It's Elementary!

by Jamie Forrest

My role as educator? February 13, 2011

Filed under: Class reflections,Opinion pieces — Jamie @ 5:14 pm

A reflection on the following article:

Dewey, J.  (1938).  The need for theory of experience and Criteria of experience.  In J. Dewey, Experience and Education, pp. 33-50.  New York: MacMillan.

Also mentioned is the following article:

Jackson, P.  (1992).  Conceptions of curriculum and curriculum specialists.  In P. Jackson (Ed.), Handbook of Curriculum Research, pp. 3-40.


While reading this article, there were two major ideas running through my head.  The first revolved around things that I have control over.  There were a few quotes in this article that made me ask several questions about my own practice.  Here are a few of these quotes and the questions that I ask myself almost daily as I reflect upon my teaching practice.

“Does not the principle of regard for individual freedom and for decency and kindliness of human relations come back in the end to the conviction that these things are tributary to a higher quality of experience on the part of a greater number than are methods of repression and coercion or force?” page 34

“Every experience enacted and undergone modifies the one who acts and undergoes.” page 35

“ “growth” is not enough; we must also specify the direction in which growth takes place,” page 36

  • How do I run my classroom?
  • Do I provide for individual freedom or do I expect my students to produce the same products in the same time with the same methods?
  • Am I kind to my students?  Do I place value on the human relations that take place every day in my classroom or do I stop them from flourishing?
  • What kind of experiences do I provide for my students?
  • Do I provide experiences that breed creativity in my students?  Are they experiences that make them want to try new things, regardless of the results? Or does what I do make my students ask “Is this THE right answer?”
  • Do I provide experiences that breed a love of learning in my students?  Are they experiences that make them want to find out more when the bell rings?  Or does what I do make my students close the book and walk away, not thinking of it again until the next class or worse yet, saying that they hate the subject matter?
  • Do I provide experiences that teach my students that they are valuable?  Are they experiences that make them feel like they have been heard and that they offered an important contribution to the class?  Or does what I do make them walk away wondering if anyone even knew that they were there and had an idea to share?

Many of these questions come back again and again for me.  You can see parts of them in my blog post “Teacher as Curriculum Maker” and in “From Here to There – Reflections on Curriculum.” Many of these questions are also raised in this RSAnimate video “Changing Education Paradigms.” (My video embedder isn’t working at the moment…  I’ll try embedding later.)


However, when reading further into Dewey’s article, we also see that there is a second side to this situation which he calls “interaction.”  Philip Jackson might have called this “experienced curriculum.”  This is part of the development of our students over which we, as teachers, have no control.   “The environment, …, is whatever conditions interact with personal needs, desires, purposes and capacities to create the experience which is had.” page 44   I have control over the environment that I create within my classroom.  I can create a setting and circumstances of learning through my lessons and activities but the experience is ultimately created by the mixing of that which I create and what my students bring to the classroom with them.  (Which means that I should perhaps reword my reflective questions from above…)


Dewey continues by stating that the educator has “the duty of determining that environment which will interact with the existing capacities and needs of those taught to create a worth-while experience” page 45.  Although I agree with this statement, it is especially disheartening to me because as Sir Ken said in his video, I have 27 students with very little in common but their age.  They each come to me with different experiences, different stories, different strengths and different interests.  How am I to create one environment to interact with each of these individuals to create a “worth-while experience?”  How am I to ensure that my students learn the curriculum that they must because they are in the third grade?


Further, Dewey introduces the idea of collateral learning – the “formation of enduring attitudes [and] of likes and dislikes” which “may be and often is much more important than the spelling lesson or lesson in geography or history that is learned.  For these attitudes are fundamentally what count in the future.  The most important attitude that can be formed is that of desire to go on learning.”  page 48.  This is, what I feel, should be the ultimate goal of education.  However, with all the differences in abilities, interests, histories, likes and dislikes and so many students with so little time, I wonder how I am to achieve this?  Is there one right way?  I think not.  What worked last year does not work with this group.  Where do I find the time and the answers?  Emily Pacini, in her blog post on Collateral Learning writes the following:

“A point not to be ignored is that fact that collateral learning is collateral because of the fact that it occurs as a result of a given stimuli. Without that initial spark, it does not exist by the very definition of the word. What that tells us as educators is that one experience flows from another, so that learning a concrete set of knowledge can lead to the formation of less tangible qualities within an individual. Dictated ways of learning can lead to self-generating principles.”


Perhaps then, the lessons in which I engage my students, although one lesson with one or a few methods will lead to my students self-generating their own learning outside the walls of my classroom…   I really enjoyed reading this article.  However, it seems that the more I read for this class, the more questions I have!  So, I will keep questioning, keep reading, keep searching and keep teaching.


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