Teaching those that won’t be taught

It’s been a busy period since new year, both for my Learning & Teaching work and for my other research interest, euroscepticism (which, as you might guess, has been of more general interest of late).

Usually, the two are rather separate, and that’s fine by me: each offers an escape from the other, giving me some work-work [sic] balance [sic]. But I’m now seeing some cross-over between the two, particularly as the British debate about the European Union moves into a more public phase.

One of my big concerns about that debate is that most people don’t know much about the EU and – just as importantly – don’t really care enough to find out. As someone who would like there to be an informed and measure discussion, that’s a concern.

That’s right: bums tell you nothing about character. Right, Kim?

At this point, I put my teaching hat on and consider how I would deal with students who neither want to be in the class (if they turn up at all), nor know anything of any apparent relevance to the subject in hand. Put like that, I can see some options.

Firstly, I’d show that they do know more than they realise. We might take the most obvious expression of the subject and talk around and out from it, pulling in concepts and knowledge from other areas to build analogies and bolster understanding.

Secondly, I’d tackle the subject in a non-conventional manner: as those who teach research methods know, sometimes it’s much easier to do that when you don’t mention the phrase ‘research methods’ at all, but just get into an applied situation and let students see how it works from the inside. Likewise, much about the EU can be handled without talking too much about ‘Europe’, or in a way that’s a bit different.

Thirdly, I’d go a long way to adapting to students’ positions and knowledge. That might mean being a long way from where we want to be, and even not always getting to where we want to be, but unless there’s a validation of students and their ideas, then a challenge to them will be less likely to work.

Finally, I’d recognise that it would be a long process and one that had lots of scope for failure. But all teaching’s like that: if it wasn’t, then everyone would know everything.

So as I continue to engage with this subject, I’m going to try to remember the things that I already know, because if I can’t use my transferable skills transferably, then why should expect my students to do the same?

One thought on “Teaching those that won’t be taught

  1. Showing them that they know more than they realize really is essential. Sometimes what we do is just help our students figure out how to organize the onslaught of information thrown at them–help them categorize it and see how different pieces relate to each other. Another important thing to do is to to help them see how these kinds of issues–which seem far away or abstract–relate to their daily lives, by giving them a sense of how X (whether X is the EU, government in general, or international events) has had an impact on their life in the last day or week or year. I often start my classes with a question along those lines and it really shakes the RHINOs into paying attention sometimes.
    The rest of the time, I should just use photos of Kim Kardashian’s assets. Maybe with a photo of Chris Hemsworth for good measure.

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