Like most people, we have always lived on a tight budget, and taking the family to the snow was a real treat for us. We could only afford to stay for 5 days and we wanted to get the most out of them.
Imagine This Scene
I wanted to learn how to ski, and as the whole snow thing was new to me, so I booked some equipment and some lessons. While the lessons were expensive, given our tight timeframe, I thought that it was a worthy investment.
Our first lesson was to last one hour. Our instructor gave us our skis and poles, and told us to put them on. She didn’t tell us anything else. After many minutes, she told my daughter that her right ski wasn’t attached to her boot correctly. We struggled for nearly 15 minutes to get our gear on, but we finally did it (or so we thought).
Our instructor then told us to walk (in our skis) to an area they called the carpet, and to practice snow ploughing. Walking there was hard enough (made harder by general lack of coordination), but when we got there we found the instructor had not followed us.
Thankfully, she did give us some instructions from afar – go up the t-bar and have a go at snow ploughing our way down. Not being the smartest cookie in the jar, I tried hard to work out what that meant. I could see a contraption that was taking people up our beginner’s ‘learn-to-ski’ slope. It had a conveyor belt, which people stood on and a series of bars dangling above it that also went up. I assumed this was the t-bar.
After many false starts, we got up there – and we certainly ploughed down, but I don’t think it was the way we were meant to. We repeated this the second time, and to our relief, our instructor met us at the bottom. Hoping for a few words of wisdom, I was disappointed (and a bit angry) when all she said was – sorry times up, that’s it for today’s lesson.
I confronted her, complaining she hadn’t actually taught us anything. She said she understood my confusion – she’d been reading about how ‘real teachers’ go about their work, so she wanted to make sure we:
- Were active (which ruled out wasting time listening to her)
- Developed a deep understanding of skiing (which evidently only comes from experience)
The truth is, we needed and deserved to be taught.
While this snow trip was real, the specific scene is obviously fictitious (except for the uncoordinated bit), but it highlights the flawed logic that underpins many teachers’ beliefs about teaching.
Kids Deserve To Be Taught
Kids deserve to be taught. This involves:
- Telling them stuff they need to know, and
- Showing them how to do things they need to be able to do themselves
The fact that kids deserve to be taught doesn’t mean that students shouldn’t be actively involved in learning. To the contrary, active practice is essential. However, blind activity and activity for activity’s sake are both a waste of time. Rather, activity (and ‘guide on the side’ feedback) should come after instruction.
Nor does it mean that we shouldn’t nurture deep understanding. However, it is important to realise that deep understanding depends upon foundational knowledge. Novice learners need you to teach them that knowledge before you try to deepen their understanding.
As a teacher, you need to actively teach your students – kids deserve to be taught. You must:
- Decide what they need to learn in each and every lesson. This involves setting specific and concrete goals about what your students must know and be able to do by the end of the lesson. It is also important that you inform your class of this goal at the start of the lesson.
- Tell them things they need to know. Despite popular opinion to the contrary, imparting knowledge is a crucial part of teaching. Of course it’s not the only thing you should do, but it’s important all the same.
- Show them how to do the things that you want them to be able to do. When it comes to skills, kids learn well from social modelling. If the skill is internal (e.g. making connections when reading), model the skill by thinking aloud.
- Offer affirmative and corrective feedback as your students have a go at doing something themselves. Giving your students time to practice is critical, but unguided practice can lead to them internalizing the wrong thing.
It is only after you have done these things that you should:
- Assign independent work
- Get your students working in groups
- Help your students construct a deeper understanding of the material