Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Learning by Discovery

I think involving students in research is a great way to help them take ownership of their learning. Instead of simply being granted information from a teacher, the students are actually finding things out (and not through a particularly contrived method where a teacher asks leading questions until the student says what the teacher wants to hear). In such a class, knowledge doesn't belong to an elite group of intellectuals--the teacher is still an authority, but she's not the only (or even the best) path to knowledge.

My favorite exercise in Discovery of Competence is Shawn's "The Tether Ball Tragedy." In order to study the difference between spoken and written language, Shawn was assigned to tell his story orally to the class, which was transcribed by another student. Then Shawn read the transcript and produced a written version of the story. The students analyzed why the two were different (Kutz, Groden, and Zamel 102). The analysis is important, because although Shawn would probably learn something from telling the story in two different media, writing an analysis forces the student to explain why writing requires greater precision and explanation than speech. Moreover, by having to write a reflection on the experience, Shawn put in words what he learned, solidifying what could otherwise have remained hazy ideas about the differences in speech and writing. Rather than relying on the teacher to write on his paper "Elaborate," Shawn figured out for himself. He learned through real experience, so the understanding is deeper and more likely to stay with him than if he'd interpreted conventions in written language as simply rules imposed by teachers.

Works Cited

Kutz, Eleanor, Suzy Q Groden, and Vivian Zamel. The Discovery of Competence: Teaching and Learning with Diverse Student Writers. Portsmouth, NH: Boyton/Cook, 1993.