Friday, June 15, 2007

I’m somewhat disappointed in the books about teaching I ordered for summer reading. They both seem to be based on the popular notion that a good English classroom is based more on “dialogue” than “monologue” – more student-centered than teacher-centered. What bothers me about this is the implication that the students’ ideas are just as important as the teachers’. The suggestion seems to be that students and teachers should meet on an even plain, and that by “dialoguing” about literature and techniques of writing, they will discover together the best paths to take. The problem I have with this approach is that it ignores the primary purpose of English instruction – the teaching of specific skills of reading and writing. If I want to learn the specific skills of welding, I would not be interested in “dialoguing’ about it with my teacher. I would want my welding instructor to teach me the skills. I would assume that he knows the skills – that he is an expert at welding – and therefore I would be prepared to listen carefully, watch closely, and imitate exactly. Why do so many English teachers not accept the fact that we are, in many ways, very similar to any teacher who teaches a skill? There are specific methods and procedures that an English teacher can teach his students – methods and procedures that will systematically lead to better reading and writing. The teacher knows these methods and procedures, and the students do not. Therefore the teacher must teach. Yes, dialogue plays a part in this process, but at the heart of the process is monologue – the teacher explaining and showing and the students listening and imitating. It’s what teaching and learning any skill is all about, including the important skills of reading and writing -- and it's what most students, I think, want. They can dialogue with their friends in the halls; in class, they want to be taught.

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