In a good classroom students learn what isn’t planned

by Mr. Sheehy

Concurrently, behind the scenes, my teaching team was asked to create a list of “learning objectives”. I confess to feeling less than inspired on such exercises: it was time that could have been spent reading. Education policies both sides of the pond are very anxious to quantify learning, to be able to assess whether the students have learned what you promised they would learn, and I suppose there is a place for that. But it also implies a limit: if the students only learn what *I* have decided they should learn, they aren’t learning to learn.

Cramming people through their degrees is part of the deal, and I don’t mind that on one level. But a really good class always includes that moment when a student holds the floor and introduces into the conversation some idea, or connection, or point of view, that I hadn’t thought of. When they ask a question I can’t completely answer, and we figure it out together. A really good course opens up the possibility that a student will learn something that’s right off the edges of the planned course outcomes. And the best of outcomes is not a tick-list of knowledge gained, but evidence that the students have got to grips with enough ideas to think and write and talk better, and that they are filled with enthusiasm for the next course of reading. When that happens, I am very happy indeed.

I’ve always thought the idea of a teacher identifying one learning target for a book or discussion to be pretty amusing, something akin to bottling ocean water and claiming to have the ocean inside, but Maggi Dawn’s comments are much more articulate and kindly spoken than anything I’ve said.