Drop in on any traditional classroom and likely you’ll see a teacher at the front of the room talking while students, seated in perfect rows, listen.
It’s time for schools to shake up that image and assign the students the responsibility for their own, and each others’, learning says the president of Allen Zabriskie Associates and author of “Learning Chaos: How Disorder Can Save Education.”
“Students can do just fine without teachers, but the reverse is not true,” Bogert says. “Certainly, we can learn because of teaching, but we also can learn in spite of teaching because teaching and learning are fundamentally different.”
Don’t get him wrong, though. He’s spent years teaching at every level.
“I’m not knocking teachers,” Bogert says. “I think everyone should teach public school for two years. There would be a greater respect for teachers if we all experienced the long hours, low pay and disregard that come with the job.”
But he does advocate changing the approach to teaching and learning so that students take on a greater role and responsibility. He calls it “learning chaos” and Bogert says some ways schools can achieve it include:
• Look to the students for expertise. In a traditional classroom, the instructor is viewed as the expert and challenging the instructor is disrespectful. Bogert wants to see a day where it’s a show of respect to challenge the teacher, and where teachers are willing to admit they don’t know everything— that students and teachers are equal partners in learning.
• Focus on questions more than answers. Think of nearly every classroom you were in. The goal was for students to give the correct answer. But learning should be about students asking questions – and then more questions, Bogert says. Answers are merely steppingstones to the next question.
• Treat everyone’s learning as everyone’s responsibility. In most classrooms, learning means being talked at or down to. As a result, many students just wait for the ordeal to be over. But if schools create an atmosphere where students expect to teach and where learning means listening equally, then the students become more engaged.
• Remember that fun generates successful learning. Too often, learning is viewed as serious business and fun is seen as disruptive. Lighten up, Bogert says. Being serious limits flexibility, curiosity and the capacity to learn at every age.
• Make classroom chaos a priority. Usually, the goal is a controlled classroom – right down to seating arrangements. But why not let the learners arrange the room, and the content as well? Let them take charge. When teachers and administrators focus too tightly on control, they don’t give students’ brains room to explore ideas.
“Unfortunately, what schools really reward is accumulation and regurgitation,” Bogert says. “Students accumulate information and they regurgitate it for a test. That’s not the same as learning. Learning is about insight, it’s about curiosity. Curiosity is our default setting. We don’t need to make learning happen. We need to remove the barriers that prevent it.”
Mac Bogert founded Allen Zabriskie Associates (azalearning.com) to embolden teachers and students to become equal partners in learning. He details this process in his book “Learning Chaos: How Disorder Can Save Education.”
Mac currently delivers leadership coaching and innovative learning opportunities for 180 clients nationwide. He served as education coordinator at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts and is still active in the arts for his community.