Resonance Pedagogy

Quick fixes do exist, but only you will ever know them 

There is no shortage of teaching tips and tricks, and many of them are tried and tested. But the reason why they work is not actually inherent in them.  

At the end of a seminar session we sometimes feel underwhelmed: it didn’t quite work out. So what can we do better next time? There is no shortage of teaching tips and tricks, and many of them are tried and tested. But the reason why they work is not actually inherent in them.  

“Educational discourse tends to be very concerned with the mechanics of a particular task, a challenge we can set our students, and then gives us a step-by-step guide to making it work in the classroom,” explains Jens Beljan, a researcher in Education at Jena University. “There is a fixation on ‘what works.’”  

Imagine the following scenario though: a colleague and you pick an exercise from a highly-recommended ‘what works’-type of teaching guide, and you both run it in parallel sessions of the same class. It is quite likely that one of you will come out being enthusiastic while the other is frustrated because, for some unknown reason, they didn’t even get to step 2 of the 5 steps of the method prescribed.  

Imagine, then, that the person who loved it runs the same exercise again in the following year. Students respond, but they aren’t exactly excited, and your earlier ‘best thing since sliced bread’ sense dissipates before you’ve even put the jam on.  

The worst thing we can do now is be fatalistic and think that, oh well, there’s no guarantee in life that anything will ever work out. On some abstract level this may be true, but it’s not a helpful attitude to take, for the simple reason that it dismisses as trivial that glorious first session that you enjoyed so much.  

The key to understanding why it worked once is in acknowledging that your exercise wasn’t all that happened on that day. The task and method was embedded in a specific situation, in which you and your students established a relationship with each another and with the task and material at hand that suggested to everybody that this was going to be a meaningful exercise.  

Jens Beljan explains: “We do need to plan specific exercises, but we need to think about relationships first. We need to listen to the room and to ourselves, and find out where people are coming from. If you simply impose your will, people might resent you. They may be excited, or they may not be. So before you roll out a your first-star-rated lesson plan, do a bit of listening – and really do listen. This is not just another item on the list: you may need to change course! But once you do that, chances are much higher that your exercise will be enjoyable and meaningful.”  

Adds Wilfried Sommer, a physicist and professor for pedagogy in Kassel who studies the phenomenology of classroom interactions: “We really are often at the mercy of our students!” His advice is clear: given that this is obviously the case, we should embrace it and work on relationships first. Any quick fix will then be even quicker, but at this point it will be emphatically yours, and no longer the exercise you took from a textbook.  

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