Treating content as clumps of clay…

Invitational classrooms respect learners with an agreement—an equation—in which teachers engage in a learning exchange with students (and their families). When we decide mainly to talk and deliver, we distort the equation; what students “receive” from us we require them to “give back.” They know they must regurgitate what they’ve “learned” if they are to get an “A,” let alone a passing grade.

It’s no surprise, then, that students feel increasingly dissatisfied sitting detached in “delivery” classrooms, particularly as they move into middle and high school. Fewer do homework or study for tests. In one school, ninth-grade math teachers told me none of their students would have studied for the mid-term unless the department required a review project. Increasingly, students are not willing to put effort into their work, nor do they care to. As far as most are concerned, school is irrelevant.

When we decide to implement a balanced-equation classroom, we commit not only to bring material to students but also to bring students to the material. We treat content as lumps of clay. We shape opportunities to engage and invite students to re-form it in terms of their understandings. Together we complete the shaping in a deeply creative process. Not only do we develop an understanding of our teaching, but our students also develop their own understandings, which they can take into future learnings. No more constant studying for tests, striving to pass them, and then forgetting everything the next day, as was true for most of us as students.

For more about the key role of invitations in teaching see Chapter 4 in Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting students to Learn from Amazon: