Sunday, March 20, 2011

Framing and Learning

Recently, I had a wonderful, intellectual conversation with my daughter.  She has returned to academia at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. She was working on a paper, and I found that I could actually give her some reasonably helpful feedback on her thesis.  She is writing about the influence of cultural frames and from my studies I know a little something about political frames.  She's very interested in how information is received through the framework built by on one's cultural experiences, while I usually focus on how politicians frame issues to fit such predispositions.

After one of these conversations, it dawned on me how much framing had to do with some of the perceptions and reactions I have witnessed by introducing something new to our school.

Our interdisciplinary "Apple CBL Pilot" team produced a challenge project that called for students to use design in order to improve the cafeteria experience.   Biology, French 3, and Drawing 1 teacher combined their classes to form challenge teams.  They approached their instruction with the greatest determination, sincerity, and passion.  

But they experienced some push-back from students and parents because they were supposedly not teaching "French" or "Art", etc.  I found this quite ironic, because if I give my English students a reading day or spend three days showing a movie that any student could watch online with her school laptop, this my practices would never be questioned.  If I teach writing in my government class or explain in my government class (as I did today) the toxicity of "Death by PowerPoint", no questions are raised about me not teaching the "subject."  For that matter, no one has questioned that I am challenging my government students to fight apathy.  Of course, these all fit the expectations of students and parents alike that teacher initiated activities in the classroom are generally legitimate forms of instruction.

Teaching across age groups  and assigning students to work with other teachers-- like our Pilot teachers tried-  falls outside of the frame.

In my quest to promote Challenge Based Learning with staff, I run into a similar circumstance.  It is exceedingly difficult to persuade some of my colleagues that a CBL project can be anything but extraneous to what they really teach.  Yesterday, one said he did not really want to do a CBL for a particular course, he "just wanted to teach it ".  Others protest that CBL does not suit their discipline (I've heard this from members of five departments, now).

I certainly concede that Challenge Based Learning does not suit every circumstance.  But I think much of the resistance I have encountered is a matter of framing.  We've all had some bad teachers I'm sure-- tedious, unprepared, uninspired.  They lectured, led discussions, assigned experiments.  But so did our very best ones.  Most of our models (at least mine) ran a very teacher-centered classroom.  We sat in rows, listened to and read information, and were tested on it.  That was/is legit school, and so at times I really struggle to reimagine it any other way.  However, I think it is very important that we all try.  Now.

Flickr CC Photo by idoazul

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