When I taught foundations courses for undergraduate teacher education students, there were times I asked students to come up with a metaphor for what teaching and learning was like -- we would usually revisit those metaphors as the term went on. I am sure that many of us have either asked others or been asked to do something like this over the years. Some of the more typical metaphors that came up were about "conducting an orchestra," "tending a garden," or "planting and nurturing a tree." The conducting a symphony usually came up when the person was thinking about a whole classroom. Likewise, the idea of tending a garden. The planting and nurturing the growth of a tree came up most often when the person was thinking about education in terms of individual children.
------Before I go on, I must say here, how much I love getting older, for the opportunity to revisit ideas over and over and over until I find something that settles in "just right" for a while. I have, you see, revisited these metaphors over and over again, in part, because they are raised for me over and over again and in part, because they just never sat well with me....for reasons I could never really articulate. I admit to identifying more easily with the "school as prison" metaphors that also came up or the "school as factory" comparison that scholars write about.------------
Anyway, on the other day, out on a run, I was reliving a jazz concert I went to recently. And it all became clear ---- I figured out why I am generally nonplussed with the orchestra, gardener, and tree metaphors. And, as I got more clear about my metaphorical thinking, I also go more clear about my current ideas of teaching and learning.
The aforementioned metaphors generally assume an individual in charge -- dispensing, or providing, or nurturing, or otherwise transmitting something that comes back to them, which they are ultimately in control of. The orchestra follows the precise directions of others -- the composer and the conductor/teacher. The garden, while a bit more organic and tentatively "wild" -- is usually in these metaphors, a well tended, cultivated garden that has been carefully planted and tended, weeded, and clipped, perhaps even Round-UPped by the gardener, without whom there would be no "growth."
While these metaphors can also been seen through a lens of nurture, acceptance, and beauty, they have in common, this sense of teacher as orchestrator, students and the nurtured...the learners as those doing the growing. And, that is just not really how I see it. So the jazz idea started becoming more useful. Teaching and learning, to me, is interactive and fluid, and flowing, and a sense of wild, free-moving passionate motion within structure. There is give and take and change. There is start and stop and inbetween there is the timing. There is rhythm and collaborative communication. There are tempo changes, and tone changes and volume changes. There is usually a play list and some notes and a key. There are times built in for playing all together and times built in for individuals to shine. There is usually a leader (so and so's quintet or trio) but, in another setting the drummer, for example, might have his/her own group. Leadership changes based on purpose and on context. With jazz there is a "live" part to it. There is no expectation that it will sound the same, night after night after night. Instead, the expectation is for surprise and delight and joy. And, there is ongoing invention, reflection, and revision.
And, the audience....the more interaction, the better. Clapping and uh-huhing, and Alright! and dancing and moving and listening.....white space in the interaction. All acceptable. Not so much in a symphony where astute and appreciative silence is expected.... in fact, in the orchestra metaphor the audience is not usually included in the explanation.
I think of jazz when I think of the kinds of educational conversations that can go on here.
I think of jazz when I think of my classroom and teaching and learning in the 21st century vs. teaching and learning in the 19th and 20th centuries. I think the orchestra and garden metaphors were useful in 19th and 20th century models of teaching and learning.
What do you think?
What metaphors have you and/or your students played with in the past?
What metaphors are you and/or your students messing around with currently?
What metaphors have you revised or throw aside?
Do you even find metaphorical thinking useful?
Do you take metaphorical thinking for granted?