Kids deserve to be taught.
When students don’t have foundational knowledge, expecting them to learn and discover things on their own is not an effective way to teach.
Imagine This Scene
Last year, I was extremely excited. After nearly half a century of walking this Earth, I was finally going to see snow – and I was as eager as a child on Christmas Eve.
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.
I wanted to learn how to ski. Yet, 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:
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:
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:
The truth is, we needed and deserved to be taught – and kids deserve to be taught as well
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:
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. So is mental engagement. 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.
What Should You Do?
It’s As Easy As 1, 2, 3
If kids deserve to be taught, then you must teach them. Based on a meta-analytic review of teacher clarity, this involves:
You should also 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:
Kids deserve to be taught and it up to you to teach them.
Shaun Killian is an experienced teacher and principal with a passion for helping students to excel. He believes that assisting teachers to adopt evidence-based education is the best way to make this happen. Shaun is committed to bringing you practical advice based on solid research.