Yesterday evening I went to see Sir Ken Robinson speaking on the subject of ‘Educating the Heart and Mind’ here in Vancouver. For those of you who haven’t seen him speak, there are a lot of videos of him on YouTube and on his own website.
Sir Ken’s talk was rich, and a number of subjects were covered in the space of some forty –five minutes. What I want to write about in this post is an analogy he made which started me thinking about the way we train teachers in ELT and generally. He talked about Peter Brook’s book on the theatre, The Empty Space. In that book, Brook suggests that drama doesn’t need a building, a playwright, a stage, or even a script. For drama to happen, there needs only to be an actor and an audience- even if it’s only an audience of one. What we call drama is born out of the relationship between the actor and the audience. The art form of acting is in that relationship. Sir Ken went on to say that he felt that this was the same with teaching and learning. In essence, teaching and learning don’t need all the normal trappings of education- the school building, the curriculum, the materials. It’s the relationship between the teacher and the student which is the heart of the educational process. Teachers need to be teaching the student rather than teaching the subject, he suggested, personalising learning so that each student is attended to for what they are and for the talents they have.
Well, OK. Apart from reminding me of Mark Twain’s famous quote, ‘I never let education get in the way of my learning,’ it got me thinking. Without getting into the whole dogme/technology discussion within ELT, it seems to me that teachers today arguably have a lot of distractions that could easily take their attention away from that central relationship. So what are we doing about ensuring that the relationship between teacher and student is at its best?
Well, after his talk, Sir Ken went into a moderated conversation with Dr. Kimberly A. Schonert-Reichl , who’s an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia. She reported that she had done research into pre-service teacher training in North America and found that none of the official teacher training programmes included any focus on any of the kind of skills that would allow teachers to effectively teach the student rather than the subject. No focus on training teachers to listen effectively, no real training in how to foster each student’s individual talents. The question, which was rather left hanging in the air, was whether all these qualities need actual training- or not.
So what do you think? Do the teacher training programmes you know have any focus on effective listening skills, for example, or train teachers to really attend to the individual nature of student talent and learning? Are teachers taught to teach the student rather than the subject? And how do we train teachers to help students to find their own personal way of learning – in our case enabling students to learn the language most effectively?