Rethinking the Metaphors we Teach By

Andrew Wild, writing for Education Week Teacher, has offered a thoughtful examination of the metaphors utilized to speak about learning and suggests that changing our metaphors may help us to reimagine education. Excerpts of his piece appear below:

Metaphors communicate the foundational ways we conceptualize others, our actions, and ourselves. Consider the knowing is seeing metaphor: “I see what they are saying.” “Your answer was clear.” “The idea is murky.” This characterization makes it difficult to conceptualize alternative answers. In this sense, metaphors reveal the limits of our thinking.

But new metaphors have the power to expand our horizons. By changing our words, we change our thinking, and by changing our thinking, we can act differently.

So, what are some alternative metaphors that can help us frame learning in better terms? Try constructing knowledge, which is an accurate characterization of learning. When we learn, we build on what we already know to make something new. As with constructing buildings and bridges, learning is less effective when attempted alone. Students learn more deeply when they build on their prior knowledge and co-construct their understanding with peers. Whereas covering and going over imply doing something to an idea without changing its form, the construction metaphor suggests building the idea anew.

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