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Posts Tagged ‘teaching

I sum up the already short tweet above with this: To teach is to learn twice.

To teach is the learn twice.

With enough reflective experience and well-grounded theory, it is easy to understand why teachers might become content experts. They are constantly performing retrieval practice and so they get better at learning the content.

Educators who have caught on to this by being well-read apply this in their classrooms and courses — they get learners to teach one another. This can happen in pairs or in small groups, take the form of short instructional videos, or any method that requires students to first internalise (consume) content and then externalise (express) it.

As learners do this, they will experience what all teachers do. They will struggle with explaining or communicating aspects of content. They then revisit or relook sources of information or clarify with their peers. This is a natural and authentic way of learning.

Students are not teachers. They do not have the experience or the education that teachers might have received about pedagogy. However, this should not stop them from doing what works, i.e., retrieval practice.

One issue that came up in this Twitter exchange was the difference in teachers being lesson planners and learning designers.

This is my perspective: The two are not separate or dichotomous. They are related and stem from overlapping behaviours. For example, both require deep pedagogical-content knowledge and empathy for learners.

However, there are nuanced differences between the two. I offer just three mindset factors that distinguish designers of learning from conventional instructors.

Teaching is neat. Learning is messy.

Messiness
I have long put forward that teaching is neat while learning is messy. A good educator recognises that learners do not have the same content structure and experiences as she does.

Someone with structure and experience has already been through one or more journeys. They can look back and try to guide others through. However, that guiding is not the same as the learning journey.

A learning journey is messy because it is full of trial and error.

Meddling and tinkering
Whereas teaching is structured and logical with the benefit of hindsight, learning is exploring the unknown. The best way to move forward is to take cognitive risks by trying.

Some might call this process tinkering. We are programmed to do this from the moment we are born. Soon after, adults try to reduce such risks — and such a natural way of learning — in the name of efficiency or safety.

When these adults are teachers, they deliver in chunks. This is not wrong, but it is also not congruent with how newbies learn. If teachers are to be designers of learning, they need to learn how to be the meddler-in-the-middle.

Being a lead learner
One key strategy to be a meddler-in-the-middle to the learn constantly. This way you know what it feels like to be uncertain, to struggle, and to empathise with learners.

Some call this being a lead learner. This is an apt moniker because the designer and facilitator of learning is just slightly ahead and around the learners. She is there relating to the struggle and struggling along with them.

This does not mean that a lead learner is uncertain or poorly skilled. Quite the opposite. A lead learner models thinking skills and problem-solving. A lead learner thinks out loud. A lead learner teaches reflexively and reflectively.

The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don't tell you what to see. — Alexandra K. Trenfor

The takeaway from my descriptions should not be that these are prescriptions. I have just described mindset change. This is something that is shaped from teacher preparation to professional development and from policy making to systemic change management.

I did not think that it was still necessary to urge teachers to be less sage on the stage and more guide on the side.

It is not that I disagree with the sentiment. I disagree with those who have an either-or mindset.

No, you need to be both and more. You need to be the meddler in the middle.
 

 
A meddler knows how to find and keep that balance.

A meddler knows that teaching is not the same as learning and that focusing on the latter means developing learner empathy.

A meddler is a learner first. A meddler must be comfortable with the discomfort of not knowing everything. That is how a meddler learns.

We know so much and yet so little for something so simple. That was my main response when I watched the video below.


Video source


What if a child asked you why their tongues stick out when they concentrate? How would you answer? What would you do?

It would be relatively easy to try to teach the child what you think you know. It would be very easy to direct them to the video, but that would not make the learning any more authentic. It would be more difficult to guide the child with question asking (problem-seeking) and answering (problem-solving).

We know so much and yet so little for something so complex.

I like watching videos where experts either explain difficult concepts to learners of different ages or just to kids. The video below is one of the latter.


Video source

Explaining to an adult how to create bioluminescent plants from firefly DNA is challenging, much less kids. The two content experts from MIT were not quite comfortable teaching kids and their attempts illuminate some concepts about how students learn and what an effective teacher looks like.

When one content expert tried simplifying the concept of transferring bioluminescence, she ran into some trouble.

Expert: “…we just ask them to give us some chemicals”.
One child: “Do you tell them?”

Expert: “We just borrow the light from the fireflies…”
Another child: “Do you mean like real borrow or do you just keep it?”

The expert was visibly stunned by the kids’ questions and their teacher intervened with timely and appropriate answers.

An effective teacher is not just knowledgeable in content, she should also be a child and learning expert. As information mushrooms and knowledge needs to be constantly negotiated and updated, being the latter type of expert is critical.

The other expert got the kids to participate in a hands-on activity where they simulated bioluminescence by mixing chemicals in small vials. Instead of hearing about bioluminescence, they tried and saw for themselves.

This is not about appealing to different “learning styles” — which is a myth anyway — but to teach and reinforce with multiple methods and modes. That said, kids generally learn best by what stems from natural curiosity, i.e., experiencing and asking.

The teacher as a child and learning expert asked a critical question at the end of the experiment: “What do you think this could help solve?” She did not provide answers to her learners, but got them to generate answers that required them to think actively about what they just experienced.

In a few weeks, yet another batch of future faculty will pass through my hands. I can only hope that they remember to teach with learning and the learner in mind.

Another related task that they have to do is start a teaching philosophy statement. As this piece of writing is a challenge even for established faculty, I will be providing them links to two resources I shared in this blog:

  1. 10 tips for crafting a teaching philosophy
  2. Writing tips for future faculty

Today, I add one more simple tip: Find a balance between storytelling and citing pedagogical research.
 

 
Narratives can be compelling because they are often personal stories. However, one person’s story does not necessarily represent a system nor is it credible.

Citing pedagogical research that has rigour and respect goes a long way to providing some credibility to an approach to teaching. However, it lacks personalisation.

I recommend blending the two. For example, a personal story of a bad learning experience could provide context for a new pedagogical approach.

When the strength of one method compensates for the weakness of another, it makes sense to combine the both in a delicate balance.

Who says that you cannot learn from tweets?

While some might seem to concentrate bile in 140 characters, the edu-Twitterverse distills wisdoms. Here are just two that I bookmarked recently.

Teaching is a social process, but that does not make it based on wishy-washy feel good ideas. Effective pedagogy is based on rigorous research and reflective practice.

Teaching Is about digging deep to figure out what is best for learners and how to improve learning. It is not about teaching the way you were taught and with your blinders on.


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