Teaching How to Think

Yesterday, I received an email from a Year 12 student I have been teaching for the last two years before she finished her HSC in November:

Our classes were always a pleasure but most of all a privilege, [and] I’m very proud that every argument I used was my own in some little way, which you helped me articulate and develop. Teaching us how to think was priceless, and will never be forgotten.

While these are words that I am unlikely to forget for many years to come, it’s the message that is most heartening. In a climate where success is all-too-often measured in Band 6s (which is the highest performance band a student can achieve in a standard NSW HSC subject), I’ve often grappled with the overwhelming disparity between high-stakes exam success and real learning.

While I remain, at heart, a pragmatist who believes it’s possible to think for oneself and achieve excellent results, I do often question my principles as an English teacher who steadfastly teaches students how to think and how to write, NOT what to write. As an HSC marker, I often see that the highest scoring papers are the most ‘prepared’ – with clear evidence of someone (the teacher, the parent, the tutor, the studyguide…) coaching the student in what to say.

How I reconcile this disparity is the ultimate challenge – one with both ethical and practical dimensions. For now, I think I’ll be grateful that students appreciate me helping them in any way I can to think for themselves, and that it’s this kind of help that best prepares them for life beyond the classroom.

Merry Christmas and New Year, everyone. I’d really like to take this opportunity to thank you all for the time you take to read these posts, for your support, links and comments.

About Michael

Cellist, singer/songwriter, school teacher, nerd, recent scooter enthusiast and failed philosopher.
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