Barret Library at Rhodes College, Memphis

First day of school

Classes begin today, and I start my eighteenth year of teaching. Returning to the classroom always seems a treat after the long summer, and I am as ready as ever to meet new students.

Part of my preparation involved listening to an outstanding conversation about teaching poetry between Curtis Fox, host of the Poetry Off the Shelf podcast,  and Carol Jago, author of With Rigor for All: Meeting Standards for Reading Literature. Jago contrasts teacher-centered passive learning approaches, which she insists is the wrong way to teach poetry, and learner-centered active engagement with poems. The passive learning model, which continues to dominate in much of higher education, results in very little long-term learning, and as Jago points out with the younger students she teaches, so much of what teachers have to say “goes in one ear and out the other.”

Perhaps we can begin to move toward better student learning by reflecting on our own learning. Most professors did not become experts in their field by listening to what others thought was important. Most of us pursued our interests beyond the constraints of the lecture hall and exams. We asked difficult, puzzling questions and sought answers in how others had addressed similar questions, but always set out to solve the problems in our own way.

I now ask myself, how can I offer the same sort of exciting odyssey of learning to my students? Can I create conditions for learning that allow students their own breakthrough moments to new understandings? We find out beginning this afternoon.

Barret Library at Rhodes College, Memphis
Barret Library at Rhodes College, Memphis, Tennessee (Photo by T.S. Bremer, 2006)

[Daily post 043 of 260 in my year-long challenge.] ♨

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