“People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don't find myself saying, "Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner." I don't try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.” (Carl Rogers)

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Freedom to Learn Section III: For the Teacher (part three) – Methods of Building Freedom

"If you want to give your students a freedom to learn, how can you do it?" This chapter presents specific approaches, methods, techniques for "the teacher who wishes to step into the chilly waters of classroom innovation."

1.   Building upon problems perceived as real

Students are often insulated from the real problems of life. If they are to be free, then they must be allowed to face problems that are real to them and relevant to the course at hand.

2.   Providing resources

Instead of spending time organising lesson plans and lectures, facilitative teachers focus on providing relevant and imaginative resources and supporting their effective use. Resources are not only books, articles, work space, laboratory room and equipment, tools, maps, films, recordings - but also people who might contribute and interest students, people from the community - and the teacher, by making herself available, is the most important resource.

3.   Use of contracts

Student contracts are an open-ended device "that helps to give both security and responsibility within an atmosphere of freedom." They also help to assuage the uncertainties and insecurities of the facilitator. "Contracts provide a sort of transitional experience between complete freedom to learn ... within the limits of some institutional demand or course requirement." They also allow students to share in decisions about evaluation. Because contracts are such a helpful bridge between conventional approaches and freer classrooms, Rogers offers a very specific example.

4.   Using the Community

Use the learning resources of the community, perhaps as a student project, or 'work-shadow' working people in the community, or even join an encounter group to learn psychology experientially.

5.   Peer Teaching

Student learning facilitated by fellow students in a tutor-tutee relationship, which has advantages both the the student being helped and the student doing the teaching.

6.   Division of Group

Freedom can not be imposed an anyone who does not desire it - so there should also be provision for those who prefer instruction and guidance. Perhaps one self-directed and once conventional, with freedom to move back and forth between them.

7.   Organization of Facilitator-Learning Groups

"Is it possible to provide any freedom of learning within large classes?" There are many ways to do this. Rogers presents one model, whereby the climate is set with some general comments, followed by the formation of relatively autonomous 'facilitator-learning' groups.

8.   The Conduct of Inquiry

This is a report on a recent development in the sciences whereby students are helped to become inquirers working toward discovery in a fluid way - and not the image of science as absolute, complete and permanent. The students become scientists themselves, seeking answers to real questions, discovering for themselves the pitfalls and joys of the scientist's search. Rogers adds a note of caution at the end of this section: "None of the methods described in this chapter will be effective unless the teacher's genuine desire is to create a climate in which there is freedom to learn."

9.   Programmed Instruction as Experiential Learning

Rogers suggests that the flexibility of programmed instruction, such as Skinner's teaching machines, might be used fruitfully as part of a facilitated course when students come across knowledge gaps. Used in this way, "... a competently developed program can provide students with the opportunity for immediate experiences of satisfaction, competency in a body of knowledge, the feeling that any content is learnable, and an understanding of the learning process." Although, if it is used unwisely, if it becomes a substitute for thinking in larger patterns if it becomes a way of stressing factual knowledge above creativity, then real damage may be done."

10.       The Encounter Group

The encounter group fosters a climate for significant learning that can help students, teachers and administrators. Groups begin with little imposed structure - this is up to group members to decide. The leader facilitates expression or clarifies or points up the dynamic pattern of the group's struggle. Personal expressiveness tends to increase, facades drop and "some or many individuals become much more facilitative in relationship to others, making possible greater freedom of expression."

11.       Self-Evaluation

"The evaluation of one's own learning is one of the major means by which self-initiated learning becomes also responsible learning. It is when the individual has to take responsibility for deciding which criteria are important to him, what goals must be achieved, and the extent to which he has achieved those goals, that he truly learns to take responsibility for himself and his directions. For this reason, it seems important that some degree of self-evaluation be built into any attempt to promote an experiential type of learning."

12.       Other Sources

Rogers presents three further volumes of ideas and procedures for humanizing the classroom.

13.       How Effective is Open Teaching?

Everything describe in this chapter could be classed as 'open teaching'. Rogers is concerned to present the conlcusions of research on the effectiveness of open teaching: "Open education, authentically implemented, consistently reaches its goals in creativity, self-concept, school attitudes, curiosity and independence."

14.       Concluding Remarks

There are a number of methods available to create the conditions for responsible self-directed learning. Research studies support the approach. In the long run, your own personality and style will determine the methods you use.

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