No Full Frontal Teaching

Teachers: three archetypal advertising images:

A smiling young woman stands in front of a chalkboard and looks at hands raised from desks.

Five students gather around a tabletop globe and look attentively as their teacher points out a location.

A young man stands, shirt sleeves rolled up, in front of hands raised from desks.

The ASCD prides itself on promoting best practices in the world of education, and these are the images it employs to promote its 2009 summer conference.

The three photos are at the bottom of the brochure page. They are so every day, so innocuous, they are nearly invisible. Looking again, looking closely, what do I see? Teacher front and center. All activity funnels through the teacher. Student engagement is limited to raising hands or looking on. The teacher controls all activities. All students doing the same thing at the same time. Teacher as sage on the stage. I see the teacher smiling and the backs of the children’s heads. Children are locked in desks.

Who talks most in these classrooms? Who needs the most practice talking? For each student, there is a lot of wait time.

Our classrooms look very different. Our teachers teach in a very different way. Actually, Dr. Montessori emphasized the distinction by using a different name for the Montessori teacher. She called them directors or guides.

At times I look in a Montessori classroom and can’t see the teacher at first. She can usually be found sitting on the floor or at a low, child-sized table giving a lesson to an individual child or a small group. The rest of the children are working on other projects independently.

There is not a lot of wait time in a Montessori classroom. The teacher is not the funnel, not the controller, not front and center. We do not engage in “full frontal teaching”.

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