In the morning over my coffee, I set an intention for the hour and for the day. I do this to give focus to the moment so that I can carry that intention throughout the day. And as usual, I started to think about learning. I realized that this notion of setting intentions is exactly what we want learners to do in our courses. We want them to set goals for learning beyond memorizing facts. We want them to set intentions for learning that will carry through to their other courses and their daily lives.
We want them to discover their own truths or understandings within the constraints of a particular topic. Rather than memorizing what they need to know for an exam, it is important that they come to realizations organically if they are going to gain meaningful understanding. And this means that the teacher must move away from their role as “sage on the stage” or even “guide on the side.” With this kind of goal for learning, a teacher’s role becomes a facilitator; a facilitator of discussion, of building personal pathways, of collaborative consideration and critique of concepts. In this way, teachers aid learners in gaining understandings that are personally meaningful and useful beyond the walls of that particular classroom.
This is a tougher thing to carry out than one might think. It means relinquishing a fair amount of control and awarding learners agency and control over their own education. It means trusting that learners’ backgrounds, experiences, and interests will contribute to rich discourse that will help each learner come to gratifying conclusions. It does not mean, however, that the teacher stops teaching. Quite conversely, it takes a lot of effort and art to facilitate discussions that allow community members to draw upon one another’s expertise to collectively grapple with concepts and reach desired conclusions. But the outcomes are astounding.
When I present this notion, some teachers respond that students are too young, too limited in their experiences to set these kinds of intentions. I wholeheartedly disagree. Learners of all ages have the capability to understand what they are to explore and find a lens through which they can learn it in a meaningful way. They are able to set goals and intentions, but they need to feel that setting such intentions will benefit them in some way. This is why the teacher must facilitate the journey rather than act as a tour guide. It is likely when a teacher does this that the learners will explore different paths. But if they work together as a community of learners, they will help one another reach the necessary conclusions, and on their way they will have participated in a meaningful learning experience that they can carry with them as they walk out the classroom door.