How to Have the Right Mindset About Content in Your Classroom

My students and I are currently working our way through Maryellen Weimer’s text, Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. We had some great discussion in class the other day regarding chapter three and the function of content. 

Photo courtesy of imagerymajestic |
Photo courtesy of imagerymajestic |

Can you identify with the following quote?

At the end of a course, most of us readily admit that we have way too much jammed into the ten or fifteen weeks, but when the time comes to get the syllabus ready for the next semester, it is only after great agony that we decide to leave anything out. We know we have a problem but are paralyzed to do anything about it.

Do you and I realize the sheer amount of information being created and shared in our world? Consider this, that every minute of the day…

  • Google receives over 2,000,000 search queries.
  • Facebook users share 684,478 pieces of information.
  • 571 new websites are created.

And what about the fact that 2.7 zetabytes (that’s 2.7 with 21 zeros!) of unique new information was said to have been created last year. And so in an age with a tsunami of information coming at us, how do we help our students understand what has relevance and importance? How does your information in the classroom not get lost among everything else that is competing for their attention?

It all starts with the way that you view your content. What do I mean? Simply this: do you view content as an end or a means to an end?

Let me contrast these two in light of teaching.

If you view content as an end, here are some byproducts of this type of mindset:

  • if some is good, then more is better.
  • it reinforces  the idea to students that true learning is about memorization and regurgitation of information.
  • it fosters the thinking that the more content there is, the course must therefore be more rigorous.

Now let’s contrast those summary thoughts with the philosophy that content is viewed as a means and not the end.

  • content is viewed as a knowledge base on which to build. It is not the structure itself.
  • content is a vehicle to help learn new skill sets. “This means that we help students acquire a repertoire of strategies, approaches, and techniques that they can use when they need to learn material like that of the discipline.” (Weimer)
  • content is used to help the learner become more aware of his/her learning styles, preferences, and the ability to be an autonomous learner.

In other words, when content is the means, it allows the teacher to use more active learning strategies in the classroom, more discussion, more of the “doing it” mentality.

So what is one easy idea for how this could look? Instead of running your lesson right up to the end of a class period, use the last few minutes of class to have students summarize the lesson in writing and underline its key or relevant points. Have the students pair up and trade summaries to see if underlined ideas appeared on both. Then conclude class with a few of the pairs sharing their ideas with the class.

Let your content foster authentic learning instead of being center stage.

Community Input: So tell me what you think. Do you agree?



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