More on the Modes of Teaching: Mimesis

It has been awhile since I wrote directly on the two modes of teaching.  I still hold to what I said in my previous writing, but I wish to add to it.  I believe that of the two modes, dialectic and mimetic, one allows itself to be “planned” and the other must (to be effective) be extemporaneous (out of the moment).

The mimetic mode of teaching is a closer approximation to what most would call “teaching” in our modern day of knowledge transfer.  The Bible seems to favor the process of knowledge (the basic facts) leading us to understanding (a connecting of facts into a meaningful idea) and finally arriving through that understanding at what is called wisdom (not just knowing how things are, but living in a manner that reflects that understanding) [see Exodus 31:3; 35:31; Prov. 2:6; 9:10; and even Daniel 1:17].  Mimetic teaching focuses on being a bridge between knowledge and wisdom by helping bring the student to a place of  “understanding.”

3steps

There are three movements in the mode of mimesis.  The first movement depends heavily on the teacher.  This is where the student is led to the necessary knowledge they must “have on the table” in order to pursue understanding.  Let us say for illustration’s sake that the course is a U.S. History course and the current period of study is World War 2.  In this first movement the student would hear the teacher lecture on important names, dates, places, and events of that war, as well as being assigned reading in the time period, and perhaps even sent to research other avenues of such information (eyewitnesses, video, artifacts, maps, etc.).  The teacher is very active in this movement, steering and assigning the student the most engaging manner of gaining this needed information.

But then the teacher takes a step back and begins engaging the student in the second movement of mimesis.  Here the teacher begins asking questions of comparison, contrast, and conflict.  “How is WW2 related to WW1?”  “What caused the war?”  “What causes war to occur?”  “What are the classic positions on war-making and which do I hold to?”  This necessarily brings out much class discussion and debate, with students pulling from their knowledge and intelligence to bring the facts into a more organized form that takes on properly the label of “understanding.” Note as well that in this movement the point is not to simply “learn about WW2” but also to learn how such past events inform the life of the student here and now.  In this movement teacher and student share an almost equal amount of the activity or work of the movement.

The third movement is almost entirely the work of the student.  In it the ideas or understanding gained is restated by the student as clearly as he can so as to demonstrate to his teacher that he truly understands it, and to clarify yet more in his own mind the understanding achieved.  It is also the mode in which the student, by the aid of the teacher, will think through the necessary changes in his future life that such understanding should and will bring about.

I have used history as an example, but this mode applies to every subject in the curriculum in which the student is seeking to learn content or ideas.  We can never cease to draw the proper distinction between arts and sciences, as they must be learned differently.  But any science can be taught in this mode with these three movements.  This chart may be of help to you in considering any science being considered.

This mode can be to some extent planned and considered in advance of the classroom moment.  The first movement will probably fail miserably if there is not some advanced thought on the part of both the teacher and the student (at least thinking about what was assigned to him to read or do).  The beauty of where we are in educational theory at the moment is that because many define this first movement as the entirety of education, there are a ton of engaging, useful, and ready-to-go materials available to the teacher.  With a modicum of knowledge about your students, you should be able to quickly find a great way to bring them this knowledge.  The second and third movements can at the least be considered in advance as to the proper questions to be asked, and the most fitting way for the student re-express the ideas: oral, written, or some third alternative.

Much of this theory is derived from others to be sure, especially the work of the Circe Institute, but it has come as well through especially the writings of Plato.  His work in refuting the Sophists seems especially pertinent in our day.  In this post I have developed a skeleton for mimesis.  Next I will work on dialectic teaching, or what might be called controlled chaos.

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