Trial by format

After teaching high school in Senegal, Tamara Braunstein was hired to teach in North Rhine Westphalia, Germany, she writes in Trial by Format in Education Next.  Trainees learned to write a lesson plan — an exact science in NRW — and master the lesson format.

One should begin each lesson not by asking to see homework but with introductory material, such as a video clip designed to jump-start class discussion. The material should lead the students to state the aim of that day’s lesson themselves, an interesting reversal of those dinosaur days in which the teacher would write the aim on the blackboard. I frequently spent 10 minutes trying to get my students to intuit the question I’d had in mind.

. . . Once the question of the day is sorted out, the class discusses how to go about answering it. Students, rather than the teacher, decide whether a debate, role play, mind map, or some other method best suits the topic at hand.

Student work in groups, a requirement intended to build social skills.

After the presentation phase, members of the class summarize what has been accomplished (“What have we learned today that we didn’t know before?”) and apply the results to an analogous situation, a step referred to as “transfer.”

At this juncture, the teacher may assign a thoughtful homework assignment that encourages in-depth transfer while not overburdening the students.

On the day her teaching was observed, her students compared and contrasted speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, identifying “themes and metaphors and persuasive techniques like nobody’s business.”

The observer wanted to know what students did that they hadn’t done before.

“Um,” I stammered. “They read and analyzed speeches by two important civil rights activists.”

“Am I to assume, then, that they were unable to read before?”

“No, of course not.” I regrouped. “They did a close text analysis and compared and contrasted the use of rhetorical devices in the texts.”

“Were the students unfamiliar with such devices before?”

“Well, no, we had previously worked on alliteration, metaphors, and similes,” I admitted meekly.

“So what is it you would say was actually learned by your students in the past hour?”

Officially, her students had learned nothing.


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  1. wahoofive says:

    1. Watch TV for a while
    2. The students decide what they are going to learn
    3. The students then decide how best to learn it, such as a “mind map.”

    1. The teacher is entirely unnecessary in the process, and could be replaced by a trained monkey, or a computer. Or we could just put the kids by themselves in a room with a TV.
    2. It’s false that they learned nothing. Evidently, they learned “social skills” (e.g. brown-nosing or bullying), not to mention what idiots teachers are and how to manipulate the system. Oh, and that “dinosaurs” is a word meaning “skilled professionals doing their jobs.”

  2. lightly seasoned says:

    The Germans are familiar with Marzano’s Art & Science of Teaching, I see.

  3. I’m assuming that, according to the evaluator, learning actual content isn’t a goal? Ugh.