I’m teaching Geometry. I have only 4 of 8 kids in class so we’re doing independent work on the concepts each individual struggles with the most … everyone is doing something different. As we move through various work, I’m metacognating about how much I push when a student is reluctant to engage with more depth or breadth … how I do it … how I can improve it.  I watch the focus of their eyes, other body language, listen to tone of voice, etc.

I muse…

I don’t often question the why of the strategy… I just know I get results by asking the student to write and rewrite, draw and redraw, figure and refigure, edit and reedit … endlessly … annoyingly – to the point of frustration.  I want them to develop a process but, more importantly, to recognize that process from start to finish – essentially – to discover how they learn. I COULD fill in some of the blanks in their process, but I hold back from cue or aid because I’m certain it is better for long term retention and higher order skill development not to do so. If they can connect the dots between this process and another from yesterday or last month (they always remember their breakthroughs) – then we have something important to discuss – their ability to analyze, make connections, and succeed on their own.

As I continue to work with the 4 kids… I push one student to engage, edit, clarify, rethink, reassess, start over, throw it away and try it differently… I push her to do all of those things in a 5 minute time-span – constantly harping on her… she is working but frustrated… perhaps angry… at herself?  at me?  at the situation? Suddenly she yells at me, “I hate you Mr. Chamberlain!” The other students freeze… I intentionally relax my expression. I smile gently… deliberately… and start to speak… but before I can say anything, another student says, with as much emotion as her friend, “No you don’t! You like it when he does this!” Now it’s my turn to freeze. I think, “What?!?!?” I think, “What is the depth and range of her understanding/emotion?”

More musing…

After thought and discussion, I know the student respected being challenged to that level of frustration. More importantly, most enjoy that sort of challenge – not everyone, but most.  As a teacher, differentiating between the two is exactly the sort of decision I must make from minute to minute.

That was an eye-opener. It didn’t change much in my method – but it opened all sorts of doors to ideas and lessons. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’ll let it continue to be so anyway.  Isn’t it interesting that the lessons that serve me best are learned from my students? That is so obvious, but it is easy to forget when we have so much content that “needs” to be delivered. We tend to plan in a vacuum, then our ideas are tested in the forge. Square peg – round hole.

Submitted by Bill Chamberlain, Department Head, Technology, Landmark School

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