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Educating in the Classroom

What would be a workable arrangement for learning in today’s classrooms? Given that the banking approach to education, as Freire suggests, dehumanizes instead of liberates, then surely we must find an alternative in educating the young to make them responsible, and fully alive and conscious individuals. To do this, I believe that a new set up is needed in the classroom, because the goal of education is helping the individual to be self-reliant in his pursuit of becoming the best he could be, and to be a responsible member of society.

The teacher is the authority figure in the classroom, the dispenser of knowledge. But the teacher is not all knowing, nor the teacher would also be present at all times to see the growth of the student. Thus, more than giving the knowledge to the students, he must teach them how to search and utilize knowledge. What a teacher must do, then, is to instill a thirst for knowledge in the students. In this way they will not behave just within the confines of the classroom, or be respectable citizens because they have to, but they will be upright individuals because they are enlightened.

And enlightenment comes from a dialogue: it is a process of exchange between teacher and student, between student and student. Dialogue should encourage students to participate and share of themselves, to ask questions, to look deeper into themselves. And the teacher should be able to make them see that they have a place in society, that all individuals are connected in a grand design. This will teach the responsibility – for them to know that their actions have consequences not only in their immediate circles and world, but may affect those living on the other side of the globe.

Students will develop a liberal mindset, a conscientiousness that does not discriminate. This necessitates that students should be trusted. Trusted that they will choose what is right and just if they are given the choice. Placing trust in the students empowers them because they will recognize they are not merely objects that have to be fed knowledge and then required to spit it out during examinations, they become active participants in the learning process. But how to do this?

At the beginning of the semester the teacher could hold a discussion with the class. The objective is to draw a realistic set of goals based on the expectations from both the teacher and the students. Thus, the discussion should proceed as an open forum, where the students are encouraged to talk about what they want to learn, what are the questions that bother them, what they want to make sense of. The discussion should cover the importance of knowledge, and what knowledge means – is it merely making grades to get to college?

What is there after college? The discussion should certainly touch the subject of life, the quality of life that the students would like, their dreams and hopes, and the kind of society we are living in. the teacher should be able to show the class idealism and reality, and how these can work together, how students have potential to affect change. Then the teacher should outline what the semester should cover: for example, if it is an English class, then familiarize the students with the curriculum.

Then the students divide themselves into groups that will take turns leading the class discussion. Each group will have five members, and each member will have a chance to facilitate a class discussion. The assignment will be for the groups to come up with topics that they want to discuss, and what are the things they want to learn. It must be clear that the students are given responsibility, and that they are expected to perform in class – after all, it is their and their classmates’ education.

Two classroom meetings will be dedicated to finalizing the new syllabus that both the teacher and the students agree upon. They will discuss how the grading will go about, how many quizzes, exams, papers are reasonable, what merits to be given for reports and discussions, and class activities, and so on. The underlying assumption here is that the students are acting on their own interests – that is, they are acting as responsible individuals and not merely as teens who would like to get less work done.

Students have a thirst for knowledge, for something that interests them, something that will make sense of their world. They should just be directed well enough. The teacher will then act as part of the classroom, his presence merely overseeing as the students themselves facilitate the classes. During the class discussions the floor must be open to everybody – meaning that any question that is relevant and serious must be considered, every thought or remark as long as it is not obscene and violent must be encouraged.

Participation is key. Students will discover themselves as they interact with each other in an environment that lets them be, that challenges their ways of thinking and yet lets them speak out their thoughts. Of course there will be times when the discussion would not go as planned, or not reach a mature level as hoped, and this is where the teacher should come in and ask questions – questions that will seek to move the students to look dee into themselves and in the material.

For every piece of literature, every bit of scientific fact, all these only makes sense if we are able to contextualize their existence into our lives and the teacher should make certain that these relationships between text and life are clear t the student. Only then will the student see the possibilities that he is, and that he can affect in society and the disciplines. The teacher should be patient and entertain confusion, arguments and counter-arguments, and constantly challenge the students to rise above their current thinking and think ahead, to se more than what they can see, to perceive needs even when they are not required.

In this way, the student will be encouraged to be more, to strive, to study beyond books and to interact. He will learn that he is an active agent in society, not merely a money making machine, an automaton whose sole purpose is to live his course and pay taxes. He will develop concern for others, and instill a love for learning, and knowledge. And love for knowledge is never enough – because when one has knowledge he is clled to act.

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