Viral handshakes and icebergs


Iceberg flickr photo by leighdblu shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

The iceberg is a useful metaphor to explore complexity.

I often use it with my students as a way to help them develop a more nuanced understanding of a difficult concept.

For instance, spelling and handwriting are at the tip of a writing iceberg. Surface writing errors are easy for adults and children to spot and often simple to fix. With support, children learn to start thinking about their ideas, audience and structure. Features hidden below the surface but integral to good writing.

And also good learning.

Teaching is like an iceberg.

To the untrained eye, a room of quiet learners is a productive classroom. Good teachers know this is not always the case. If you dip below the surface, a classroom on the verge of chaos could be full of children deeply engaged in their learning. A well-designed learning engagement represents many hours of pinpointing key concepts, developing engaging contexts, and most importantly developing a classroom culture of inquiry in order to add intellectual depth to children’s learning. This world is largely hidden to most non-educators. Conversely, actions that non-teachers get excited about are often ones that have little impact on student learning.

Like viral handshakes.

If we look beyond the meme:

  • Is the handshake the start of a day where the children are active or will they be sitting in their pre-assigned seat until home time?
  • Are the children going to be collaborating with each other or are all interactions moderated by the teacher?
  • Are the children learning to identify their next steps or do they spend time waiting in line for the teacher to check their work? (HT @whatedsaid)
  • Do children get a chance to pursue their individual interests and inquiries or will they all be following a textbook for the rest of the day?
  • Is the learning engaging and meaningful for the children or is it content that is going to be quickly forgotten after the test?
  • Does the teacher talk more than he or she listens?
  • Do the children ask questions that develop their understanding or procedural questions at the tip of the learning iceberg?
  • Do we as teachers take time to look below the surface of ‘good news’ education stories and reflect on the deeper features before hitting share?


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