Sunday, February 13, 2011

Deconstructing anti-teaching

I had an interesting idea the other day. When tutoring, I'll sometimes ask students how they learn best, and I'll get a confused or surprised look. Often they just don't know or have never considered the question. Perhaps it would be easier to ask them what methods aren't helpful. In a larger setting (like a high school classroom), perhaps it would be even more effective to get them to show you.

The scenario would play out thus: Students would be asked to brainstorm things they know a lot about. From this list, they would choose something to explain to the class. The catch: they need to teach it badly, so that no one (except perhaps those equally familiar with the topic) would understand it. I imagine this would elicit a parody of poor or unhelpful teaching techniques, some of which a teacher may not be aware of. After a few presentations, other students could be asked to analyze common themes in the presentations and explain why they had trouble following the ideas. What could have been done to explain the topic more clearly? From there, the teacher will be able to deduce what kinds of techniques will and won't be effective with this particular group of students.

(Note: This isn't my official post for Unit 1, although it is something that got dislodged as I tried to think about the question: "What is learning?" Sometimes you have to think about what it isn't first.)


  1. It is an interesting, and slightly amusing thought. i find that kids cannot tell the difference between schooling and learning - if you ask how they learn and they answer it is generally how they learn in a school setting - if you ask how they learn say a video game, you get a different answer. But they don't really see the video game mastery as learning.

  2. That would be quite the experiment--I'd love to see how it played out. Hmmm...what would I do if I were to teach something badly? For me, I might try to teach people a tap dance step, solely by describing it in complex dance jargon I'd then ask them to perform the step and react by being frustrated at their attempt, but I'd only give vague comments about what's wrong, with no suggestion of how to fix it. Funny... :)

  3. Mary Ann - I find they can't even answer as to how they learn best in a school setting, which to me says that they may not be being exposed to many different teaching styles. That or they aren't encouraged to reflect on how teachers teach or whether those methods are helpful or not. They see rigid "schooling" as the only proper method of education, and see the problem as lying with them if they don't "get it."

    Kimberly - That's an excellent bad teaching example. From it, we learn that poor teaching consists of: 1) not providing adequate background knowledge, 2) not explaining key terminology, 3) not providing demonstrations, 4) reacting emotionally to the students' lack of understanding, and 5) not providing constructive feedback.

  4. see the problem as lying with them if they don't "get it." : oh yes, and I really get frustrated with teachers who think it is the kids and not them ... different rant. I often think if it isn't working it is my fault. Of course that is hard to take on for every student but if it is a majority and a teacher says to me it is the classes fault I get highly frustrated!!!!

  5. Sometimes it is also no one's fault in particular--it is just something about the combination of that particular student and that particular teacher. It's been my experience that there are some people who, for whatever reason, will just consistently misunderstand each other.

    Often I think teachers get frustrated if they perceive (rightly or wrongly) that students aren't *trying* to get it. I'm willing to bend over backwards like a contortionist pretzel if I can tell they're trying really hard to understand, but it's just not clicking. But when it feels like they can't be bothered to put in even minimal effort...that's when I tend to say, "It's not me. It's you."

    You can do all you can to motivate them, but the fact is that at a certain point, it's their job to learn, and you can't do it for them.