It results in the possibility of mutual
reflection, the checking of perceptions, the sharing of frustrations and successes, and the
informal thinking through of mutual problems (1992, p.116,117).
Teaching is a unique profession, and few understand its stresses and demands, its
rewards and accomplishments. Teaching isnt just explaining a subject, its adapting to an infinite
number of individual learning styles, multiple intelligences, family backgrounds, insecurities,
wants and needs in as little a semester. And thenone has to do it all over again the next
semester. Adapting, struggling, reflecting, teaching, and learning, all individually difficult-collectively a nightmare. Without support from other educators the task would be near
impossible.

Reflection
Reflection can lead students to think about how the lesson applies to life, and reflection
can help students build a solid foundation of what they believe. Reflection also helps to reenforce and expand the information given in a classroom. It takes a little more effort, but
reflection can ultimately help students to understand the information. So that they are better
prepared to pass a test! (And isnt that the primary objective?)
The United States education system does not put enough emphasis on learning how to
apply skills or how to expand knowledge to benefit students beyond passing a test. I interviewed
a student (well call her Nicole) about her thoughts on school. When asked whether or not she
thought the teacher cared about how the students learned information to pass a test (either by
memorizing, cramming the information, or learning how the information is used) Nicole said she

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didnt think the teacher cared how a student learned the information, it was just important to
pass the test. Reflection can help a teacher emphasize not just the information, but how it needs
to be absorbed and used. Reflection can occur on three levels: on the self, on the subject, and on
the teaching method.
On the Self
The kind of intellectual ability that is involved in achieving a good score on an
intelligence test or earning a good mark in a college coursedoes not necessarily bring a person
closer to a realistic and healthy evaluation of himself or life in general. (Jersild, 1952, p.57)
Reflection on the self can refer to both the student and the teacher. It is important for a teacher to
be confident. Students can smell fear and insecurities, and they have a tendency to capitalize on
those fragile moments. So, it is important for a teacher to be secure with himself/herself before
he/she can teach students to be the same way.
Similarly, if students are taught to reflect actively and critically on the events that have
surrounded their day, week, month, even yearthey can learn how to improve themselves in a
positive manner. They can learn how to evaluate situations, to understand why mistakes happen,
and to learn empathy towards their peers. This isnt something that happens overnight. Many
people have to start learning how to reflect critically much later in life, and the problem is they
havent had the reflecting practice that they should have had early in their education.
On the Subject
Every classroom is bombarded by repetition, testing, assessment, worksheets, review and
more repetition. There is supplemental material for students that dont do well on assessment and
extra material for those that are ahead. Students arent told why they are learning skills, theyre
just told over and over and over that they must learn the skills to pass the tests. There is nothing

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in the real world that is like any of this pedagogical treadmill. Nobody learns anything, or
teaches anything, by being submitted to such a regime of disjointed, purposeless, repetitive,
confusing, and tedious activities (Smith, 1986, p.7). Students arent often taught to reflect on the
hows and whys of learning, and they arent normally encouraged to discuss what they have
learned in relation to their own lives.
Teachers dont often have time to encourage students to reflect on whether or not a
subject pertains to his/her life. Who knows what the teacher might say if a student says aloud that
the subject is useless to him/her? And what would the normal response from a teacher be? That
the student is ignorant, doesnt care, or doesnt understand the subject. Dialogue and discussion
about the usefulness of a subject is imperative for retention, and, isnt that the ultimate goal?
Retention to pass a test? If a student can find the usefulness in a subject, he or she will be more
likely to try to use that subject in his/her life. Thus, the student will learn more about a subject
and possibly finding more ways to use the information given.
On the Teaching Method
Ask almost any teacher if a classroom is predicable from day to day or from year to year,
and you get a resounding No. Every day in a classroom is different, even when the same exact
lesson is taught. Different students and different classroom climates are going to react to the
lesson in a different way. Discussions will go in a different direction and meanings will be
interpreted differently. Very little behavior in a classroom is 100% predictable. Therefore, it is
important that an educator develops a habit of daily reflection. Reflection will help a teacher
understand the classroom environment better; it will also help to distinguish between what
works, what doesnt work, and what works for some classes and not for others.

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Reflection can also aid a teacher in helping individual students, rather than just the class
as a whole. By reflecting on a certain students home environment, how he/she reacts to a lesson,
how he/she learns best, a teacher can effectively determine the next best step for that student. A
teacher can also evaluate how the student is doing in the class, what methods might help him/her
best, and whether or not a student needs extra help outside the classroom.
Some students might need more outlets at school. A student may need a creative outlet
such as art, vocal or instrumental music, theater, or any performing art. He/she might need a
physical outlet such as sports, or agriculture, or mechanical studies. Often the need for such
activities with no outlet can prevent a student from having the proper motivation or concentration
to do well in the school environment.
Reflection keeps teachers in touch with themselves. It prevents teachers from missing
essential details in preparing lessons for the next day or week. It sharpens their mental and
emotional focus and will ultimately help them maintain the mountains of paperwork necessary to
their profession.

Conclusion
If students are the future then they need to be prepared for an advanced way of thinking
and learning, a paradigm shift from the mechanistic way of thinking. Otherwise the education
system has created a society of no-thinkers in which a person is trained to push buttons but they
wont know why they push buttons or how pushing buttons affect society. They have no concept
of what they are doing, nor why they are doing it.
In his book, Punished by Rewards, Alfie Kohn questions the necessity of grading in
schools. He says that even if it were possible to rid the system of assessment, people would be
reluctant about giving up something so integral to our educational system that is hard to

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imagine life without it. That very reluctance suggests that we need to challenge ourselves with
hard questions about the necessity and value of grading children (1993 p.200). Grading has
become such a primary focus in education that society has strayed from educating to
conditioning and memorizing. However, grades in particular undermine intrinsic
motivation and learning, which only serves to increase our reliance on them(Kohn,1993, p.199).
A student once said, Grades are a measure of hard work. It doesnt take long to
disprove that statement, but it also proves that students dont really understand the purpose of
assessment. They are given tests and worksheets, and they complete them with very little
opposition. Whereas, group work is done to finish a worksheet together, questions are for
figuring out how to finish homework, dialogue is used to get answers, and students are
encouraged to pass. If we as a society were only to reframe our thinking, to shift our
paradigms of school is for grading to school is for learning maybe then we could get some
real work done.
This paper serves as a warning, because questioning, dialogue, encouragement and
reflection all lead to students knowing themselves better. When that happens the student becomes
a more whole, fulfilled person, and that type of person is happier and even more productive in
society. That student is our person of the future. That is what is important in society: happiness,
fulfillment, valuethings that we have strayed from; things that we need to get back to.

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Hampshire: Heinemann Educational Books.
Dillon, J. T. (1998). Questioning and Teaching: A Manual of Practice. New York: Teachers
College Press.
Feldman, R.D., Olds, S.W., & Papalia, D.E. (2004). A Childs World: Infancy Through
Adolescence (9th E.). New York: McGraw Hill.
Godinho, S., & Wilson, J. (2008). Helping your Pupils to ask Questions. New York: Routledge.
Henderson, J.G. (1992). Reflective Teaching: Becoming an Inquiring Educator. New York:
Macmillan Publishing Company.
Jan, L.W., & Wilson J. (1993). Thinking For Themselves: Developing Strategies for Reflective
Learning. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Jersild, A.T. (1952). In Search of Self. New York: Horace Mann-Lincoln.
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Lieb-Brilhart, B., Schuelke, L.D., & Seiler, W.J. (1984). Communication for the Contemporary
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Smith, F. (1988). Insult to Intelligence: The Bureaucratic Invasions of our Classrooms.
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Wink, J. (2005). Critical Pedagogy: Notes from the Real World. New York: Pearson.