Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sometimes You Have to Slow Down

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.


Garth said...

Remember discussions in the teaching methods courses on questioning techniques? That is probably the biggest thing I learned in those courses. Ask the students questions directly, by name. Never ask "Are there any questions?" It is a waste of time. Those that know what is going on have no questions. Those that do not have a clue are not going to embarrass themselves.

Alfred C Thompson II said...

I never took a teaching methods course. I know I should ask students questions directly. I just need to do more of it and "pick" on the people I suspect are having issues.

Ashley Myers said...

I'm definitely working on being better at asking specific questions. Last year (first year), I had to break myself of the almost habit of "any questions". This year, I make sure to have entry tasks at least once a week where students simply have to answer SOMETHING to get credit, to remind me of what they're not getting. (I have them put their answer down on a 3x5, as otherwise I won't review it as quickly cause if it's on a computer I'll think about having to plan or grade.)

And for SURE about students thinking they're the only ones lost. This year, I made it my first whole week theme to tackle this.

Here was my first day plan for all classes:
- Entry task of writing some words about cloud computing, something for my students that NONE understand (so if yours do, replace this with something that all students would complain is over their head)
- When done writing, students are tasked with introducing themselves to neighbors
- Ask for words from as many students as possible, do 5 minute overview
- Introduce self, course offerings, where assignments are posted, how grading works, communication (specifically, that I'm so very available for help)
- Ask students to raise their hand if they think of themselves as a techy person (majority of my students do not, so rest of students see that they are not alone)
- End class reading the following, and then providing a 5 minute writing prompt: "In society, someone who says, 'Hey, I can't do math, I'm no good at it!' is responded with many who say 'I know what you mean, I can't do it either!' and everyone laughs. BUT if someone were to exclaim 'Hey, I don't know how to read or write', the room would go silent or change the topic." In your own words, why is it okay to be bad at math (and think of adults/teachers and those who think they aren't good at computers), but not bad at reading/writing? How does this impact your or your classmates' motivation to increase their math skills or computational thinking skills?

Then the start of the next day, I have students break up into two groups and go in a circle introducing their names, summary, and impact on motivation. In each group I take three volunteers and then assign the person to start speaking, the note taker, and the spokesperson. After the group discussions are done and the speakers have presented their findings to the other group, I do a brief presentation on Carol Dweck's growth vs fixed mindset. (Fixed: "That person can do math, cause their mathy.) And then I tell them their mindset isn't fixed, and reiterate my office hours and how to get in contact with me.