Partnering: The pros and cons of a self-taught classroom

Posted on October 2, 2012 by

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The first day I walked into Mike’ Age of Exploration classroom, I was nervous. I wasn’t sure what was expected, how the class would work together, or what we would learn, much less how we would learn. One of our first assignments in Age of Ex was to read an article on Partnering from a book called Teaching Digital Natives, by Mark Prensky. Partnering is a teaching style that is characterized by the students essentially taking charge of their learning and being more like collaborators in a classroom instead of observers. Likewise, teachers act more as mentors rather than lecturers. However, this doesn’t mean that Partnering is the “perfect” solution for teaching. Like every teaching and learning style, there are pro’s and con’s.

Pro: “Cool! I can be creative and do what works for me!”

Partnering allows for students to take their own direction during their learning. They can choose methods that work best for them. For example, I am a very dialectal learner, so a method that helps me learn best is talking out the information I have learned. Speaking and explaining my ideas is one of the best ways for me to organize in my head and understand what I am learning. One of the advantages of Partnering is that a student can learn, research, and present information in whatever way is most helpful for them.

Con: “Wow, this is really cool! It’s not too off topic, is it?” or “I hope this is creative enough?”

A disadvantage of Partnering is that students could take the new freedom too far and go off topic, or not be creative enough and not meet the expectations of the project. The amount of freedom that may be permitted can lead to misunderstandings about the purpose of the project or losing sight of the reasons for the project. On the other hand, unclear guideline can make students very cautious about doing too much or another misunderstanding where the students feels like they have met the expectations of the project, when it was not what the teacher had in mind.

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Pro: “I love focusing on doing a good job rather than stressing over my grade!”

The method of Partnering in a classroom to encourage students to find their own answers is a more useful skill in the real world, after school, than being expected to regurgitate what a teacher has lectured in class. This teaches the students to set the bar for themselves and determine for themselves what good quality is. I think everyone, including myself, struggles with their attachment to a “good grade” in one way or another instead of wanting to doing their work well and to a good standard. It can be very tempting to say, write, or do what we think the teacher wants, but it is more beneficial to us as students to almost teach ourselves, learn what we believe to be significant, and be satisfied that the result is of good quality. Partnering has the benefits of having a teacher to guide us along that path.

 Con: “I don’t have to think about grades ever again! Grades don’t matter, I can still get into Harvard!”

This belief can also be taken to the extreme in the opposite direction. The use of letter and number grades can be important and even necessary in school, but it doesn’t carry much significance outside of school. The idea shouldn’t be to slack off or not to care about grades at all, just to move the focus to quality.

 Pro: “Nice! I can do my own thing and Mike won’t bother me!”

For some students, the freedom to work on their own can be very helpful and  they are good at self mediating and staying on task. Partnering in an Age of Ex style class can be a positive experience for this type of student because, similarly to the amount of freedom in creativity, they can work in whatever way suits them best. Every student knows what he or she does well, even if not consciously.

 Con: “Oh no! I need more directions from my teacher.” or “Mike isn’t paying attention, so I can do whatever I want!”

However, some students thrive off of strict rules and expectations or, similarly to the creativity con, they take advantage of the chance to slack off. I personally do very well with clear guidelines and ideas for what a project should look like. This year will be a challenge for me to use the freedom to explore the options I have and make good choices with how to present my information, even though they may be different from what I am used to.

These are only a few arguments about Partnering. Through out the discussion, I was referring back to the different points, because many of them were related on some underlying level. As I said before, Partnering isn’t perfect and neither is any other style of teaching but it definitely has some benefits.

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