Monday, January 9, 2012

Who controls the volume?

For that special date 11-11-11, NPR's All Songs Considered did a podcast based on the this clip from This is Spinal Tap:

No surprise - my thoughts went to education. I wondered about the ways I try to turn my teaching volume up to eleven. There are certainly times in my classroom where I want to REALLY impress upon my learners the importance of what we are exploring. While this might result in literally turning up the volume, it is more likely to manifest itself in elaborate planning and over-the-top presentation. It might get the learners' attention, and maybe even their interest, but this line of thinking seems too self-centered to be sustainable.

The podcast was really about the songs that listeners want to turn up to eleven, though. This was evident in the following exchange:

Bob Bollen: "I think most people, when they think of 'cranking up', they think of pop music. They think of turning up the radio that they’re listening to when that song comes on." 
Jacob Ganz: "Yeah, that’s the instinct. You’re listening to the radio and something comes on and you either reach to change the channel or you reach to crank it."
BB: "It was the original 'like' button. Only there was no feedback. If the station could have gotten that information that you turned the dial up …"
In my way of thinking, the listener represents the learners in my classroom. While I certainly have wished that I could receive immediate feedback on how engaged learners were in the lesson, when it is put this way I am uneasy. It too closely resembles a consumer approach to education - find out what they want and then give them more of it. This seems representative of some of the student-centered approaches that I find unsustainable.

Instead, I would like to have learners be more reflective about what they like or don't like about a lesson. Here is where the analogy breaks down because listeners do not need to connect with every song, but I want learners to be prepared to engage with every lesson. This is a metacognitive act that will allow them to participate more fully in boring lessons that they might otherwise tune out.

I still want to develop lessons that showcase my enthusiasm for the topics being addressed. Enthusiasm can be contagious. As the course goes on, however, I need to be ready to gradually release responsibility to the learners. They must find ways to connect to the learning regardless of their level of interest. After all, learners ultimately control the volume of what they want to hear. I just want to help them to make critical and sustainable choices.


  1. Interesting blog post - I especially liked the "consumers" analogy.

    I think negotiating part of you lessons with your students is critical for them to remain "tuned in". Conversations, student input in the design of some learning activities and purposeful reflection time help in this regard.

    @surreallyno on Twitter

  2. Cri,
    You are exactly right. And when I invite learners into the lesson development, it can serve as an assessment of what my learners find interesting and challenging. This also reinforces their role as creators (or co-creaters, as the case may be) rather than consumers.