Friday, July 17, 2009

Space and Hosptiality in the Classroom

I have been teaching high school for over an academic year now, and that first year might be categorized as always a learning experience for me, and sometimes the student. However, I can point to a lot of education influences, like Stephen Krashen and Ben Slavic, but it has been Henri Nouwen who has impacted me the most.

In his book on hospitality, Reaching Out, Nouwen gives a valuable ideal
Teaching...asks first of all the creation of a space where students and teachers can enter into a fearless communication with each other and allow their respective life experiences to be their primary and valuable source of growth...
The important part of this description, and Nouwen would agree, is that the teacher must create space for students. Giving someone welcoming space is the very definition of Nouwen's hospitality. This is space to allow for creativity, disagreement, and personality. The good teacher does not assign worksheets and a board full of notes, which necessarily squelch student uniqueness, instead he gives students the space to talk about the subject matter in light of their experience. Students are rarely being discipline problems when they interject that an assignment is "stupid" or "boring," actually they are reacting to an inhospitable pedagogy.

Giving space means letting the kids have an input into how a teacher teaches. For example, it is often stated in the literature about second language learning that personalization is necessary for language acquisition. If the student has no interest in what she is learning in the second language, then she will not acquire the language. This is why so many of our international students with American boyfriends or girlfriends can pick up English quickly, which is that they are personally interested in everything the American says. Therefore, they acquire it at a much faster rate.

Teachers must give space to students to acquire the learning objective within their comfort and enjoyment. If kids feel that the classroom is hospitable then they will learn. Unfortunately, teachers are often under the illusion that they must "control" their classroom. Being in control necessarily means limiting what space the student will have. Therefore, the teacher will have to find creative solutions as to how to let students have control of their space. This means things like "free voluntary reading," and "creative writing." Give students the chance to ask questions, and to explore the relevant topics which challenge and interest them.

In upcoming posts I would like to explore how this idea of "space" will work in theological and church contexts.

For more good reading about hospitality see:

Kyle Potter's Intro
The Orchard Keeper
and the resources from the Duke Center for Reconciliation

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2 Ages Verging by Ryan Cordle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.