Friday, September 30, 2011

Balance (part one)

One perennial debate in education circles is the debate about how freedom helps or hurts a student's ability to learn. Some people, usually considered "traditional" or "old school" believe that adults deserve respect and students should sit still, focus and absorb the wisdom of the teachers and coaches who instruct them. Other people, usually considered "progressive" believe children are inherently wiser than adults at deciding what and how they should learn.

I have my own thoughts on the debate and like most people, I fall somewhere between those extremes. There are a few examples I see of the good and the bad, so I decided instead of writing a meandering epic post, I'd break the examples into posts of their own. Each post will focus on an example of the tension between decisions mandated by design and decisions made freely.

It is always useless to say you favor balance because an overwhelming number of people will always say they favor "balance" so the word is sort of non-descriptive. It all hinges on where that balance point is on the spectrum. I've written about some of the things teachers can learn from game designers and one of them, at least in a good game, is that balance. I thought this line from a post I read captures the general concept pretty well:

"When the perception between the ordained and free-will is tweaked just right, it gives the game great 'play' -- moving the narrative forward while letting the play steer."

Do you have any specific examples from your learning experience that express that balance? Let me know.

1 comment:

  1. Freedom is like a gun...I think one needs to initially be taught how to use the freedom, have parameters put on it. The "teaching" does not have to be "traditional" teaching. It can be modeling, it can be co-working on a project with someone, etc...

    I think that the reason so many educators have an issue with giving kids freedom is that because students have never experienced it they abuse it when they get it. Put a gun in the hands of someone who hasn't been properly trained and trouble ensues...same goes for putting freedom in someone's hands.

    Now to throw all that example from my life that does not express balance...

    I can tell you the year and day I came alive as a person. Second semester of college I took a class in which the final exam directions were "turn one in." In many ways that assignment turned me into who I am today. Having total and complete freedom to do anything I wanted to for the first time in my life changed how I thought about everything that came after it.

    I do often put in units in which the beginning is highly scripted and the end is a free-for-all. It does provide some balance. So in the last unit we did highly scripted learning leading to an essay, and then they could present to class info in essay any way they wanted to--no conditions attached.