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Colonizing the Student: “Constructive & Chaotic”

by Stephen Hebert on Wednesday - 24 February 2010

in Education

In a previous post, I demonstrated the number of different interpretations that exist in a classroom. The question that I left with was this: “How does this serve the student? Is it constructive or chaotic?” The answer to the latter question is “YES.”

You can call me a silly-headed postmodernist or just plain crazy, but I’m okay with a little chaos in the classroom. Look, I’m not an engineer, I’m not a scientist, but I do like the idea of entropy and the second law of thermodynamics! If a system is not maintained, it loses stability and slips into chaos. Education is, by its nature, both constructive and destructive. In order to understand the systems we study, we have to break them down into their elements and rebuild them in a way that we understand. This new copy is never the same as the original as it has been altered by the baggage the individual brings to the new construct.

I was chatting with a colleague lately about the value of notetaking and different styles of doing it. She recalled a teacher in high school who forced the students to copy down pages of notes directly from the blackboard. While it was not the most exciting way to learn, she said she remembers this information because there is something about the act of writing that helps her to remember information.

“I’m the same way,” I told her. However, I went on to explain that I can copy mindlessly without paying any attention to what I’m doing. What works better for me is transforming things into my own words — paraphrasing!

What is the act of paraphrasing? Isn’t it taking a construct, breaking it down into its elements, and then rebuilding it? The new construct is similar to the first, but not exactly the same — it is a translation: different but same.

I tend to feel the same way about the act of learning. In order to learn, we must break things down and rebuild them. At some point in this act, we may have complete and utter chaos. In a room with 225 different interpretations of the classroom-text, chaos is immanent and necessary.

The grander issue is not chaos, but varying levels. This is where we separate the men from the boys, women from the girls, etc. — can you the teacher handle the fact that different students are at different stages in the deconstruction-reconstruction process? If I’m answering for myself, I have to say: NO. I’m sure that takes practice, and I’m just not there. Perhaps in years to come…

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