These are issues that have been boiling to the surface for me as I have been developing my implementation of Team-Based Learning in my classroom. The assumption that students can always figure things out on their own is false. Students do need some direction and facilitation. Instruction requires careful attention to the verbal and non-verbal cues from students about what they need (but not necessarily what they want). Walking around the class during group discussion may be viewed as surveillance rather than making oneself available for consultation. The teacher may be removed from immediate dialogue but must always be prepared to intercede when it becomes apparent that an intervention is necessary. This is where an instructor’s intuition cultivated over years of experience comes into play. Teachers need to listen to their inner voice and integrate it with the lenses of colleagues, students, and theory.
My own intuition, informed by theory, experience (students and mine), and colleagues voices, suggests that active learning produces the best learning outcomes, but that it must be tempered by instructional intervention and pedagogical design. This takes work and close analysis (reflection) on our teaching praxis as experienced class to class, course to course, and term to term. Teaching is not the simple implementation of teaching tricks, tips, and strategies. It is a responsive action that is informed by theory, experience, and context. That context is the particular course, term, student cohort, and instructor.
Circles of learning and getting out of the way of students’ learning does make sense - the theory and evidence indicate this. But it does not mean that we should be slaves to technique. How we implement our teaching praxis must be informed by what the students in front of us need at that moment. In addition, as many have written in the SoTL literature, we are more inviting to students’ learning when we explain to them our reasons for implementing the teaching strategies we use in the classroom. I certainly explain this at the beginning of every term, but many of the problems I experience in my TBL classrooms I suspect result from my failure to regularly remind students why I have designed my classes the way I have. We all suffer from cognitive overload and need to be reminded why we structure teaching and learning the way we do.
Brookfield, S. D. (2017). Uncovering assumptions of power. In Becoming a critically reflective teacher, 2nd ed, p 21-37. San Francisco: CA, Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Brand. pp xvi, 286.
Finelli, B. C. J., Nguyen, K., Demonbrun, M., Borrego, M., Prince, M., Husman, J., … Waters, C. K. (2018). Reducing student resistance to active learning: Strategies for instructors. Journal of College Science Teaching, 47(5), 80–91.
Seidel, S. B., & Tanner, K. D. (2013). “What if students revolt?”—Considering student resistance: Origins, options, and opportunities for investigation. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 12(4), 586–595.
Tharayil, S., Borrego, M., Prince, M., Nguyen, K. A., Shekhar, P., Finelli, C. J., & Waters, C. (2018). Strategies to mitigate student resistance to active learning. International Journal of STEM Education, 5(1), 7.
Weimer, M. (2013). Responding to resistance. In Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice (2nd ed., pp. 199–217). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint.