Friday, April 8, 2016

Who’s Doing the Learning?

Quite a long time ago in my career, I head a speaker, I think it was Harry Wong, say that when you walked into the classroom, you could tell who was doing the most learning by who was doing the most talking.  I thought of that  often in my classroom and did my best to give tasks and then flow around the room coaching students as they dealt with their work.

Today, I read a blog entry on Linkedin-Plus which reminded me of this bit of wisdom.  The article made the point that if you want the very best thinking and creativity from your employees (students) that you have to become a listener, not a “leader.”  It made me think about how much a teacher can learn by giving up on the “…so much to teach…” mindset and adopting one of becoming proficient at hearing what students know and what they need to know.

As I’ve mentioned before, background knowledge is the foundation of learning.  As teachers, we know somewhere in out psyche that our students don’t always have all the background to accomplish that next task on our lesson plans.  If they did, they either wouldn’t need us or our lesson is specious.  But picture looking out at your class.  They have different needs.  If you buy into the picture I’m painting, you see that “teaching” in the traditional sense is like shooting a shotgun in the dark.  It might hit something, but a lot of the shot is going to fall to the ground spent.  Think instead of asking a struggling student:  “Why do you think that?”  The answer to that question is your clue to the student’s missing background knowledge.  Fill in that puzzle piece and the student can unite their current knowledge with the task at hand.

Becoming a “listening teacher” can accomplish two goals.  First, the teacher, by listening, can provide that critical piece of background knowledge at precisely that time when a student really needs it, at the time when it MAKES the connection for that student.  Second, the teacher, by listening, learns the kinds of gaps students have in learning a new concept or skill and hones incredibly valuable instructional skills for the future.

It’s my theory that all too often we all make the incorrect assumption that the way we understand something is the way our students will understand it.  But with each of us having different and quite unique knowledge “gaps,” the path to understanding is personal and unique.  If a teacher can explore an individual student’s path, the teacher can remove the stress of not knowing and facilitate the joy of “getting it.”

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