NCTE19: Seeing Student Thinking

I remember when my oldest was in fifth grade and was ready to give up on a science project, I said, “You can’t! I’ve worked too hard on this!” I think of that time when I am working really hard to teach something, and I make myself stop.

Learning is done by students. I can’t force learning.  For so many reasons. I need reminders to listen and look for what the student is doing in their context, not my lesson. What they are doing makes sense to them. Most likely, what I intended to teach them won’t unless I can understand their understanding. It’s my job to see their thinking.

This message I heard, again and again, at NCTE19. 

Shift the paradigm of teaching from what is in our heads to what is in the student’s head.– Vicki Vinton

The teacher should not be the protagonist. — Carl Anderson

We need to let go of our thinking and listen to theirs. — Maria Nichols

Don’t rush the reseach. Don’t interpret. Just take notes. — Dan Feigelson

Learning is consensual. — Cornelius Minor

My NCTE notebook is full of wise words from master teachers and writers. And while I have many ideas to plumb around action research, informational writing, revision, poetry, and the teaching of reading, all are deeply impacted by the need to become, as the Minor/Anderson/Feigelson Sunday session called it, a radical listener. To be able to hear the process by which students are attempting to tackle their learning, one must listen for what they are doing with nudges to say more or show me. All moves to engage the learner in doing so that the next challenge might be revealed to me. Setting my teach aside is necessary to be able to see what students might be ready to learn.

This is not to say I haven’t shown a math strategy, suggested a transitional phrase to help a writer, or told a student the meaning of a word.  But, when I do, I try to remember that science project. I was the learner, not my son, and it wasn’t about science.

 

 

Out of Nowhere

Last Friday, K– asked, “Why do we have homework?”

“K –,”  I said, “Why do you ask? All we do is read.”

“I know. We read more at home, so we can grow. I just want to know why homework exists.”

“What made you think of this?”

“I don’t know.”

Exactly where the best questions come from, I think.

So I give him a super-short version of a topic that too many have said too much about.

“Well…the amount of homework has to do with the amount of academic progress you need to make and the amount of it you can do in the classroom.” I look at him. He’s looking at me. This is a kiddo who usually plays tag all the way into class.  What the heck? “Does that make sense?” I ask.

“Yeah.”

Alrighty. With that, check-in, I continue. “When you are young, you do most of your learning in class. You are asked to read in elementary school because the amount of reading you must do to grow a grade level can’t be done in the time we have in class.”

I check again to see if he is with me. He’s listening as are two of his friends. “As you age, ” I continue, “you can handle more learning on your own, and the amount of learning you must do increases. ”

They are still looking at me. So I continue, building the scenario up to college, where one hour of class time requires three hours of study time. And then I stop.

I look at K– and his friends and ask, “Does that make sense?”

“Yes.”

Glad I solved that one.