We are playing way too much table tennis in our classrooms.

For those who many be unaware, table tennis (or ping pong as many call it) is played with either two or four players, standing across from each other and ultimately hitting a small ping pong ball over a net back and forth.

So how is this relevant?

How often are you in a classroom (or are you teaching a class) and the flow of discussion or information is managed by the teacher? Chances are, it’s the majority of the classrooms in your building. Our teachers have been trained to be ping pong players. The students provide a response to the teacher, the teacher rephrases and redirects the response, and ultimately feeds it to another student. This process continues back and forth until the lesson is over. While this process isn’t damaging (at least we are still getting student voice in there), what if we were to play basketball with our students?

How often do you see in a basketball game that a single player is responsible for bringing the ball down the court and ultimately making a basket? It’s uncommon. What typically happens is that the ball changes hands multiple times before a shot is attempted. Shouldn’t we be playing basketball in our classrooms?

We need to instill an instructional practice that promotes students sharing ideas and responses with each other, not just back up to the teacher. The teacher in this model ultimately becomes a facilitator – there to provide direction, ensure accuracy, provide feedback, and develop a culture that supports risk taking. The students need to drive discussion, focus their learning efforts by talking to each other, and take intellectual risks.

It’s not an easy thing to change. Teachers like to maintain control and stick to a lesson plan that gets at each of their learning outcomes in a prescribed way. Unfortunately, the only person that is the most beneficial for is the teacher. Students need to explore content in a way that is organic, promotes the idea that failure leads to success, and allows for students to learn from each other – not just the teacher.

We need to play more basketball and less table tennis in our classrooms.

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