Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Catch a fish for a Singaporean and he will eat for a day. Teach a Singaporean to fish and he will expect a textbook, handouts, worksheets, quality instruction, regular testing, course reviews, safety guidelines, IT lessons... and wonder why fishing is so boring. And not want to learn anything else for the rest of his life.

Today's "Teach Less, Learn More" workshop has parallels with how organized religion picks up on Divine Commandment and turns tablet-engraved words of wisdom into dogma and ritual. It's the nature of being in an organization, I guess. The leadership is obliged to interpret the Word from On-High on behalf of the rank-and file by translating It into procedures that are easy to follow. In this way, we obey the Word, and thereby are we good.

This heretic observes that we are simply barking up the wrong tree with TLLM. TLLM is a value and an attitude, to be obeyed in spirit and not by the letter of the law, or SOP at our level. It doesn't neatly translate into "action plans" or even "learning activities," but it is an admonishment to us in the education service to stop overplanning the lives of our kids, force-feeding them with exam-based but otherwise irrelevant nonsense inapplicable to real-life, and conditioning to them to think it is us who hold the key to their "success in life."

TLLM makes sense, particularly in today's context in which Education has taken on such self-importance that without Teacher's proper supervision, young lives get ruined. And what a waste of our only natural resource that would be.

Homework for math, tutorials for physics, chapters of texts for lit, project research for GP, who knows what else for other subjects... daily exercise regimen for physical health... CCA responsibilities... adequate rest and nutrition... revision of the day's lessons... remedial this, remedial that... tuition... Students seem to live in a time warp that stretches longer than the usual 24 hours a day for the rest of us normal people. We do this to our students because we are good, dedicated teachers. We blame ourselves if individual students flunk a major exam, and think if only we worked them harder they wouldn't be in such dire straits.

Yup, it's all about us. We take things personally: they failed because we failed them. They messed up because we didn't take them in hand. And so, we do everything we can to ensure they don't fail. And we make sure they know it, too. We boil down complex ideas to easy-to-swallow but meaningless factoids. We drill from TYS, as if the only questions (and their corresponding answers) our subject poses come from the last 10 years' worth of exam papers. We pack the time table and schedule their holidays so that they can't waste time with frivolous activities outside of our supervision.

TLLM basically says, stop it. Stop hand-holding them all the way to adulthood. Stop giving the impression that they always have to get it right the first time. Stop pre-digesting things for them and making them eat vomit. Stop being the centre of their learning universe -- we aren't that important. Really.

Individual words make up a sentence, but it's the tone and inflexion that give the sentence it's meaning. Likewise, TLLM is about the manner in which we teach, not about what activity or content goes into the lesson. It's not so much a matter of doing less, or even doing things differently. It's a matter of being. Being more considerate. Being more humane. Being more realistic. Being more practical. Being more far-sighted.

It's also a matter of trust. Trust that kids will learn useful things from people other than ourselves. Trust that learning doesn't always have to be ordered, structured or even planned. Trust that kids will learn in time, so let them have time to learn. Trust that when a child falls down, he will pick himself up, dust himself off and continue the game because there's still fun to be had in playing.

Good luck planning a "TLLM lesson." Oxymoron of the day.

Edit 1:
Happy birthday, Josh!

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