I walk in to class and see twenty-five desks lined up in five rows. I take a seat in the second row. The bell rings and the teacher immediately begins lecturing. I frantically begin copying down notes, not retaining the information I write down. After about fifty minutes, the bell rings and I walk out of the classroom confused as ever.
The story above took place in my tenth grade U.S. history class. This is an example of teaching in the “center.” What does this mean exactly?
- Desks arranged in rows
- The teacher is at the front of the room
- The teacher is lecturing while students take notes
- Text dominated
- No teacher-student interaction
- No student-student interaction
Although the center of the classroom is important, because this is where the main curriculum of the class is, students will get the most out of a class if teachers strive to teach in the margins. So, what are the “margins” and how do teachers teach there?
The margins are the edges of the curriculum that explore the unknown, the mysteries and the possibilities. What does this look like?
- Whole class discussions
- Spontaneous lessons
- Connecting real world events to curriculum
- Encouraging critical thinking
- Answering and expanding on students’ questions
The Margins vs. Teachable Moments
Let’s not confuse teaching in the margins with teachable moments. What distinguishing factors do each of these have?
- Does not lead to teaching in the margins
- Often times kept short/brief
Teaching in the Margins
- Can be planned or unplanned
- Can lead to teachable moments
- Often times led by students
- Longer more detailed activities
How Does One Teach in the Margins?
For future educators, it is important to be comfortable with the idea that some of the lessons will not be completely structured. One should be ready for conversations and lessons to steer down a different path. Below are some ideas a teacher can plan to do in order to teach in the margins.
- DO NOT ignore a students question. Expand upon their curiosity and explore the uncertainty together as a class.
- Example: If a student asks the question “Why do birds migrate south?” instead of telling the student that this does not fit into the lesson plan, get the class to discuss their ideas of why birds might migrate south. This will increase the opportunity for personal experiences, ideas, and thoughts to be shared.
2. Explore a current event
- Example: A hurricane recently hit the Bahamas. Acknowledge the hurricane and discover the science behind how and why hurricanes happen. Students often times spark interest in science that is currently relevant.
3. Bring animals into the classroom
- Example: Bringing caterpillars into the classroom and watching them develop into butterflies will not only spark the interest of students, but help the students better understand the life cycle of a butterfly.
Exploring the margins will help student growth, keep students engaged, and overall make the classroom a better place. I’m so excited to teach in the margins in my future classroom, which will hopefully allow my students to come back the next day excited and ready to explore science!