What does it mean to teach in the margins?
Teaching in the margins is taking (or following) your class into the unknown. GASP! You must be thinking, “Why would I ever venture to the margins if I do not know what will happen there?” Well, not knowing what will happen is half the magic – the other half is what we learn while we are there. We all learn in the margins!
While in the margins you may see
- Authentic Learning – students are able to discuss topics that genuinely spark curiosity in them
- Diversity – students are able to discover numerous topics that may not have been written in your original lesson plan
- Innovative Ideas – students are able to think more critically about different ideas and applications
“Based on the characteristics of margins, we would expect the margins of the classroom to be places where diversity of thought is promoted, risks are taken, dreams are fostered, and enjoyment of the material is experienced.”-Ann E. Haley-Oliphant
What is the difference between margins and “teachable” moments?
When a student experiences the margins it is typically for an extended period of time. It is sometimes random and other times teacher-led. While in the margins, we see students’ question and investigate a number of things. Learning occurs within the margins. When a student experiences a “teachable” moment it is typically a brief period of excitement followed by picking up exactly where they left off in their class. It often occurs like this, class…class…class…class…”TEACHABLE” MOMENT…class…class…class…and so on. A “teachable” moment is also experienced with minimal students at once – your entire class will rarely ever experience a “teachable” moment together. Learning is the “teachable” moment.
How do you get to the margins?
Just follow these few tips: ASK open-ended questions to get your students’ minds turning. ALLOW class discussions that are student-led – as a teacher, you must trust your students because not all discussions need to be teacher-led. ENCOURAGE conversations and debates to get students to speak up about what they are passionate about and truly interested in. PROMOTE new ideas – these ideas can stem from your lesson plan or elsewhere. My last tip on how to get to the margins is what I believe to be the most important and will follow every day I am in the classroom – DON’T BE AFRAID! The margins can be scary and it may take you into uncharted waters, but this is where we need to be flexible and understanding. We all learn in the margins and that’s why it is an important component of exemplary science teaching.