“Won’t students become bored with their topics?”: A Response to LiD Concerns

By Michael D. Datura

Michael is a teacher on the unceded territories of the Salish peoples, a doctoral candidate, and occasionally a poet. He’s a member of the Academic Council for CIRCE and teaches graduate-level teachers on an Imaginative Education approach to learning. He also likes long walks in the forest.

Last Spring, I had the opportunity to interview several teachers who have been running LiD programs in their classrooms for at least two years (one teacher, Terri Zolob, in the Nanaimo School District is on year seven!). I also interviewed two cohorts of pre-service teachers (via on-line surveys) studying LiD as part of their post-secondary programs—one in Italy, and the other, Chile. It was fascinating to compare the responses and respective concerns of each group: the veterans and the initiates. As you might expect, one of the primary concerns of LiD initiates is the classic objection:

“Won’t students become bored with their topics?”

The veterans, on the other hand, tend to be more interested in how to keep the initial spark burning and sustain the program in the long run. I should like to respond to this common objection by briefly revisiting some thoughts and advice Kieran Egan suggested in the Learning in Depth text; as well as drawing on some of the sage advice of our veteran LiD teachers.

Egan provides a short, albeit sometimes difficult to swallow, answer in a chapter devoted to “Objections and Responses:”

“All my experience of education suggests that boredom is a symptom of inadequate knowledge or ignorance. The more you know about something, the more interesting it becomes. (‘Everything is wonderful’ is, again, one of the overstated underlying slogans that have been attached to… LiD.) The person without the intellectual resources deep knowledge can provide is much more likely to be bored” (2010, p. 33).

One of the challenges implicit in educational innovation is, of course, that we tend to base expectations on current norms. Skipping off one topic or “prescribed learning outcome” to the next has traditionally led to either overwhelming or chronically underwhelming learning experiences. LiD is, in fact, an antidote to this very phenomenon (and luckily for those of us teaching in British Columbia, it aligns remarkably well with the “big ideas,” competencies and inquiry-based focus of the New Curriculum). But, like all things, beginnings are crucially important. Egan reiterates the need for a ceremonial introduction to the topics and perhaps short weekly meetings or “LiD check-ins” at first to get student off on a good foot. Veteran LiD teacher Christa Rawling also emphasized the importance of setting the stage and beginning with a celebratory tone at such an opportunity:

“There is a lot of front loading at the ceremony about how Learning in Depth is not about the topic per se, but how to learn in new ways—ways the students themselves can shape and explore. Using as much humour and pomp as possible, I tell all my students—from Kindergarten to Grade 7—that you may not immediately like your topic, but that is ok. You may not immediately like algebra either. But at least with LiD, they will have the opportunity to explore their topics in whatever way they see fit. I feel more confident promising them that if they stick with it, pretty soon they will see their topic everywhere. It is about process and connections; the topic is just a starting place.”

While LiD is amenable to micro-adjustments and individual contexts, a ceremonial introduction is key to initiating interest in a topic as “starting place.” As Egan has claimed, “The aim is ever-increasing “inside-ness” and exploring the variety within each topic is an important part of that” (2010, p. 40). Christa goes on to reiterate the importance of grounding LiD projects in a cognitive tool approach to learning (i.e. Imaginative Education) and this is what I would like to pick up in next month’s blog.

Next month we will dive a little deeper into the developmental foundations of LiD, drawing once again on the experiences and wisdom of those teachers who have been cultivating LiD cultures in their schools and classrooms for multiple years.

Interested in Learning More?

LiD teacher Christa Rawlings has also started a series on imaginED where she is on the lookout for heroic qualities in the classroom called “The Heroic Classroom.” Check out the latest post here

To see an example of a Learning in Depth ceremony, see how LiD has gone international in Brazil: LiD Opening Ceremony in Brazil.

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