In the Rob Reiner film “A Few Good Men”, the climax of the movie comes when Lt. Kaffee, played by Tom Cruise, puts his arch nemesis, Col. Jessep, played by Jack Nicholson, on the stand, hoping to coax a confession from him. The exchange is made famous by the following dialogue, written by Aaron Sorkin:
Jessep: You want answers?
Kaffee (Tom Cruise): I think I’m entitled to them.
Jessep: You want answers?
Kaffee: I want the truth!
Jessep: You can’t handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You?
The Colonel in this case holds a truth that he doesn’t feel Kaffee, a man he sees as an inferior, is worthy of knowing or understanding. Here lies a problem that I see in my own classroom (and perhaps one that exists in many others): the tired dogma that the primary relationship between teacher and student is one of power — the teacher decides what the ‘truth’ is and who gets to understand or receive that knowledge. That power stems from a simple fact, one that I knew all too well as I tried to copy every board note I could before my old history teacher would erase what was there and move on to the next topic: teachers have the knowledge and students do not. Whether it’s in politics or in the classroom, knowledge is power, and whoever holds that sacred ‘truth’ rules the world.
This year I’d like to challenge that concept in my own classroom. In my early days of teaching I was terrified if I were revealed to be the fraud that I felt I was, revealed to not have the answer. With experience, I’ve come to learn that the greatest dividends for student learning happen when students feel empowered, when they feel heard, and when they understand what I want them to do. But this last part represents my current focus, ‘when they understand what I want them to do’. What if they were able to display their understanding using a method that best suits their strengths, their personal learning style? What if a student could decide what matters? Armed with a curriculum, the basic criteria of evaluation, would a student be more fully engaged, more passionate and, ultimately, more successful, if they were the ones to determine what their ‘truth’ is?
In grade 12 English at Trinity College School, I am currently teaching a semestered course focussed solely on short fiction. After reading two Sinclair Ross stories, students were let loose with a list of Canadian authors and a hefty Canadian fiction anthology, encouraged to choose a story that spoke to them in some way. The class understood the primary enduring understanding of the unit was to explore the dominant themes in Canadian fiction, but how they ‘explored’ that landscape was up to them.
Thanks to @ddoucet I showed students a Pedagogy Wheel that displayed the relationship between the SAMR and Blooms Cognitive Domain Categories. Students were given the criteria for the assignment, and they were asked to choose what method of presentation best suited their style of learning. The most common response was, “I have no idea!”.
Isn’t this an important duty as educators, to ensure students understand what they are good at, before leaving for university?
Today students worked collaboratively to build their rubric for this evaluation. Conferencing with students it became clear they had never been given this type of ownership over their own learning before. The question is this: will it produced the desired results? Will student performance, understanding, and authentic appreciation for the material be improved when they build the unit from the ground up? Hopefully, if we focus on digging down to the core ‘truth’ of the story, for each individual student, then the answer will be yes. Rather than listening to their teacher lecture to them about what he feels is the important symbol or the key piece of dialogue, students will make that determination for themselves and show that knowledge with a means that best suits their personal learning style.
I hope to dig deeper on co-construction and personalized learning this year. I have more questions than answers, but as Lt. Kaffee tells Col. Jessep, I don’t want answers, I want the truth! (lame ending, I know:)