In this ongoing conversation it is important that we also revisit some of the pioneers of alternative ways of viewing teaching and learning.  I will refer to some of the pioneers who contributed to the genre of language teaching pedagogy, as this is an area I have worked in for many years.  I find that these ideas have profound relevance for other content areas which is why I include them.  This is only a beginning and much of my writing from here on out will come back to and deepen my own understanding of these important ideas.

The first set of ideas I will explore briefly for now  is that of Caleb Gattegno who developed The Silent Way.  Silent Way was originally a mathematics pedagogy that was later applied by Gattegno to language teaching.  One important idea is to examine what it means to subordinate teaching to learning, to make your students’ learning more important than your teaching.  Another of Gattegno’s core ideas was to not do for the learner what they can do for themselves.  After twenty years of working with these ideas, they are still provocative and meaningful for me.  Gattegno was deeply inspired by the philosophy of J. Krishnamurti so these philosophies and ideas run deep with deep roots that are extremely well grounded.

I also continue to explore Gattegno’s invitation to look at our use of praise and whether or not it is necessary or even helpful.  O’Reilley concurs with this question saying, “. . . many of us still define our success as teachers by our skill at ‘marking’. . . such an approach to teaching inhibits students’ ability to find their own strength” (p. 49).  This is in contrast with developing what Gattegno called students’ Inner Criteria, meaning developing their ability to know for themselves if they are correct, not correct, or where they are on the continuum.

O’Reilley continues with her exploration on the question of praise by saying, “Even our positive responses often merely addict students to repeating their most successful tricks.  Both praise and blame set students looking for other people for definitions of the self.  Both discourage create problem solving because you can’t solve problems in new ways when you have an eye on what ‘they’ might think.”  When students are wondering “What is the answer I’m supposed to come up with?” their creativity and full potential is diminished.

A final thought from Gattegno who also said, “Only awareness is educable”.  We can only help to train our students’ awareness of what they know or don’t about the subject, of themselves as learners, of themselves within a learning community.  This idea has profound implications for what we will do or not with our students.

Shakti Gattegno, Gattegno’s wife, built in meaningful and sustaining ways on his work.  One of her core ideas which stays with me is that we must be good to our students rather than be nice.  By this she means when we make the road too easy for our students, we do them no service.  Rather we must do that which will develop their full potential for human goodness.  This means challenging them in appropriate ways, holding their feet to the fire, making them work hard, not for some external standard but to develop their own internal criteria and a knowledge and skill set that allows them to achieve great, human goals.

More on these ideas soon.