The Guide on the Side

Dropping in on a Williston Northampton history class the other day, I saw the best of the Socratic method taking place among a group of eager ninth-grade students. 

Sarah Klumpp’s slightly wry questions ignited instant responses from her students. They, in turn, engaged one another on the topic of the day: the range of women’s rights among a number of Arab states as portrayed in press accounts from the United States to the United Kingdom to the Middle East. 

With a terse “how do you know?” or a prying, “are you stating an ethnocentric idea?” Ms. Klumpp masterfully guided her students into higher-level reasoning skills. 

Since her students were charged with independent Internet research, they were required to be discerning synthesizers of information. Because they had to present their findings orally, they were practicing clear communication skills. Since they responded to one another without the teacher’s prompting, they had, clearly, taken an important step in becoming thoughtful listeners. 

One of the great pleasures of my day is to stop by a classroom and witness our faculty guiding students in precisely these areas as 21st century learners.


The Importance of Ends and Beginnings in Teaching

A number of thoughts coalesced as I listened to dean of faculty Peter Valine make a presentation to Williston’s teachers following the long winter holiday. His focus on classroom instruction and its “ends and beginnings” was especially timely as this was our first year in our return to a trimester calendar. (As an aside, our change to trimesters has realized one of our principle goals which was to bolster the the number and scope of elective courses, including the new Williston Scholar classes.) 

How students synthesize and apply the concepts and skills they learn in the classroom depends on the teacher’s ability to facilitate the connections between one class and the next, one problem and the next, one idea and the next. In short, the intentional design of the beginnings and endings of classes really matters. And how teachers connect with students to understand their prior understandings and the many different learning styles arrayed before them is crucial to determining the effectiveness of learning our students experience over time. 

The work of Mr. Valine’s Teaching Excellence task force last year established a fresh set of goals toward which we continue to strive. The ongoing work we do as a faculty about the craft of teaching ensures that Williston’s teachers remain on the front end of these important professional conversations.