The class was engaged in a discussion about the state of the education system and one of my students insisted that one cannot teach critical thinking; it has to be learned on your own. I found this an interesting point of view so I asked the class, “Do you consider me to be a teacher?” There was a long pause, but several nodded yes. “Now, as we talk about these issues in this class, are we engaging in critical thinking?” This time they were quicker to affirm that yes we are thinking critically. “So am I teaching right now?” The pause returned, longer this time; some said “yes,” some said “no,” and then the conversation moved on.
John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, gave a talk on creativity and leadership several ago in which he describes the difference between two modes of being: the open mode, and the closed mode. He lifts up the open mode as being the key to being both creative and an effective leader. He paints the open mode as:
relaxed, expansive, less purposeful, in which we are probably more contemplative, more inclined to humor (which always accompanies a wider perspective) and consequently more playful. It is a mood in which curiosity for its own sake can operate, because we are not under pressure to get a specific thing done quickly. We can play (my italics). (Cleese Video Arts 1995)
Whether I’m teaching writing, rhetoric or game studies the core of my teaching model has remained the same. Not only do I strive for my students to reach an open mode in my classroom, but it’s imperative that I do the same.
Terms like “facilitator” and “affinity spaces” (Gee 2013) get thrown around in our discussions of pedagogy all the time, but I’m surprised to find many instructors still adhering to a top down model of education. Trickle down economics hasn’t proved to work, why would we expect trickle down education to be any more effective?
There is subtle difference in approach that seems to make a difference between being the keeper of the knowledge and the facilitator of knowledge acquisition. A keeper of knowledge has expectations of their students, a facilitator believes in their students before they even enter the classroom.
In the last 365 days or so, I have had a few experiences. Among these experiences was an opportunity to meet Cheryl Ball where we talked at length about composition pedagogies and the evolution of scholarship in the field. During our conversation, she often used the word “play” to describe the way she had her students learn new technologies. About 215 days ago, I began a directed reading with Allison Smith where I explored multimodal literacies. This foray into multimodal scholarship eventually brought me a book called Rhetoric/Composition/Play through Video Games: Reshaping Theory and Practice of Writing where each chapter discussed a new way to bring gameplay into the composition classroom. It was as if the word “play” was around every corner in my research. Play to be creative; play to learn; play to write.
My students play the role of teacher as they evaluate and grade work of their peers. Like a squirrel hiding nuts, I bury the learning objectives of the institution into games and let my students discover them on their own. I embed lessons about critical thinking into playful activities, I ask students to play the role of researcher, writer, educator, learner. Most of my classes have me bouncing around from small group to small group offering advice when absolutely necessary, but mostly putting the burden of learning squarely on the shoulders of the student. Which might answer the first question in the opening of this writing, “Do you consider me a teacher?”
I’m not sure I consider myself a teacher, rather I’m a creator of outcomes. I place students in the confines of a common goal: a small rhetorical box. I throw away the key, and insist they work their way out before the end of class, all the while having complete faith that they have the potential and ability to succeed. It’s the skills they walk away with that are important to me. If I’m doing my job right, they won’t even know that they are learning.