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Metaphors for Students

Posted in all posts, education, philosophy, teaching by coleman yee on May 10, 2006

I was in a training session for new teachers, and the trainees were asked to come up with metaphors for students.

The metaphors that a teacher chooses can give insight into their teaching and learning philosophy and approach, and how they deal with students.

"Students are sponges," offered one of the trainees.

"Anyone has any comments on this metaphor?" asked the facilitator.
I spoke up: "I don't like it because it implies that students are sitting there passively absorbing knowledge from the teacher."

"Who chose this metaphor?" asked the facilitator. "Do you have anything to say?"

"I chose 'sponge' because students tend to absorb everything we say or do, even the wrong things, which makes it quite scary sometimes. Also, sometimes you have to squeeze out the old stuff that's already there before you give them the new stuff."

I thought he had a point.

Anyway, someone else chose 'monkey'. 

"Why 'monkey'?" asked the facilitator.

Someone else quipped, "because they are less evolved."

The guy beside me almost spat out his coffee. 

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The Story in History

Posted in all posts, education, stories, teaching by coleman yee on May 1, 2006

“How do you make history interesting?”

I posed this question to a lady who was training to become a History teacher.

It turned out that this question had been bothering her as well – she’d always loved history, but she understands that not everyone shares that love. In fact, many students have the perception that history is boring, requiring the memorization of loads of facts and information.

Since I didn’t get far with the question, I asked another:

“Why is history interesting to you?”

“I like to know what happened in the past” was her reply. Not exactly helpful either.

We didn’t have time to converse further, but I was left wondering about the burning question: how to make history interesting to students who aren’t already interested, or even think that history is boring?

Many History teachers make use of films, either documentary (such as WWII or later events where real footage was available), or reconstructions (on events that weren’t captured on film).

Films are definitely helpful, as they add a visual dimension to the historical event (which would otherwise have remained largely textual). One doesn’t have to be a predominantly visual learner to reap the benefits of motion picture.

I have viewed a good number of documentary films, and most of them were highly enjoyable, not to mention informative as well. Recently, however, I viewed a series of war documentaries which had great footage and even computer-generated animation (to illustrate troop movements etc.), but the presentation was not very compelling.

After some thought, I realized why. The difference between the good documentaries and those that weren’t compelling was that the good ones told a story, and not-compelling ones simply presented facts. And the best documentaries – they didn’t just tell a story – they touched your emotions, they developed the characters, they took you through a journey.

Unfortunately, not every historical event is documented or reconstructed on film, and not every historical film is available to the History teacher. What can the History teacher do to make the lesson compelling?

Tell stories.

Something to think about.