I-Thou-It

Framework, noun; the basic structure of something : a set of ideas or facts that provide support for something (From: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/framework)

Frameworks are useful tools for organizing our ideas and beliefs about teaching and learning. Without a framework for reference, we can find ourselves with a random collection of beliefs that don’t seem all that connected with each other. A framework provides a system for organizing and testing our beliefs. It can also serve as a way to share with others what you’re thinking and doing.

One of the basic frameworks that I’ve used since being introduced to it in my master’s program is David Hawkins’ “I-Thou-It.” This framework focuses on the three main elements in the classroom: “I” is the teacher, “Thou” are the students, and the subject matter is “It.”

“I, Thou, and It – a three-way relationship in which “I and Thou” are the people (often a teacher and child, though not always) and “It” is the content that compels both.” 

“Without a Thou, there is no I evolving. Without an It there is no context, no figure and no heat, but only an affair of mirrors confronting each other.”

Both quotes by David Hawkins and found at: http://hawkinscenters.org/exhibitmu/i-thou-it

One of the reasons why this simple framework is so important for me is that Hawkins envisioned it as a way to show that each element needs the other in order for learning to occur. The teacher needs her students to evolve and grow as a teacher. The students need the teacher to help them learn and both sides need an It, the subject matter, to provide the context for the learning. It is simple, but not simplistic.

One way this framework has been helpful for me has been as a graphic representation of different methods or styles of teaching. For example, the following could represent a teacher-centered class where all access to the subject matter is controlled by the teacher.

Thou ————– I ————– It

Maybe this could represent a student-centered classroom?

I ————– Thou ————– It

For me these models (and the teaching theories they represent) are limited because they cannot contain all of the learning that is happening in the classroom.

The following illustration reflects my belief that all of the learning that occurs in the classroom, in the interactions between the teacher, students, and material, is of primary importance.

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Graphic organizer

When I wrote out my teaching philosophy recently, I used a mind map based on the “I-Thou-It” frame to brainstorm my ideas about teaching and learning.

The first section is “I”, or the teacher, not because it’s the most important, but because the teacher must know and understand herself before she can truly deal with the other two.

When brainstorming I focused on questions like these. Who is the “I” that teaches? Who are my students (my “Thou”) that I’m working with? What is the “It” that we’ve gathered to focus on?

phil mindmap pic

 After my brainstorming I didn’t edit the mind map but simply used it to explore the ideas and topics that had been generated. Even now, two months later, there are things that I’d probably add or change if I was to do this again. But it’s useful to have this mind map as a refection of my thinking when I was working on my assignment.

This is the first in a series of posts on frameworks. In future posts I will examine each aspect of the I-Thou-It framework more closely.

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What does your model of I-Thou-It look like?

What would you include in a graphic organizer about your teaching philosophy based on this framework?