Priorities, pacing, and prancing ponies

The readings on course design have been great for encouraging me to actually stop and take the time to consider — to question — the class prep process that for many instructors has become rote. I appreciate this aspect of the backward course design best of all, I think; it is one of the few strategies or approaches that we’ve discussed in this class that has as much (more?) value for the teacher as it does for the students. Teachers, often caught up in their own field of specialization, can benefit from the reminder that content teaching is only one small part of education. Prioritizing certain types of knowledge and skills allows teachers to keep their requirements reasonable and to focus on those that will most benefit learners.

Thinking back over the various readings and discussions that we’ve encountered in the course, however, I cannot help but recognize the constraints inherent in teaching. No matter how well you explain an idea or how rigorously you attend to the pacing and materials of a course, there will be students that don’t meet you halfway.

“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”
Sometimes, it’s just that simple.

I can develop a rapport with my horse. I can tell him how refreshing it is to enjoy a nice cool drink. I can explain to him that we will be going on a little walk that will end up at a watering hole. I can guide him over the rocks and past the scrub-brush and point out the sparkling waters up ahead. I can find the point with the easiest access to water. I can even get down on the ground next to the watering hole and have a drink myself, just to show him how fine the water is. But damn it all: I can’t make him drink.

There is one thing that I think may encourage these little ponies, a consideration that is important in uniting course design with the day-to-day practice of classroom teaching: transparency. It is essential that students are able to orient themselves not only within a specific activity but also to understand the way in which that activity fits into the plan for the day, the day into the week, and the week into the course. Although this plays into Wiggins’ comments on the need for motivation that is intrinsic with students, it also allows those who do not have much personal interest in a topic or even in a whole course to track their own progress.