Thinking about ways to improve teaching

So recently I ran across an article with an intriguing premise regarding coaching.  It argued that you can improve your success by coaching less rather than more.  I read it because it was referred to me after I wrote a blog post for Good, Bad, I’m the Guy with the Blog called One Part Info, 99 Parts Work on a similar theme for coaching sports.  The thing is–why consider this only in terms of sports when there is a perpetual education crisis in America?  Is minimizing teaching to maximize learning a potentially effective strategy?

First, we have to consider that if you can reduce your teaching to improve it, that it means you can over-teach.  I think everyone can think of people who do this.  After all, this is a phenomenon with parents already–called helicopter parents (or the more vicious, dangerous version–lawnmower parents).  Who is most likely to ‘overteach’?

  1. New teachers trying to apply textbook educational theory to the classroom.  Inexperience leads to frenetic activity.
  2. Teachers cynical of their students’ abilities.  Thus, everything must be controlled/spoonfed down to the last detail.
  3. Teachers being assessed/not yet tenured.  These teachers want to show they are in control, working hard–but their focus is on job retention rather than effective instruction.
  4. Teachers with little self-confidence.  If the teacher buries the students in information and assignments, then it alleviates their doubt and shows that they’ve given students hundreds of chances to succeed.
  5. Teachers who are ego-driven.  This is usually a college-level issue.  These teachers can’t handle questions or a back-and-forth with a student, so they bury the students in information instead, leaving no time for questions.

I think everyone–whether a teacher or not–can identify someone in education that fits one of these categories, right?  It’s important to realize that teachers aren’t stuck in one of these categories forever.  Experience often brings confidence.  Experience will give practical lessons in teaching that permit a new teacher to be effective rather than parrot the lessons of a 10-yr old El Ed textbook.

There are some big problems that come from over-teaching.  One of the objectives of education is learning to think.  If everything is done for the student, how do they become independent thinkers?  Just as bad, you can bury a kid in too much information and cause their brain to explode (metaphorically, of course).  Does the teacher expect you to memorize details for the test or will she aim for themes/concepts?  How much are you expected to remember from a lecture ten weeks ago?

Worse, if an instructor is over-teaching, it leaves no room for creativity.  I’d be interested to interview many of the successful people in the world (like Richard Branson) who dropped out of school or were poor students.  What caused their problems?  How much of it was that their ways of thinking or their creativity were stifled? –Heck, the story of the original concept of FedEx is instructive in this as well.

The effect on the student is never good.  As I alluded to a couple paragraphs ago, students get incredibly frustrated if they are buried in information and not permitted to ask questions/get help in synthesizing the information   Frustration leads to anxiety and unnecessary pressure.  Students begin to worry more about the evaluation/grade and rote memorization rather than whether they’ve learned a better way of thinking OR that they are showing gradual, consistent improvement from week to week or even semester to semester.  Micro-managing saps confidence; it gives the impression that the teacher doesn’t trust the students’ abilities to succeed.

Okay–you get the point, but we all know something else–it’s always easier to identify problems than offer working solutions.  If over-teaching is a problem, how do we avoid this.

  1. Read the 99 Parts Work blog link above.  Think about how you can shift more of the communication and general workload onto your students.
  2. Attempt to avoid preconceptions about what your students ‘need’ or what works.  Consider how to change things, when to change them as well as your observation skills to realize ‘Hey, they’ve got this’ so you can back off.
  3. Look at your students as collaborators rather than as ‘just’ students or as ‘the opposition’.  Yes, some students are there because the law compels it–but given the opportunity to learn, to express themselves, students WANT to grow as individuals, be seen as awesome in some way or another.  If you can show them that by putting work in, they’ll receive the privilege of independence, be permitted more leeway in creative ways of doing assignments, you’re in business.  It creates a virtuous circle–>the more you enjoy it, the harder you work.  The harder you work, the more you learn/grow.  The more you grow, the more you enjoy it.
  4. Accept that you do not necessarily know more than your students in all areas.  As a teacher, it is also your job to learn. It should be your passion–so that your enthusiasm carries over to the students and their own personal interests.  They’ll be encouraged to dive deeper into their own hobbies and passions.

 

Changing something like this isn’t easy.  You have to push yourself.  But ultimately, if we’re trying to create a generation of better teachers, to help rising generations don’t we have to do this.  One part info, 99 parts work, or as Churchill put it for you–>all you have to offer is blood, tears, toil, and sweat.