Category Archives: Cogitations sur l’apprentissage

Teacher at an international school in Paris

Skype interview, January 24, 2016, C. F., teacher at an international school in Paris.

At my school in Paris, which is very traditional, we have many different classes, lots of technological support, good facilities, established curriculum, all to prepare students for college. We use many of  the same procedures and curriculum over the years. For example, I am still a teacher who lectures in the front of the room, the students sit quietly, take notes and the tests are to repeat back what they heard and what they think. 

What I try to do is change this sometimes. I used to say that my goal was just to keep the students awake, and if I could do that it was success. So sometimes if there is an opportunity, I ask students to do as much independent work as possible, and I try and be as challenging as possible. For example, we always talk about democracy in my history classes, and the traditional point of view is, of course, that democracy is wonderful. So I do what I can to make the students challenge democracy. I try to give both sides. I don’t want to get just one opinion but like the students to have enough information to make their own decisions. So that one aspect is instead of just saying  “believe in this”, to try to get them to see all the different sides. 

Then another aspect to keep them awake is that they need to work together in groups. They need to do non-traditional work, and quite often they need to work and be active not just write. So some of the things I do is to give all the students independent projects of their own choice even if that has little to do with the class. I have a student who is studying music, wants to compose music in my psychology class. She is learning techniques and learning computer programs to be musician. Then I told her to research how music affects emotions. She  needs to compose music to affect certain emotions. The psychology comes after. I have another student who is very interested in baking. She wants to be a baker. So I asked that student to learn how to bake a certain pastry, bake it in 3 different ways, try new experiments, and then do a psychology experiment with her final products like to have a taste test or to have a memory association test. So the curriculum can always be added. The important thing is to try to have the kids be active. The problem with that is that in a traditional setting I can’t grade such activities in a traditional way. How do I test if the student really learned to bake versus just did what she always did? How do I test if the music was well programmed?  So this is where I make it up a bit. I grade based on effort and if the student really tried on his or her own. That effort is then placed as part of the grade along with the psychological or historical work. It is the independent aspect (that I evaluate). This is where you have to sneak in a little bit of non-traditional. 

But then, in terms of how I see the traditional education system specifically in America… My role is as a high school teacher in a system aimed to get the students into the important universities, the universities that sound good or that actually are best for the student. And that, I don’t think will last much longer. It is a silly system. It is an expensive system. Why pay for 4 years of a university when now you have an option to do the university in 2 or 3 years. You can combine on-line badges (from open learning sites), internships with real world experience or take condensed workshops to gain credits. So far none of my students have done that. I don’t think any of my former students have graduated in less than 4 years. 

So in the traditional settings what I try to get students to do is to take on-line classes, think about earning undergraduate digital badges. These badges are one attempt to shake up education. You can do a mini-online course for a very targeted skill set or competency that shows you know how to do computer codes or an on-line course that shows you can design a robot and get academic credit (called a badge once a course is completed.) Not one of my students has done it yet. I think the big reason is because there is no background in our education for students to work on their own. They are very used to being guided. They are very used to be told what to do next and that is NOT what they are going to need in their future. And it is not what education should be doing. So the more independence, the more self-created curriculum the better. I don’t see it happening in a traditional American high school any time soon.

Citations Bibliques

1. On educating each child according to his/her individual path: (can be applied through differentiated learning, focusing on nurturing the specific potential of each student:

-Proverbs -משלי כב:ו

“חֲנֹךְ לַנַּעַר עַל פִּי דַרְכּוֹ גַּם כִּי יַזְקִין לֹא יָסוּר מִמֶּנָּה”

“Educate each child according to his way, even when he gets old, he will not swerve away from it.”

On learning from one’s students:

(The mark of a teacher who listens to his/her students, respects them for what they have to offer in the learning process, is humble and broad-minded)

-Talmud. Taanit -בגמרא במסכת תענית דף ז

אמר רבי חנניה הרבה למדתי מרבותי”

“ומחברי יותר מרבותי, ומתלמידי יותר מכולם

“Rabbi Chanina said: I have leaned much from my teachers, and I have learned more from my friends than from my teachers, but I have learned more from my students than from anyone else.”

On engaging students’ interests and passion

-Talmud, Avoda Zara -בבלי, עבודה זרה יט, ע”א

“אין אדם למד תורה, אלא ממקום שלבו חפץ”

“A person can learn Torah only from a place where his heart desires it.”

On believing in each child’s unique potential to achieve greatness and shine his/her individual light:

-Rav Kook

”צריך שכל איש ידע ויבין, שבתוך תוכו דולק נר

ואין נרו שלו כנר חברו

ואין איש שאין לו נר

וצריך שכל איש ידע ויבין, שעליו לעמול ולגלות

את אור הנר ברבים

ולהדליקו לאבוקה גדולה ולהאיר את העולם כולו”

“Every person should know and understand that within him, a candle is lit. And his candle is not like his fellow’s candle. And there is nobody who does not have his own candle. And every person should know and understand that it is up to him to strive and reveal the light of the candle to others, and to light it up in a bright glow until it illuminates the entire world.”

On the power that words hold, to hurt and destroy or to uplift and heal. On the responsibility of teachers to choose their words carefully and on the power they yield to shatter or to build:

-Proverbs -משלי יב, יח

“יש בוטה כמדקרות חרב, ולשון חכמים מרפא “

“There is one who speaks like the piercing of the sword, and the tongue of the wise one heals.”