Friday, June 21, 2019

In Defense of Slow

Many things in education are simply too fast. We set timers and limits on discussion, reading, writing, and speaking, mainly for practical reasons - we have a limited amount of time and a lot of content and standards to get through. But in this rush to cover content, to get through standards, in English especially, we lose the heart and soul of what we should be there for, a slow deliberate exploration of truth.

By slowing down we give students a wonderful opportunity they wouldn't otherwise have. We give them a great Forum to explore new worlds and new ideas, and let them sit and chew on those ideas for a while to see if they withstand the scrutiny of their own thinking.

This deliberation isn't easy and requires slow, intense, and active reading and thinking. Just as students need to build up their reading stamina so too must they build their thinking stamina. I ask students to withhold judgment while they read, to annotate text, and as they do so to let ideas come freely to them. The great and powerful Nietzsche writes precisely on this process in Twilight of the Idols:

"One will let strange, new things of every kind come up to oneself, inspecting them with hostile calm and withdrawing one's hand. To have all doors standing open, to lie servilely on one's stomach before every little fact, always to be prepared for the leap of putting oneself into the place of, or of plunging into, others and other things."

The texts I am asking students to read should be Great and require, no, demand their full attention. Just as being 100% present with others is a gift, so too is being 100% present with text. They require patience and not lazily jumping to the first conclusion that comes to mind.

Here are a few ideas on how to achieve a classroom focused this way.

1. Cover less content more in depth - particularly for English I would rather read fewer books, more in depth with students and actually explore them than simply rush to get through them.

2. Assign fewer pages of reading per night for homework - I've been assigning 10 to 20 per night and that tends to work well.

3. Have students sit in a circle - This changes the vibe of the classroom considerably, and gives fewer places for students to hide.

4. Make sure to have read and annotated and given students a list of study questions ahead of time. These should not simply be comprehension questions (although a few of those are fine) - but they should gently guide students and their thinking as they read the text.

5. Re-read particular passages in class - to refocus students, and to draw particular attention to specific parts of texts.

6. Don't bail students out - Sometimes (not always) we should ask students to share their thinking, even if it's not fully formed. As teachers we like the sound of our own voices. Instead we should let students share their own thinking as we gently guide them along through the process. The struggle is valuable and while teachers are not mere facilitators.

7. Listen in on the conversations that students have and let the most interesting conversations be the basis of the papers that students write. This, in essence, makes their essays a continuation of the interesting conversations they've already had in class.

8. Have high expectations and build a warm strict culture that allows for amiable, collegiate discussions and values risk taking, polite disagreements, and critical thinking.

9. Choose Great texts that are not easily palatable for students. See Reading Reconsidered for more on this.

This is how my English classes are structured these days. More information to come, but taking this approach has been quite an enjoyable and interesting experience over the past few years. Thank you very much for reading.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, great thoughts to take away! One phrase really stood out, "But in this rush to cover content... ." I would argue that are goals need an adjustment if we teachers feel pressured to "cover" content. I understand the natural time constraints, but that doesn't mean we take our limited window of time and jam as many things through as possible, does it? And if a lot of people are believing that's what we need to do, then who is pushing this agenda? And should we be listening to them?

    Learning is not about covering content as fast as you can. Don't get me wrong, content must be covered, but when does the rush hurt learning? That's what we should be asking, right?

    Looking forward to more posts!