What do you think of this sentence: “The teacher is the architect of the learning experience”? I like it a lot. It’s been with me so long that I can’t recall if I thought of it (maybe) or I read or heard it somewhere (more likely). Either way, it expresses a truth about the classroom and the teaching/learning dynamic.
An architect has a vision, then commits that vision into detail on paper, and finally directs the execution of the vision. What he doesn't do is all of the work. There are lots of people down the line that labor in realization of the vision, but the vision and the details begin with him.
A great teacher begins with a vision of student learning (not teacher performance) over the course of the term and for each daily lesson. The vision is “what will my students learn” and the details are “how will they learn it.” Start with a plan, fill in the details, and then be prepared to modify along the way, if the occasion calls for it. You’re the architect; you get to pick the materials to use and the quantity. For example, student participation is one of the materials to aid in the learning process. It is not the final product. Don’t get fooled into thinking that just because students are participating that they are learning. They may or may not be, but if you’re not careful, you’ll perceive participation as an end, not as a means to an end. The end we want is learning, and participation is useful because it opens up thinking and thinking causes learning. So we love to see hands go up to respond, but here is a truth that is hard to grasp: not everyone that raises a hand needs to be called on. If I ask a question and five hands go up I won’t necessarily call on all of them and I generally won’t do it in the order they raised their hands. If the last hand up is a student who doesn't talk much, that’s the first person I call on. She needs to be heard and a variety of voices generally makes for a better class. And if I think that after 1-2 comments we have stirred the pot successfully and people are thinking, then I move on because as the architect of the learning experience, I get to select the materials (in this case, participation) and the quantity (how many students I call on).
You might assume that students will be offended if they are not called on, but here is another truth: when you raise your hand it is a sign that you have had some thoughts, that you have been stirred up sufficiently so that you want to participate. Whether you vocalize it or not you still have had the experience of thinking and that enhances learning. And if a student really has something to say that needs resolution, she will let me know by her persistence and she will get her say.
Great teaching is not delivering a boatload of new facts. It is the ability to stir things up in the minds of students so that they think and begin to see things in ways that maybe they hadn't before and thus learn. When the Savior taught the two men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) He expounded all things unto them, spent time with them, and then left, leaving them to ponder and wonder and grow in learning. He may not have answered all of their questions but He stirred them by leaving some things unsaid.
It takes a classroom architect with vision and skill to make that happen in a great teaching way that leads to great learning.