Tag Archives: teaching

D is for Dialogue, internal and otherwise

Self: So if I write this as an internal dialogue, is it really a monologue?

I: And if there are three internal speakers, is dialogue actually the word to use?

Me: But loads of people use dialogue for conversation between more than two speakers don’t they?

Self: Back up, back up, why on earth do we want to talk about this word anyhow? We should start there.

Me: Right, right. Ok. Why do we want to talk about “dialogue”? I? You seem to have some ideas about that.

I: Two reasons. First, I keep saying that my teaching style is “dialogical”. I want to unpack that a bit. Second, I’ve got this conference paper on dialogue in children’s books teaching the Bible and theology, and I think more research in that area could be interesting.

Self: Hmm. Ok, so let’s talk about the teaching style thing first.

Me: Well, what do we mean when we say our teaching style is dialogical? What does an ideal classroom look like when teaching is dialogical?

I: That’s just it. An ideal dialogical classroom is not ideal at all in many ways.

Self: Yeah, everybody talks at once, lesson plans go out the window in the first five minutes, and the same idea gets hashed over so much it is dead by the time class is over.

Me: But that just means that the ideal dialogical classroom is different from other ideal classrooms.

I: Sometimes I think it should actually be the DIOBOLICAL classroom, instead of the DIALOGICAL classroom.

Self: Ha!

Me: Don’t interrupt. An ideal dialogical classroom is one with a small enough class (possibly fewer than 15 people in the room) to have a real conversation about the topic to be covered. A real conversation involves people listening well to one another, not just formulating their own fixed response to the points being made. It also involves a lot of preparation by everyone involved, not just the teacher. And teachers in this case are really facilitators.

I: But that is most of the problem isn’t it? No one prepares adequately. I might be prepared as the teacher or facilitator, but if no one else is prepared then everything goes sideways.

Self: Does it actually go sideways or just in random non-predicted directions?

Me: That’s the other thing about dialogical teaching. We need to be prepared for the unexpected, and allow things to go sideways if sideways is where the conversation goes.

I: I guess the thing I find frustrating is when it feels like I’m doing all the heavy lifting and things actually don’t so much go sideways as nowhere. Sideways could be interesting. Nowhere is not.

Self: Yeah and in all those conversation books, the adult or teacher manages to keep things going, either by telling the children or students when to stop being ridiculous, or by giving the information in the actual lesson.

I: No, not always, there’s that one book where Mother and Mary are discussing what Mary has read. Those are more like the ideal Me described. Plus there’s only the two characters. But the adults in those books do direct conversations pretty obviously. Can teachers ever direct conversation?

Me: Why not? If a teacher is a facilitator, then the facilitator’s job is to keep conversation going and keep it going in the agreed direction. The trick is getting an openly agreed upon direction, instead of the facilitator having a secret agenda direction.

Self: Hmmm. We need to think about this more. Can we actually have a dialogical teaching style in a large classroom setting?

I: And can I actually say my preferred style is dialogical?

Me: What about those conversational books? Do they provide guidance for this kind of teaching, or is it all about adult coercion?


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Reading Biographies

I asked my fb friends if they read biographies and the answers ranged from “No, why bother?” to “Yes, that is what I always read, fiction is not real.” (I paraphrase slightly.) Many of my fiction-loving friends said they seldom read biographies. My enthusiastic-teacher friend read a lot of biographies last year, both of really good people (example Mother Teresa) and really bad people (example Eva Braun). Biographies mentioned as worthy of reading by this non-scientifically selected panel were John Adams by David McCollough, anything by Charlotte GrayHappy, Happy, Happy by Phil Robertson, Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, Take My Hands by Dorothy Clarke Wilson, and, on the to be read pile, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Of this list, I’ve read Take My Hands. I liked Dr. Ida by Wilson better, but both about medical work in India in the mid-twentieth century if that kind of thing interests you. I can’t comment on the others, but am interested in Gray’s new book called The Massey Murder. It has a kind of Alias Grace flavour, but a different murder is involved.

I read biographies and memoir and letters and diaries of people that interest me, usually for what they’ve done in their lives. For example, I’ve got the three giant volumes of C.S. Lewis’s  Collected Letters on my shelf. I’ve also got Alister McGrath’s biography of Lewis in my to-be-read pile. I’ve read Lewis’s conversion memoir, Surprised by Joy. It is interesting that a lot of biographies of Lewis discount SBJ as inaccurate. Memory and memoir are funny things. I read about the life of C.S. Lewis because he was an academic who wrote a lot, and I admire his writing. I’ve also read a memoir by Richard Feynman, and have a biography of Feynman on my shelf. Feynman was a physicist who worked on the A-Bomb during World War 2, and later taught at CalTech. I’ve studied physics and engineering and so this interests me. It probably doesn’t interest you.

As a teacher, I’ve been interested in biographies and education for a while. I haven’t really done much with that, but there is a research project forming in the back of my mind. Memoir has become a part of teaching — reflecting on one’s own experience to pass on nuggets of wisdom to others. Are there other ways that life stories are involved in teaching? What about actual biographies, researched books about the lives of others? Published journals and diaries? Published letters? How do these feed into learning? Interesting questions. Any thoughts?

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The effects of war, Part 2

Previously in this space I discussed a book that 1Mom gave me for Christmas on the after-effects of war. She gave me two such books, and I’ve now finished (re)reading the second, The Ash Garden, by Dennis Bock. I was intrigued by a review of Bock’s book when it first came out in 2001. I got it sometime later and read it, but it has since disappeared from my library, which means that during one of my last two moves I decided not to keep my copy. Now I have another copy, and I’m glad I re-read the book.  It certainly sustains re-reading, and, though I remembered the basic premise of the book was based in the after-effects of the Americans going nuclear on Hiroshima, I’d forgotten most of the details.

The book is all about German guilt, and is connected to the war in Europe as much as the war in the Pacific. The two areas of war and their worlds are connected through the main character, a German scientist who left Germany and worked for the Americans, not because he thought the Nazis were wrong, but because his boss wouldn’t let him follow the path to nuclear fission that he thought was correct. The idea of the a-ethical scientist is something I often discussed with students when I taught High School physics. It is also part of the reason I didn’t follow a career path using my first degree. I don’t think the work of science is outside of ethics, thus scientists must be concerned with the ethical implications of both their methods and results. Also, consumers of science must be concerned with the ethical implications of the science they use. Books like The Ash Garden explore these ideas and allow for thinking and discussion of them. If I were still teaching high school physics, guess which novel would be assigned in the nuclear physics unit?

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Subway Book Talk

Today when I was riding home on the subway, a man asked about the book I was reading. I’ve never actually had this happen before though I read on the subway all the time. I was reading Foundational Issues in Christian Education by Robert W. Pazmiño. I’m using Pazmiño as a text in a course I’m teaching.

Anyhow, buddy interrupts my reading and asks “Could you summarize the fundamental issues he mentions in what you’ve read so far?”

I said “Sure, he talks about biblical, theological, philosophical, historical, and sociological foundations to name a few.” <I go back to reading.>

Buddy <interrupting again>: “So all the foundational issues for Christian education are academic?”

Me: “Yes, according to this. This book focuses on the theoretical.”

Buddy: “Doesn’t he do anything practical?”

Me: “Not in this book, he’s got another one on practical things.”

Buddy, nodding and smiling at me like he’s made his point: “Oh, ok.”

I go back to reading.


I’ll be using this story as an introduction to tomorrow’s class on the philosophical foundations of Christian education. Lots of times we think that practical tips are the ultimate measure of whether a class or a book is any good. I think that good thinking should lead to good practice. I will also suggest that if one’s thinking does not influence one’s practice, neither the thinking nor the practice should be called “good.”

I note here that I refrained from asking subway buddy about the Arnold Schwarzenegger biography from the library that he was reading and carefully put away inside a bag before he began our little exchange. Possibly I should have asked what drew him to reading about Arnold. Was it the practical nature of celebrity biography?


Filed under musings

On not being a Christian alone

Recently I’ve heard, and heard of, more than one speaker at various Christian events claim that what people really need to do is just read the Bible, and not worry about commentary or other kinds of teaching. This view is not isolated to one particular group of Christians, but shows up at different times and places in different ways. I would argue that the claim is unbiblical as well as unhelpful. It is also illogical, but logic doesn’t seem to worry many speakers of any and all persuasions.

Let’s start with the logic. A speaker is generally teaching. He or she wishes the audience to think about the issues or ideas under discussion, and come to some conclusion about them. He or she usually thinks the audience would be better off if they came to the same conclusions that they hold themselves, though usually speakers may claim this is not the case. I am a teacher. Privately, most of the time, I think my students should think like me. Most of us, teachers or not, think the world would be a better place if everyone thought as we do. Thus, logically, a speaker is telling his or her audience to not worry about teaching and just to read the Bible without external commentary. What is the speaker doing? If they really thought that, they should sit down and be quiet.

Second, it is unbiblical. You cannot read any part of the Bible without seeing that there are people who teach others about God. Jesus was a teacher. Paul was a teacher. The prophets and priests taught people. There are teaching Psalms. Parents teach children, as evidenced by Proverbs. Teachers are everywhere, and though there are certainly false teachers, having zero teachers and everyone reading the Bible themselves is nowhere envisioned.

Third, it is unhelpful. One of the distinguishing marks of Christianity is the community of faith. As a Christian I am a member of the body of Christ, a community which extends through space and time. I am linked to Christians from the past and future, as well as Christians around the world who I have never met. To suggest that I would do better to read the Bible myself without consulting other members of the body of Christ is not at all helpful, and presents Christianity as an individual belief system rather than the vital connection of all of us to Christ and to one another. We live in an individualistic society, and need to work hard at Christian community, not be discouraged from it in any form.

You cannot be a Christian alone. It just doesn’t work. Read lots of books that other Christians write, even if you don’t agree with them. See that they love Jesus and are connected to you as fellow members of the body of Christ. Enjoy the messy diversity which is the Church.


Filed under musings