Here is what I have been doing while reading Weimer’s “Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice”. Whenever I read something that either does not makes sense to me or it is an outstanding convincing argument, I write down the page number and a short description and I reflect on it later on. Here is one example.
Weimer explains how she lets the students participate on establishing the participation policy in one of her classes. It seems like she is spending at least three class periods just to come up with a participation policy. My first impression was that such an approach was ridiculous. In engineering we simply don’t have the luxury to waste three classes to see how students feel about a given participation policy and whether they would like to make any changes to it. The material in most of the junior level classes in engineering departments is pretty similar not only in the United States but also around the world, so there is not a whole lot you can change because you need to cover a certain material so that the students will have the necessary background to take higher level classes. However in Weimer’s defense, she clarifies later on that the class in which she spent three classes just to come up with a participation policy was a communication class so communicating about the participation policy was already within the framework of the class.
As part of this example on participation policy she says that she was taken aback when one class proposed that right or wrong answers should count equally. Here is the rationale of the students for proposing this counter-intuitive idea:
(1) “When you give a wrong answer and the teacher points that out in front of the entire class, it takes a good deal of courage to raise your hand the next time”
(2) ” Teachers always tell us we shouldn’t be affraid to make mistakes, that we learn from them, so why shouldn’t we get credit for making them?”
In my opinion there is some sense in the first reason but it is by no mean an adequate explanation to validate the proposition. If someone is embarrassed by the way the teacher pointed out his or her wrong answer that this situation should be addressed by the teacher. The teacher may consider being more refined or more diplomatic next time he explains that the answer was in fact not the right one.
The second reason might be valid for elementary school level but definitely not for a college level. It is like saying, you can say whatever comes to your mind and you don’t really need to think hard about it because guess what, the substance of your answer does not matter. I am not saying that a student should be punished for giving the wrong answer during class participation, but he shouldn’t be awarded any points just for opening his mouth.
Finally Weimer beautifully answers the question:”How much freedom can they handle” as follows:
“……The amount of decision making it takes to motivate students must be
weighed against their intellectual maturity and ability to operate
in conditions that give more freedom at the same time they also
require more responsibility”