I was helping a student today and realized that he’d been “lost” for a while. I was going pretty quickly and everyone seemed to be keeping up just fine. Not this student. And truth be told I had become suspicious that a couple of other students were having trouble as well. Sure a couple of kids did the project I was giving them three class periods to do in one period. But other were asking a lot of questions I really hadn’t expected.
I asked the student why he hadn’t asked more questions and received an answer that is far too typical. “I was the only one who was lost and I didn’t want to ask questions in front of everyone else.” I think about half the class may have been doing the same thing – assuming that they were the only one not keeping up and so being embarrassed to ask a question. I don’t blame the students. They are young and that is how things are when you are young. I blame myself for not noticing.
Sometimes we get caught up in our lectures, demos and explanations and our pride kicks in. “I’m doing wonderful. Everyone gets it.” I should know better. A lack of questions is a bad thing not a good thing. Asking questions of students and getting good answers back, if only from a few, lets us kid ourselves into believing that everyone gets it. It’s what we want to believe.
In some ways it’s worse the better we, the teachers, know the material. I could do this stuff in my sleep. Everything I am teaching I have done uncountable times over 40 years. It’s clear as day to me. Why wouldn’t it be clear to young people who have never seen anything like it in their lives? Oh right. Coding is a whole new way of thinking for them. That’s why!
So tonight I am thinking about two things. One is how will I do this different next semester to avoid this problem. Well, mitigate it at least. More importantly how do I back up, slow down and move forward bringing everyone with me this time? Getting truly amazing programs from the students who have more background in coding or who somehow get it easily is nice but that is not what good teaching is about. Anyone can teach the so-called smart kids.
Good teaching is about bringing along the students who don’t come by it easily. Good teaching is about seeing how doesn’t get it the first time and finding a second or third or more way until you find a way that they can get it. Tomorrow I try to be a good teacher.