Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Curse of Knowing

Recently, I suggested that teachers need to teach less and listen more.  Skill is to some extent unique and idiosyncratic.  That is, the mental models that we use to solve problems are the sum of our experiences in solving similar problems, combined with the unique background knowledge the makes up our personal experience.  Our students, having neither those specific experiences and widely different background knowledge will, eventually, come to own similar skills, but with different mental models.  For our purposes, though, as teachers, we simply need to understand that it’s not our wisdom in solving that type of problem that will guide the student to learn the new skill, it’s our understanding of what they know and don’t yet know that will define their path to success.

Classroom questioning too often is aimed at getting the “right” answer to a knowledge question.  I think that the nature of the questions must change.  Since it’s difficult for a teacher to go back in time and accurately remember learning a skill, the questions must focus on what the child knows and what the child can guess about how to solve a problem.  They must be real and focused in present tense.  Questions like, “How is this problem like something else you’ve run into before?” or “How do you think you might solve this?” or “What do you know about the problem so far?” are all questions which can guide the student to develop strategies for solving the problem and gaining skill.  Another tack might be to find a student who can solve the problem and ask them how they have solved it, not, to find a “canned” solution that other students can memorize, but as a window to the level of sophistication on which other students are operating.

Teaching is a full-contact sport.

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