Home > Commentaries on TTC > The rhombicosidodecahedron has 60 vertices. So does the snub cube.

The rhombicosidodecahedron has 60 vertices. So does the snub cube.

Rule a big country

the way you cook a small fish.

Drop miscreants in boiling oil? Batter them? Eat them with chips? The man just wasn’t clear enough for some, eh President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan? So, how do you cook a small fish?

You don’t fiddle around with it. That’s how you cook it. You leave it alone and leave it to cook. And this is what Lao is saying. It is a principle that was repeated many years later by Thoreau who wrote, “That government is best which governs least.”

But this is not the Tao of Political Organisation. So let us paraphrase by stating that “That teacher is best who teaches least.” Because teaching should really be about cultivating learning. Too often, teaching has the same effect as spraying weedkiller on everything in the flowerbed. It stifles learning or creates deformed learning. The teacher should hang back and encourage learning to be the main focus in their class. If you are an authority in your school, make the next teaching observation into a learning observation. It makes for interesting viewing. Ask teachers, What do you think the learners actually learned today? Ask them how they know. It might make for an uncomfortable conversation, but it is an angle of perception that I think deserves to be foregrounded. I’m not sure that it is in most contexts.

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Categories: Commentaries on TTC
  1. March 10, 2011 at 08:15

    The old teacher talk debate. I think the biggest problem in TEFL is the tendency to dominate the class with one-way verbiage. It comes down to fear. A fear of silence and uncertainty. Obviously good teachers are comfortable with silences but the less confident teacher needs to fill the void with the sound of their own voice. This also applies to white space in a lesson plan which is still material, it is just unwritten material.

    Sometimes teacher dominance is so hidebound in people that nothing can be done to change it. At the root lies a lack of in understanding about how language is most effectively learnt (procedural > declarative) and of course laziness is a factor too -we all slip back into lazy habits occasionally. I’ve noticed that observing nervous teachers exacerbates things . Some people just dread relinquishing control, in the same way people dread flying or getting in lifts.

  2. dfogarty
    March 10, 2011 at 09:14

    Verbiage – my biggest curse.

    I think I agree with most of this – although sometimes verbiage can be symptomatic of authority and power. A certainty that one is right and others are wrong.

    Can anything be done? I think I subscribe to the notion that all things are in a state of constant flux and therefore there is always something that can be done. The question, as Lenin rightly concluded, is what?

  3. March 10, 2011 at 19:37

    Your post ended up making me crave a visit to the local chippy…

    Agree that ‘learning’ should take priority over ‘teaching’. However, I’ve found one of the trickier aspects of teaching ‘unplugged’ is that sometimes the most talkative (not necessarily the strongest) students can end up dominating class discussion, with the less confident either withdrawing or sitting there bored. Of course, it is up to me to avoid these situations and I usually nip it in the bud (by inviting the ‘quiet ones’ to contribute) but nevertheless it can be a problem.

    We don’t know the extent to which previous learning experiences and expectations result in the quieter learners not participating enough. They might think “just talking” is not learning, and expect teacher-dominated activities to be “real” learning.

    I like the question: “What do you think the students actually learned today?” I was actually asked this myself once by an observer and was, since it was my second-ever lesson, completely flummoxed. However, with pre-determined “learning outcomes” dominating the educational sector, would a looser, more anarchic lesson satisfy your average observer, whose priority is if those outcomes (and only those outcomes) have been reached?

  4. dfogarty
    March 10, 2011 at 21:53

    Yes – how do you manage the most talkative? A good question. Silence, as Luan points out, isn’t necessarily bad, but being withdrawn and/or bored is not what we want.

    As for looser more anarchic lessons, I’ve managed to get through OFSTED, Accreditation UK, BAC, and institutional inspections with success. I usually supply a rationale for why I teach the way I do.

    I’m always keen to impress upon students a rationale for talking. I also provide them with a typed summary of the lesson and highlight language that was discussed. It seems to work for most.

    I’d still love to find an answer to the question about the garrulous though…

  5. March 11, 2011 at 06:52

    Usually some form of role play is the only way to reign them in but perhaps also an understanding that teaching is partly about understanding and dealing with the natural emergent power structures among students, as well as focusing on emergent language – cf. my comment re Bertrand Russell in post 57.

    • dfogarty
      March 11, 2011 at 07:30

      Very true, Luan.

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