Danielle Degelman

Introducing Ira Shor

Posted on: February 13, 2011

The following is a reflection I wrote in a response to an article from EFDN 303 (Moral Education). It is entitled, “The First Day of Class: Passing the Test” and can be found in the book, Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change by Ira Shor. For my reflection, I had to play the role of an administrator and comment on the effectiveness of Shor’s teaching…


cc licensed google photo shared by Lars Vogel

As an administrator, I have assessed the effectiveness of many teaching strategies.  Most teachers are “average” in my books.  They know their subject matter, lecture it to their students, and ask them to memorize it.   A few teachers have tried to experiment with other strategies, but have failed to interest their learners.  These teachers are the “good” ones.  They encourage participation, pose realistic problems, and allow students to make sense of their own learning.  However, they decide to follow the curriculum verbatim, and do not relate it to students’ natural interests, skills, and values.  Never in my life have I given a “very good”, and I do not think an “excellent” is even possible.  That is, until the day I met Ira Shor…

I observed him yesterday afternoon.  After a student had complained about his class, I was not too thrilled about dealing with another teacher problem (I have a very tight schedule and find it difficult to attend to everyone’s complaints).  However, this one sounded serious and I made an effort to attend two of his classes.  When I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised at what I saw—students were sitting in a circle, voicing their opinions, writing and editing papers about topics of personal interest, and were sharing their insights with their classmates.  Ira Shor allowed collaboration, and not competition.  He allowed participation, and not endullment as a result of nonparticipation.  Finally, he encouraged his students to seek personal meaning and truth, rather than disengage them in passive learning.  As a result, his students felt empowered to learn in an environment that was centered around their individual interests, strengths, backgrounds, and ideas.  I had never seen anything like it.  His teaching was a “breath of fresh air” and a miracle in my own eyes.

You may be wondering what makes his strategies stand out from the rest.  Well, would you rather take notes, memorize a list of facts, and listen to information that you do not care about?  Would you rather sit there clueless, inactive, and unmotivated?  I didn’t think so.  Not only is Shor’s teaching effective in empowering students and raising their level of interest, it prepares them to instigate change in an evolving society.  When the curriculum is centered around individual interests and strengths (and maintains a structure that supports intended outcomes), students are more likely to engage with course content.  Furthermore, inquiry-based activities, collaborative tasks, and discussions increase their understanding and allow them to engage in relevant experiences that parallel those of society.  Shor’s pedagogy reminded me of an article that I read recently: “The Teaching Behind the Teaching” (1980) by educator and activist, Parker Palmer.  I remember the following quote very well—“Students need to be capable of functioning with competence in a technological society” (p. 36).  In Shor’s class, students are provided with a high quality education, an optimistic feeling for their futures, and a readiness to make a difference in the real world.  Shor is, and always will be, a teacher of excellence.


2 Responses to "Introducing Ira Shor"

I enjoyed this reflection from the point of the administrator. I always find it interesting that we are supposed to be teaching using inquiry-based teaching and letting the students discuss topics of their choosing. However, I always think that a classroom that is a wonderful idea and I want my future classroom to be like this but do the administrators actually want our classrooms to be like this….inquiry-based often means moving around the classroom and school and making a little noise. I sometimes felt in my internship that if my students were the least bit noisy (even if it was discussion) that other teachers and staff would think that I had no classroom management skills. Does anyone else feel like that?

Thanks for replying! I actually felt like my class was a little noisy sometimes too, especially when we were doing brain breaks. Some of these involved running around the classroom, jumping up and down on desks, and singing really loud. Sometimes, I was really afraid to use them, in fear that neighboring teachers would ask us to be quiet. However, these breaks only lasted about three minutes, and students were ready to use their indoor voices again.

I don’t think that inquiry-based learning doesn’t always have to be noisy necessarily. Students can still have choice, work in groups, and participate at the same noise level as teacher-centered learning. If students are on-task, working well together, and putting in their best effort to understand, then I think that administration would greatly approve. 🙂

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"Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength of the nation." -- John F. Kennedy

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