Friday, February 06, 2009

Should Lessons or Exploration Come First?

One thing that I have been meaning to do is to take the time to write down some of my thoughts and assumptions about teaching and learning in order to make some sense of it all.

I was reminded of this resolution after our now weekly family trip to public arena to teach our toddler how to skate. We strap on skates, a helmet, snowpants and other warm clothes to our son and stay close beside him as he makes small shuffling steps while on the ice. So we're not really 'teaching' him how to skate; we're giving him the opportunity to explore being on skates and in time, its hoped that he'll get a better sense of balance and movement on ice.

When I was a child, my parents signed me up for tennis lessons for two or three summers. The lessons were useful: I learned the proper techniques of tennis and did drills every week to reinforce them. The trouble was that I never actually got a chance to *play* tennis - except for the very last day of classes when there was an informal tournament.

In general, sports lessons are meant to supplement and strengthen play that you have to do on your own time. As well, generally we don't introduce lessons to children until after some period of letting the child get comfortable with the sport first.

So what? OK - here's the question that I'm chewing on: should this combination of lessons that follow and then reinforce self-directed play also apply to such activities such as reading, science, or music.

In the case of reading, I'm reminded of a story on Chicago school reform as told by Ira Glass for This American Life. The goal of the reforms were to get the kids to enjoy reading and writing. To do this, significant time was alloted for student reading everyday. Supplementing daily reading were were field trips to the library and shopping trips to the local Barnes and Noble bookstore. Simply put, it was not assumed that these children would have the opportunity or the encouragement to read at home. This is one of the reasons why its been suggested that inner-city schools should get rid of summer vacations.

Applied to libraries: bibliographic instruction is all lessons, no play. Information Literacy is the attempt to establish a culture of research through play and lessons.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've been saying (to anyone that will listen)that summer vacation should be abolished for at least 7 years. It's effect on disadvantaged children is especially disastrous. As a teacher you end up spending the first 6-8 weeks of each new school year re-teaching the skills and concepts that were taught in the previous year, but weren't retained over summer because they weren't reinforced.