Not teaching is not a new technique.

There’s been a TON of traffic about the article that just came out about a “radical new teaching method” that mostly involves not teaching. It’s made me kind of angry. There are a couple or reasons for this:

  1. This is not a “new technique.” It’s been used by crappy teachers the world over forever.
  2. The idea of “not teaching” being a better way of teaching as yet another “universal fix” for students is a terrible move.
  3. You can’t just stick kids in a room with tech and expect their natural interest and motivation to cause great learning.

The problem, as I see it, comes down to thirst. In an environment where students are parched for learning, the introduction of the equivalent of a glass of water to people in the desert will of course cause excitement. But that same glass of water in a room full of bottled water will not spark the same excitement. Conditions matter.

Even in conditions that have the requisite thirst to motivate the students, there are issues with coverage- students sufficiently interested will indeed learn, but that learning will be uneven. Plopping a computer in a room with kids itching to learn will allow them access to information they wouldn’t have otherwise, but it doesn’t guide them through any reasonable path. It doesn’t provide the guidance towards a knowledge base that promotes further learning. The danger, I feel, is the gaps in understanding that are inevitable without some guidance.

Is any learning better than none? Of course. Just as a glass of water to a dehydrated person is good, something is better than none. But in the schools I work in, most students aren’t dying for a drink of water.