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The Four Levels of Teaching

Adapted from Education Uncensored, by Laurie Block Spigel

More articles by Laurie on child-led learning * Recommended Books

Traditional education is the three R's, only one of which actually begins with the letter R. (Did an educator really think this up? Reading, writing and 'rithmetic?). Are we supposed to believe that the mainstay of education exists in these three subjects? Focus instead on three I's: your child's Interests, your Interests, and your Immediate environment. It is your child's enthusiasms, and yours too, that will make learning come alive.

There are four levels of teaching. At the basest, lowest level of teaching everything comes from the written page. This is the most fundamental level of education, where all knowledge is gained from books. It can get pretty boring turning the page day after day of a well-used curriculum. Even if the information is interesting, the level of learning is limited to what's on the page.

The second level of teaching has the written text accompanied by a visual aid. At this level the educator might use diagrams or a slide show. The lecturer pulls down a map or points to a model or conducts a demonstration. A visual aid awakens the listener, and illustrations help the reader focus and understand. A new way of gaining information is added to the absorption of the text.

The third level of teaching has the students set up the visual aid or display themselves. They conduct the experiment instead of observing the teacher doing it. The American Museum of Natural History Museum workshops and science lab courses are taught this way. The student enters the laboratory or classroom to find all of the materials they need, along with instructions for conducting the experiment. By conducting the experiment on their own (or building the model, or drawing the map, etc.) another level of learning occurs.

Many people believe that this third level is the highest level of teaching. But there is still a higher level. At the fourth and highest level of teaching the student comes up with the idea for the experiment or display or project. They conceive and then create their own educational experiences. The level of learning has now become wholly experiential, originating from the doer and the thinker, not from the book. Books are now tools, one of many resources that can be used.

I believe that this fourth level is the ultimate goal of every parent and educator. We all hope that we will see our children grow up healthy and strong, able to meet the demands of life in a self-sufficient manner. We yearn to see them ready to embark on an exciting life journey, finding work that fulfills them, with the independence, courage, vision, imagination, and endurance to pursue it. We want them to have their own ideas and forge their own path.

Most of us conceive of this fourth level occurring only when our children are adults, perhaps beginning in university at the graduate school level. But in homeschooling I discovered that this fourth level could be achieved again and again, at every age. Aiming for it had many added benefits. My kids became self-directed learners, and found their direction much earlier in life than I had thought possible.

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More articles by Laurie on child-led learning:

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Recommended books:

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