I really enjoyed the videos for Gever Tulley’s school. It was refreshing to see a teacher letting children create. But just as children need the time, tools, and tolerance from teachers in order to create, they also need to know that there is a right and a wrong way to do something. Seven-year-olds would not have been able to create a mini roller coaster without the knowledge of what it took to accomplish that task.
So what, then, becomes the role of the teacher? If we simply sit children down and talk to them about the mechanics of a roller coaster, we can’t really be sure that they understand what we are talking about enough to build one for themselves – we have taken learning out of the context of the real world (similarly to how I learned math). If we simply stand back and let them do their own thing, they are liable to hurt themselves for lack of information about the tools, materials, and mechanics involved in building a roller coaster.
What is the middle ground? How can we ensure that children have the freedom to be creative and the information they need to be safe and know what they are doing?
The key is to become a facilitator. A facilitator is someone who coordinates and leads the work of a group. If the group needs information, the facilitator finds means to get it the information it needs. As a leader, the facilitator is responsible for ensuring that the group understands what they are doing in order to be safe. From a teaching stand point this may mean modeling and explaining the use of tools and designing peripheral activities to experiment with mechanics and ideas related to the physics of a roller coaster. The point is that the teacher needs to be aware of any misunderstandings or misconceptions that the children may have, and do whatever they can to help clear up those misconceptions. And when children are working within the context of real life and the teachers are able to hear and see the children talking about their topic, it is much easier to spot misconceptions. When a teacher functions primarily as a lecturer, misconceptions are harder to spot because the children are not speaking about what they are thinking.
The role of facilitator is a much more general role than lecturer. It requires diligence to the ideas of the children. This is why I wrote this topic under “Building Positive Relationships”. When you become more focused on pinpointing misunderstandings that a child may hold, it requires you to hold the children’s ideas in a different light. The ideas of children hold more value, and you find yourself working with them in the context of their ideas. When you are simply a lecturer, you are working for them – and in some cases in spite of them – but not necessarily with them. This slight but dramatic change of focus also changes the level of interest of everyone involved. Everyone from student to teacher becomes dedicated to the task of figuring out how to safely and successfully complete a project. One of the most poignant moments of the roller coaster video for me was the end, when we hear Gever Tulley celebrating the accomplishments of his students with them. These kind of celebrations don’t happen in a classroom primarily composed of lecture. The accomplishments are smaller and less noticeable, and while the class usually comes together to celebrate, the celebration is about something less tangible, or even negligible, in an atmosphere where a teacher is a facilitator (such as behavior).
In education, we talk about fostering a love of learning in children and helping them become lifelong learners. Children won’t have a teacher in front of them lecturing their entire lives. They won’t be able to call one up and ask them to come down and give them a lecture any time they have a problem that needs to be solved. At it’s root, teaching is showing children how to live and how to think, how to work and how to grow.