The Order of Things


Deconstructing the workshop; Some reflections on staging

Given that the workshop’s aims included fusing the question of the purpose of education in today’s society with the historic Islamic educational ethos using the social constructivism inherent in Cooperative Learning, I found it appropriately presumptuous to name this this post after Foucault’s 1966 seminal work on underlying epistemological assumptions.

As I pointed out towards the end, there can be no romanticism that the teacher as a facilitator is able to step out of the picture and leave the students to their own devices on Summerhill (they can do that at home on the internet very well, thank you); not just the choice of, but the ordering of the materials in a discovery exercise will subtly lead students towards specific conclusions. In my opinion, one might want to choose an appropriate time to openly discuss this with one’s students.

Remembering my childish flip-chart sketch, the discovery exercise operates in the intersection between three zones of information. The pre-knowledge, the actual  subject material and the continuous production of new knowledge negotiated among students as they are guided through various interaction with each other and the material – and in this particular workshop, a fourth layer was added through meta-level awareness provided by the discussion of ontology and epistemology, which themselves formed part of the subject. (Confused? That’s how many of our students feel when confronted with knowledge and thinking processes we take for granted as adults).

So taking things in order, this first post will deal with turning pre-knowledge to your advantage.

Starting in Zone 1: Pre-knowledge – what’s on their minds?

The first zone of information in the classroom is the pre-knowledge on the subject that all students bring into any given learning situation and, though the teacher may have a few qualified guesses, there really is no way to anticipate what’s brought into the class hidden in the brains. This has to be dealt with early on: aside from being an excellent ice-breaker to establish a dynamic energy in the class, the cross classroom CLIP* of Catch-1-Partner, where students mill to discuss and trade question cards, serves this purpose well. (Full details on C1P is found in Newsletter #1.) Please note that ice-breaking is not just for strangers; it provides a change of mental scene in regular classes as well as class building and cohesion across teams and peer groups.

Navigating the sea of meanings

Navigating the sea of meaning

Regarding Catch-1-Partner, it’s important to decide on whether the questioner is allowed to reply to the answer, or simply takes it in – the trade-off being between energy build-up against the depth of understanding. For exercises early in the lesson, I usually prefer quick rotation of pairs (again see Newsletter #1 ideas on how to control timing).

Breaking the mental ice; presumptions, knowledge gaps, personal meetings

As one of the themes of the workshop was “re-framing narratives”, it was vital to get participants to look at their own assumptions regarding the subjects of Islam, with questions such as  “Is the ethos and content of Islamic traditional education very similar across the globe, do you think? Why, why not?” and “Is islamic education ethos teacher or student centred? Why do you think so?” so that when presented with the material on Islamic history later, any confusion or rejection would be instantly recognized as being  related to already identified presumptions.

More content oriented questions such as “Ever heard about Foucault, Comenius, Bacon, Descartes – what can you tell me about any of them?” allowed students to cull concrete information from peers and spread this knowledge should they later chance upon anoter student with the same card, i.e. a recap of a previous feedback, mixed with one’s own understanding. This is again an positive indication for choosing quick rotation in the initial stages of the lesson.

Finally, the ice-breaking questions include classics (“Are our eyes the same colour?”), but some again with a purpose: “I think there’s lunch in the Mosque next door after the event – would you like to hang out for some networking later?” and jokes such as “What does the Ronseal Man have to do with education policy anyway?both have ulterior motives.

(Note that by “mixing in as  a student”, the teacher gets a chance to test the mental waters on a one-to-one basis; this is even more the case when Catch-1-Partner includes giving feedback to the partner’s reply, where you may enter into an actual discussion).

Please find a complete list of introduction questions.

Please comment below.

More to follow, so follow, please.


* CLIP: Cooporative Learning Interaction Pattern (also described in earlier posts as shell due to it’s nature of placeholder for various materials, see previous post on nomenclature)

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