Monday, January 26, 2015

This is hard (collected musing about teaching)

who: J0
when: last several days

Here is an accumulation of teaching puzzles. Experienced educators, please feel free to point me in the right direction!

1. This is Hard

I saw a recent twitter exchange around a frequent student comment:
I realized that I had always instinctively seen this as a budding excuse and brushed it aside. Most of the twitter comments seemed, to me, in a similar spirit. Maybe it isn't an excuse? What are the other possibilities?
  1. I'm not confident, could you reassure me?
  2. I'm not confident, can you give me an excuse not to try?
  3. I don't understand what is being said (the concept we are working on or the problem statement)
  4. I don't know what I'm being asked to do
  5. I don't have ideas on how to attack this problem
  6. I think I know what to do, but I don't know how to do it
  7. I think I know how to do it, but it will take effort to overcome every step
  8. I know how to do it, but the work required is detailed and tedious
  9. Any NP problem can be reduced in polynomial time to this problem (see here). Admittedly, this is only for advanced students.
  10. This is interesting! This is fun!
Are there other possibilities? Don't all of these require a different response from the teacher?

2. Hate to be wrong

One of our children really hates to be told that he has gotten something wrong. I won't describe all the symptoms, but let me say again, he hates it!
How should we deal with this?
  • Avoid telling him that he is wrong: instead, ask for him to explain his thinking ("How did you get that?") or say that we don't understand. In particular, encourage him to use a range of tools to explain and clarify his thinking (manipulatives, pictures, alternative models).
  • Assign machines to be the bad cop: let him work out a similar problem in a computer environment where he is getting feedback from the machine, not a person.
  • Role play instances of being wrong: set up safe opportunities for him to experience being wrong. How can we do this?
  • Talk about why it is ok to be wrong: this shows he didn't understand something and is an opportunity to learn
  • Work on self-regulation strategies to stay/become calm: count to 10, walk away, think about something else
  • How to engage when something is wrong: use different language to explain, ask questions, draw a picture, describe how he was thinking about it
Perhaps related to this, he hates to lose when playing games, though this has been getting slightly better over time as his standard for winning has shifted from (1) being ahead/advancing more quickly at all times to (2) winning every instance of a game to (3) winning the majority of games in a repeated sequence. Since that seems to be developing in the right direction, I'm not looking to push it faster.

3. Games are competitive, no?

In a class today, one student didn't want to play a math game because of the competitive wrapping: "first person to reach 100 wins!"

How can I shift the tone so that the games are about exploring patterns, investigating relationships, asking questions, making observations and testing ideas?

Even for the kids who are excited and stimulated by competition won't get the message if they are focused on "winning" the game.

4. Thinking about learning

When should we explicitly talk about learning and study techniques or should we just model them and train the students to apply them in particular instances?

This checklist seemed related:

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