Friday, December 19, 2014

Healthy Tension in the Classroom

If you want to accelerate learning for your students it is helpful to create a little tension in the classroom. Tension needs resolution and the process of trying to resolve a problem and ease the tension opens up the mind to learning new things, not just remembering old things. I am not speaking of tension between people but the tension of ideas coming together with enough force that we must deal with them and figure out what they are saying and what it means to us. Here are two examples:

1. I was recently in a very good class where the lesson was a part of the book of Daniel from the Old Testament. There are a couple of stories that are very familiar in that book. One of them is of the three young men who are ordered to bow down to an idol or face the consequence of being burned alive. The highlight of the story (for me) is their statement of refusal, found in verses 16-18 of chapter 3. In essence they state that they are not going to do this and they know that their God can deliver them but even if He doesn't they still won't bow down.

Well, you could read those verses and simply say "What a great example of faith" and move on. No one would disagree with that and it would supply some inspiration but give you very little to think about besides 'I need to be more like that'. We need to find a way to leverage the inspiration into action and creating some tension with questions is the way to do that. You could ask some of the following:

  • Why do they use the word 'careful'? Shouldn't you be careful when you speak to a king especially if you are not going to obey? (remember that 'careful' means "full of care" and what they are saying is that it doesn't bother them to say this. How can they be that strong when their lives hang in the balance? What do you consider worth dying for?)
  • Where did they get the idea that their God would save them? They are looking at a very hot furnace, directly in their view. That is a reality and still they cling to the idea that God can pull them from it. How did they arrive at this point? Can anyone arrive at the same point? How?
  • Is it faith or ignorance to suppose that although God can save them but He might choose not to?
All of those questions, and others like them, can create some healthy tension that will enhance learning.

2. In the Shakespeare play King Henry the Fifth we are treated to a well known speech ("we few, we happy few, we band of brothers") by the king as his forces prepare for battle against the French at Agincourt. They are greatly outnumbered and yet the king refuses the idea of more help and more troops, even offering to send home any that are afraid to fight:
"O do not wish one more 
Rather proclaim it through my host
That he which hath no stomach to this fight, 
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us."

At the end of reading that you could say "Wow, that is a powerful speech" and just move on. It is inspirational, but again, if that is all it is we won't be moved to action, to deeper understanding, and ultimately to change our lives for the better.

What if you asked a couple of questions just to create some healthy tension, to stir things up, questions like this:
  • Is Henry confident or cocky?
  • Does Henry have a death wish not only for him but for his men?
  • Would you be more or less willing to follow a man like that?
You will get discussions, thoughts, more questions, and ultimately more learning if you clearly give your students a reason to think and give them some tension to resolve.

1 comment:

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