I have never had any formal training in “how to a teach” — my own graduate studies, for better or for worse, were purely mathematical — and although I do expend a little energy towards keeping up with the world of education, I still find myself blindsided on occasion. Most recently, by the article Putting Students on the Path to Learning: The Case for Fully Guided Instruction, appearing in the current issue of AFT’s American Educator magazine. The thesis seems to be that, after 50 years of championing discovery-based learning, the educational establishment is changing its tune. Fully guided instruction is the “it thing”, with exploratory learning appropriate only at the higher levels of study in any given discipline. WOW! This runs so contrary to my own indoctrination I had to check the cover to make sure I wasn’t reading the Onion by mistake.
Is the issue more subtle than that? Of course. For example, lest the reader think that we are reverting to a pure “chalk-and-talk” model, the article makes a point to distinguish between independent student work and discovery-based learning, and extolls the value of the former (following the full, clear exposition of the topic at hand).
The pendulum and the pit
My more senior colleagues are less surprised than I at this turn of events — with their longer-scope experience, they see it as just another swing of the pendulum, and they take it in stride. For me, the image this stirs is Poe’s Pendulum — in my mind’s eye I see our students, huddling by the pit, watching the blade inexorably drop.