More thoughts on teaching

From Bret Victor to…

Clay Aiken!

And what is more, Clay was on Adam Carolla’s podcast recently when he shared his thoughts on teaching.

I didn’t want to teach music because I have a lot of patience for kids, but I don’t have patience for something that is somewhat natural for me. I don’t know how to teach something that I just do.

I did not feel like I’d be able to teach music…

In my teacher development work, this is huge. How can I help teachers (or future teachers) to understand what it’s like to not be able to do it?

Bret Victor doesn’t think we should trust teachers who don’t use what they teach. Clay Aiken suggests that teachers who don’t understand that something is hard to learn aren’t going to be effective.

Are both possible in the same person? Can either or both of these characteristics be fostered in present and future educators? Is Christopher going to start citing some folks with a modicum of actual knowledge about teaching?



4 responses to “More thoughts on teaching

  1. “In my teacher development work, this is huge. How can I help teachers (or future teachers) to understand what it’s like to not be able to do it?”

    You can just have them email me. I’ll be happy to explain!

  2. Pretty easy answer, actually. A former colleague had a rather interesting approach to teaching elementary mathematics content courses: the first several weeks of class were done in non-base ten systems, with the bulk being done in “Fen” (aka base 5). It really disconcerted most of the the education students, because not only couldn’t the rely on their normal number facts and number sense, but they couldn’t even rely on their normal math words. Ten became fen, hundred became fundred, thousand became fousand, and then the fun (or fen) really started when ten thousand became fen fousand.

    The idea, which I think was pretty effective, was to help the future teachers feel like young children in early elementary mathematics classrooms when they didn’t have a solid grip on place value or a lot of other relevant things. And of course the concomitant idea was to get them to really deepen their own understanding of a number of very key concepts and procedures that they either took for granted or basically were doing with little or no understanding.

    I have pdf materials for handouts plus answer keys should you care to look at any of the lessons.

  3. I don’t know how to teach something that I just do.

    This is a deep observation that speaks to the importance and power of the idea of peer instruction. It reminds me of a quote from Daniel Kahneman that @CutTheKnotMath tweeted a couple of days ago: “You know you have made a theoretical advance when you can no longer reconstruct why you failed for so long to see the obvious.”

    Reflecting on truths like these, I think it becomes clearer and clearer that it’s silly to think that someone like me can literally teach students, in most cases. What is actually effective — what students really need — is for them to primarily instruct themselves and each other, with me carefully guiding and encouraging that process.

  4. Actually it’s an interesting theory and one which I can understand completely. This is not like teaching someone some sort of sport. With disabled children, Clay can emphathize with them completely, realizes how the simplest thing can be very difficult and therefore it brings out the best in him and therefore the best in them. When we know too well what we are doing, it tends to try our patience when things don’t come as easily to our student as it does to us. I think this is just a common problem most of us have and can totally relate to the remark. Don’t you remember at some time or another totally trying a teacher’s patience because you just can’t “get” what should be so clear? I think most of us if we think back will remember at some point when we brought our teacher to a state of almost desperation because he/she knew we weren’t stupid but just couldn’t get something that seemed so simple through to us.

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