Friday, April 12, 2013

Whose learning?

The following is a guest post from John Golden. Go Blue!

I was a terrible student.

I make this confession to my students all the time. When I finished undergraduate, my friends calculated whether I had attended more class, missed more class, or slept in more class. It was close. But I was a great test taker and I got good grades. I thought that class was all about what I did at home afterwards. I had no expectations of learning in class, and was delighted when I did. (From Dr. Hocking, for example.)

So I was a terrible student, but I was a good learner.

When I started teaching I focused on being entertaining and comfortable. I wanted students to enjoy being there, free to ask questions (it didn’t take too long to figure out that this was hard) and get what they wanted. But even with the ineffective assessments I was giving, it soon became clear that they weren’t understanding what I wanted them to understand.

Yesterday, I was listening to a podcast and was struck by how well the speaker captured this idea. It was Avery (@woutgeo) on Ashli’s (@Mythagon) Infinite Tangents podcast (105).

“At the beginning of my teaching I was very content focused. I need to find and create interesting content that will help the kids, that the kids will be really interested in. I had no middling success with that. I think I found some great things, and also found some other things that didn’t work and I found that teaching some of the important ideas were harder than I thought they would be.  I realized that there were plenty of ideas that I didn’t really understand myself, that I had to go back and think about a lot.  I think going back and thinking about those ideas really helped me shift a little bit to not just caring about trying to find interesting content.  But also thinking about pedagogy and how we teach things and the best ways for kids to learn.  If I had to think of an arc of my teaching career and my focus, I would say that that kind of describes my arc of going from being very content-focused to a balance between finding interesting content and also really thinking about the best way for kids to learn the content and have an experience.” – Avery

I mentioned that on Twitter and there was an interesting discussion that followed.

Shawn Urban (@stefras): Most teachers are great with content; some with relationships. The marriage of the two is often tricky.

Greg ‏(@sarcasymptote): I think the relationship piece is about trust. Young Ts fear giving up control of content to Ss

Ashli (@mythagon): I'd like to see more mentoring in teaching. Not enough time is built in for such work typically.

Shawn: I agee. Teacher prep should involve teaching & study of styles of teaching. We need models to inspire creativ

John (@mathhombre) we put a lot of effort into genuine assessment and conversation about learning. But the programming of 16 yrs...

Shawn: ... this Tweet seems incomplete. I was waiting for something mind-blowing! No pressure though.

John: we've seen so much teaching as student that we've made up what teaching is and really internalized it.

John: but it's such an incomplete picture! (And possibly not the most constructive teaching.)

Ashli:  I think it takes careful, respectful questioning to get new teachers to see beyond content.

John: @Mythagon can you say more about that questioning?

Shawn: I wonder if Ashli was refering to key questions. Why are you teaching? What do you want your students to be learning?

Ashli: I was thinking about ?s that help teachers think beyond pure delivery of content and toward formative

Ashli: + assessments, status issues. yr 1 can be a whirlwind of survival

Shawn: I thought so. Deeper, more reflective pedagogical questions.

Chris Robinson ‏(@absvalteaching): Best question any T can have while planning is "What misconceptions/mistakes will Ss have and +

Chris: + how do I plan to address these?"

Shawn: I agee. Teacher prep should involve teaching & study of styles of teaching. We need models to inspire creativ

Shawn: I think we need frequent exposure in how students learn. This is key since their learning is our job.

Shawn: When did we make teaching so complex that we forgot to teach? Even r students r distracted & forget to learn

Gary ‏(@republicofmath): IMO teaching IS very complex

Ashli: Schools can easily become a memorization gauntlet.

Great conversation about teacher learning for me.

One of the things I have grown to love about teaching is how holistic it is. When I reflect about how I learn, even learn to teach, it teaches me about how students learn. As a teacher I have to make that step to thinking about how the students learn. The kernel at the heart of this for me is a humbling one:

I can not make my students learn.

That means I can not take credit for what they understand, nor blame for what they don’t.

What can I do then? I can create the conditions of learning. I can make it as likely as possible that students will choose to learn. I can monitor what works for them and adjust. Once I care about the things I do control, I am empowered. Still frustrated at the choices some students make, but thrilled at what others do.

PS> Not that I wouldn’t be happy to have a post on the DeltaScape, but I lost a bet. I knew it was a bad bet - which of our Big Ten alma maters would go farther in the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball tournament. I didn’t think my beloved Spartans would make it past Duke. But frankly, I thought this post would be on Robert’s Casting Out Hoosiers blog. (Wait - that doesn’t sound right.) But, sadly, I haven’t learned my lesson, and would make the same bet next year.

1 comment:

  1. "I can not make my students learn.

    That means I can not take credit for what they understand, nor blame for what they don’t."

    Wow. That really hit me.
    I have thought about the first sentence before - I've even flat out told my kids, "You have to choose to learn this. I can't make you do it." But, somehow, I've never made the connection to the next part - that means it's not my fault if they learn or if they don't. It's theirs. I feel like that changes the way I feel about teaching, for the better. It's my job to create situations where students are likely to learn, not to force them into learning.