Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Critical Explorers

While attending a three-day teaching workshop in August, I felt honored to be able to meet and study with Eleanor Duckworth.  Over the past year I had read several of her publications, and meeting her in person only increased my admiration of and respect for her.

A former student and English translator of Jean Piaget,  Eleanor has developed a teaching approach called Critical Exploration in the Classroom.  Her teaching method is surprisingly straight forward but hardly simple, it is one that explicitly values the learners' experience and insight, and I wonder why it is not yet the standard in our public schools.

Critical Exploration relies first on teachers making careful and deliberate selections of rich source material (for example, historical artifacts) and on allowing children to investigate and make discoveries of these documents for themselves.  It offers a restructuring of the classroom, turning the straight rows and authoritative lecturing at the blackboard, to one where all chairs are placed into an inclusive circle and students are invited to express their own thoughts, to learn from each others ideas, and to, hopefully, think more deeply.

While the initial materials (and take-home objective) are selected by the teacher, the technique requires precise listening skills and careful following of the students thinking; so that the teacher is flexible in figuring out what her/his next step will be in designing the subsequent curriculum for helping students to go deeper into the subject.

I see Critical Exploration in the Classroom as providing a learning partnership or, dare I say, learning community where the teacher is acutely aware of each and every one of their students personal perspective and where learners benefit from listening to each others ideas, allowing for the active exchange of discoveries and revelations.

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