The Classroom Experience: Context and Freedom

I have yet to read an education theoretician who extols lecture as means of educating, champions standards delivered by the state, or encourages authoritarian control of classroom dynamics. “More lecture, more standards, more obedience” is not the mantra of thinkers like John Dewey, Maria Montessori, Paulo Freire, Jerome Bruner, and Sir Ken Robinson! 

The unmistakable theme evident in their theses is, in contrast, context and freedom. Students learn when subjects and lessons are contextualized. Students grow when they have the space and freedom to fold emerging ideas into their own experience.

There is a wonderfully intuitive aspect to this, in some respects relegating the contributions of the theoreticians to that of merely providing language. Of course we all believe that acquisition of new knowledge requires a backdrop of already acquired knowledge. Of course we all believe that an internal motivation to learn is based on experiences which incite curiosity. Of course we all believe that passively receiving information can be tortuous. (Has anyone watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? Anyone? Anyone?)

So what real elements can education practitioners implement in the classroom that provide context and freedom?

Pose a relevant, intriguing problem and set students free to work on it. Provide time for discussing an approach to solving it. Have materials and resources, which the students will need to solve it, on hand. Find  and suggest a diverse array of outside-the-classroom places to visit and things to do, which relate to the the problem. Provide time for students to formally resolve the problem and empower students to name it and thereby own it. The solution students arrive at is a new nugget of knowledge from which  there is a common platform for posing another problem. Arc a series of these related problems together, and you have yourself a course with the context and freedom necessary for the learner to own their discoveries.