Tuesday, June 19, 2007

On quiet facilitation

Recently, I've had the opportunity to sit in on a colleague's course -- to be exposed to the content, and exposed to good teaching. Watching others in the activity of teaching has always been a great way for me to learn how to teach (or how not to teach).

The main aspect of my colleague's teaching that has stood out with every class meeting is the quiet confidence, calm demeanor, and steady flow of the experience. This approach is the opposite of mine -- I tend to perform, with lots of high energy, drama, theatrics. At first I was caught off guard, and I wondered how my colleague would hold the students' attention. After all, the students had been working all day and were now sitting in a classroom, tired and hungry. This translates to nervous energy, lots of figeting and twittering, checking cell phones, unability to sit still.

So, I watched. Slowly, the students calmed down too, started to attend to what was being discussed, started to take notes, ask questions, respond to questions. They sat up straighter. Their eyes even looked brighter.

Now, my colleague is a great storyteller, and clearly knows the content. And, there is no discomfort with long pauses, letting a question hang out there while the students reflect and prepare a response. So, all of that is part of it. But the quiet facilitation must have something to do with the chemistry of the class. I believe that it is through this quiet facilitation -- as opposed to the type of big-top performance I try to create in my pursuit of engagement and motivation to learn -- that the students become engaged. After their hectic, crazy days, they come to a place of calm...a place where they are supported in their intellectual pursuits through discourse, without the pressure to perform.

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