Think about…mother robin teaching

This morning as I sat down to prepare for my class, I realized that I had not thought about the problem of “mother robin teaching” in quite some time…and it was creeping back into my classroom unintentionally.

For this Thursday’s “think about,” we consider the metaphor of the mother robin chewing up food to nurture her baby birds and ask ourselves if we are chewing up our content regurgitating it into our students’ beaks. This short excerpt from the Foundation for Critical Thinking’s article, “The Art of Redesigning Instruction” is a great jumping off point for reflection:

“The most important starting point for that understanding is given in the following truth: teaching, learning, and knowledge can be either lower or higher, fragmented or organized, surface or deep. Though all teachers in theory aspire to teaching so that students gain higher order, organized, deep knowledge; the effect of most teaching is otherwise: lower order, fragmented, superficial, and often transitory. A significant part of this problem is due to what might be called “mother robin teaching”.

When we teach in “mother robin” fashion — trying to mentally chew up everything for our students so we can put it into their intellectual beaks to swallow — students tend to become, if I can slightly mix my metaphor, “Polly parrot” learners:

“I can’t understand anything unless you tell me exactly how and what to say and think. I need you to figure out everything for me. I shouldn’t have to do more than repeat what you or the textbook say.”

Unfortunately, the more students grow in this direction, the more teachers try to amplify their mother robin teaching to accommodate it. Growth on either side produces a compensating growth on the other. By the Middle School level most students are deeply entrenched in learning, and teachers in teaching, nothing but lower order, fragmented, surface knowledge. Teachers feel by this level that they have no choice but to think for their students, or worse, that they should not require any thinking at all, that students are not really capable of it.”

Hopefully this snippet of the larger article gives you something to think about as you near the end of the school week. 

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Categories: Stage 3: Critical Thinking

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