Although generally easier to push, it might be better to pull students along, or maybe there’s a third alternative.
Driving to work one day, I get behind this dump truck and notice a sticker on the back saying ‘Push or Pull’ and I start to think, which is better for students: to push them along or to pull them along?
At first it seems better and easier to push them along: create activities for them to do and by reward, encouragement or just willpower, and make them do them (for their own good, of course). I could even argue that pushing is more in line with constructivist theories of learning, as the student is the one creating or discovering new knowledge (with us pushing from behind). Pushing also has the advantage, if you consider the classic picture of a dad teaching his child to ride a bike, that it is easier to let go and let the student go off on his or her own.
Pulling (more about invitation and opportunity than ‘making’) seems wrong on many counts: you may not be looking where you are going, you are limiting the student’s ability to modify the path, the student’s success or failure is more about the teacher than the student, and, if by chance, the student starts to move on his or her own, you are in the way. However, there are several valuable components for pulling. You are going first, showing that the proposed path is safe and doable. You can be watching the student and trusting them to give you feedback on what’s coming up. The student can be watching you as you set an example both of practice and attitude. And, finally, although still having a sense of ‘forcing’, you are bringing the student into an area of discovery to share it with them.
So, which really is better? I’d say pulling, but maybe an even better option would to be aside the student, guiding, but still giving them input into the direction and giving them the freedom to discover what up ahead on his or her own. As I drove past the dump truck and could look at the sticker more carefully, I saw it was a warning to not push or pull, and maybe that is the point of this lesson.