Monthly Archives: October 2011

Kill “Instruction”

We think metaphorically.  Our language gives us insight into our thinking via the power of metaphor. Therefore the language we use is important.  It shapes our thinking, and it shapes our behavior.  It both reveals and creates the paradigms that we see our world through.  We need to be critical in relation to the language we use, the metaphors our language creates, and their role in our thinking.

Within this context, I would like to kill off all use of the word “instruction”.  The metaphors it creates and uses are ones whose time is done.  Without our awareness, this word, and all of the words and images it brings with it, shapes and limits our view of what can happen in school.

The idea of instruction correlates well with student achievement, which correlates well with the goal of increasing test scores.  Instruction assumes that teachers control and “deliver” content to students, who are then assessed, usually (following the metaphor) using tests and quizzes (and sometimes formulated writing).  It assumes that the teacher’s task is to control and manage both content and students, the delivery of content, and student achievement.  It fits well into the corporate reform model and it fits well into an obsolete metaphor of learning that is easily measured.  It also fits well into the current, and obsolete, culture of education that logically ends with blaming teachers (rather than looking systematically at the causes of “success” and “failure,” and even the superficially of these two terms) and the dissolution of the public common good in favor of a privatized, free market take on the objectification of children for the purpose of profit.

In contrast to this, I would like to replace the metaphor of teachers as “instructors” with the language of teachers as facilitators of a learning culture.  (“Learning culture” is a phrase blatantly copied from John Seeley Brown’s book, A New Culture of Learning.)

Here is a tentative and cursory matrix that extricates some of the differences I see between the  metaphors of “Instruction”  and “Learning Culture.”

Instruction vs. Learning Culture

Answer driven  vs. Question driven

Textbooks as resources vs. World as resource

Text/teacher provide access to content  vs. Technology provides access to content

Student management vs. Student engagement

Teacher control vs. Culture shaped

Teacher centered vs. Student centered

Delivery focused vs. Learning focused

Tests as assessment vs. Real world products/services as assessment

Abstracted data vs. Holistic context

Teacher training vs. Humans learning together

Extrinsic emphasis ( grades, test scores, et.). vs. Intrinsic motivation (Purpose, Autonomy, Mastery)

Teacher determined plans vs. Student determined passions/visions

Formula that leads to degree/certification vs. Journey that leads to a life

Our real task as educators is to create rich cultures of leaning with our students, not to manage them.  And the idea of controlling content is simply absurd when they have access to any of the world’s content in their pockets.  We need to think differently, to recognize the obstacles to this inherent in our current language use, and to speak differently.

The language we use creates the boundaries of our thinking.  Reshape your language and reshape our culture!

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