One of my fondest memories as a kid was "Family Game Night". Every time I think about this, I am reminded of one particular game and one particular night. One of my favorite games to play was "Pictionary". My dad had only two shapes in his drawing tool kit-a square or an oval. On this evening, he drew his oval and then pointed to it. We shouted out answer ideas. He continued to point. We continued with more answers. Now the pointing got faster. We just couldn't get it, so he tried a different strategy. He drew a twin oval and pointed. As the time began to run out, the pointing got more frantic and filled with frustration. We just couldn't figure it out. Time was up. A baked potato! Geez, how could we not have figured it out? (insert sarcasm here). This became a huge source of laughter because of the ridiculousness of it all. How did he expect us to change our understanding...our answers, if his delivery did not change? Pointing more frequently and frantically did not change the fact that we had no idea what he was drawing.
Fast forward to a math class. The teacher has pulled a small group of students that "needed help", to the front white board. She stood in front of them, students sitting at her feet, workbooks on laps. She explained how to do a math problem (I don't even remember what it was). She talked and the students listened. She then told them that they aren't "getting it" so she was going to show them again. So she did..., the exact same way. She again told them that they weren't "getting it" and this time showed them the same way again, but a little louder and more aggressive. This went on and on for a good 20 minutes while the rest of the class who "got it", was supposed to be doing their workbook pages. Well, they weren't, they didn't understand the problems that lay before them, either. So they just talked to each other, about everything besides the math.
This teacher was obviously annoyed at the students for not understanding the concept. This was very apparent as an observer, so I know it was very apparent to the students. I did not find this humorous like the baked potato scenario. I felt extremely uncomfortable and sad. I was not there to evaluate, judge or give feedback, so all I could do was leave. I couldn't take it anymore. My heart was broken...it was broken for those students and the many others who have had similar experiences with other teachers, at other schools, in other grades.
"Louder and slower" does not equal learning, it does not equal teaching and it does not equal differentiation. If students are struggling, it is on us, the adults, to do something differently. We can't blame the students. Try a different strategy, ask a different question, get the students talking and doing. Use what you see and hear to decide what triage needs to happen.
My friend David Culberhouse always talks about the idea that our students need to be agile and adaptive to best be ready for the future. I believe we, as teachers need to be this way too. We need to be flexible and armed with multiple tools and strategies to meet our students where they are. The only way to do this is to know them, understand them and work for them.
In the above scenario, a few small tweeks could have made the difference. Instead of standing in front of the students, the teacher could have been sitting with them. This tiny shift would lower the students' affective filter and because of the proximity to the students, the teacher could get a grasp of the students' thinking. Another small change is not talk at the students, but involve them in the learning. Pose questions and give them time to think and struggle. When there is cognitive dissonance, the learning and stickiness increases. We need to allow the time and space for this. We don't need to fill every space with our own voices. We need to hear their voices. Rather than empty workbooks on laps, why not white boards so every student can be showing visible thinking? Instead of showing steps of an algorithm, pose an open ended question and let students figure out a way that makes sense to them. Then let them share with their peers. One idea can spark another and another...The students need to be at the center of everything we do, they need to be the ones talking and working.
Our students deserve better than us pointing at the same oval, expecting a different answer. They deserve to be seen, heard and understood. They need to be considered. Plain and simple. When we can do this, we can reach them. It is also important to note that as Todd Rose states in "The Myth Of Average" there is no average student. We must design to the edges. We must be cognizant of who our students are, their strengths, weaknesses and learning styles. What works for one, may not work for another. We need to adapt that oval drawing so that each and every student we serve, can identify that baked potato. We can't expect students to have a different understanding if we don't teach in different ways. In fact, isn't that the definition of insanity?
My call to action is to rethink what we are doing to kids. Let's work for them and with them. We are in a service business, after all.
Mother, Teacher, Presenter, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.