Some thoughts on teaching, and mathematics in particular.
Just an odd page for odd responses.
I have just read a reply of yours from a different blog from sometime ago….anyway, you said that you haven’t answered a question for years but reply with another question. Just out of interest, if a student asks for clarification, ie. “is the answer 7?” Would you respond with a yes, or just leave them to wonder and have a bit of confidence in their own answer without your approval?
The post was from last year, I hope you don’t mind me brining it up.
Hi Tim, and great to have your question. I’m pleased to say I have maintained my discipline, and it is a discipline that comes easier with time. I would never answer a question such as ‘is the answer 7?’, and that is one of the easier ones to respond to:
What has made you arrive at that answer?
Do you agree that you have been mathematically consistent in arriving at that?
Does anyone else get 7?
What do others in your group think?
What ways do you have of checking it?
If someone else has a different answer, can you convince them that you are right, or them convince you that you are wrong?
Come and demonstrate your solution on the board – open it up to peer review – and see if it holds the truth.
That last one needs time to build up, getting the learners comfortable with sharing, and the confidence to be wrong, but it may well be the best and ultimately the goal of all of us – does it stand the test of judgement by others? And I of course refuse to be the judge, but might have to occasionally ask a pertinent question if I alone can see a glaring error.
That’s just the surface responses – I’ll come back with some more depth in a moment.
Some devices for avoiding ‘teacher lust’. Never even pick up a pencil, and refuse to put on my reading specs – make the learner use the calculator, or look something up in a dictionary, or test things out with some practical equipment.
Some examples – a learner said only on Tuesday night ‘Colin, I need your help.’ ‘Why would you want that?’ ‘To tell us if we are on the right lines.’ I did a quick cop-out on that and provided the mark scheme – it was an exam question. It was some sort of confirmation on my part, but I was still handing the onus back to the learner.
Two – some time back, a couple of years – I was teaching a class of teachers doing the FE qualification PTLLS. One learner asked ‘Why do you never teach us anything?’ The only words that came to my mind were ‘Don’t panic!’ I stood quietly at the front until someone responded, and someone did with an excellent statement about learning for ourselves, and providing the ideas ourselves, and sharing ourselves – it was brilliant! So have faith.
The third is a bit of staff training when a rather good presenter talked about the ‘where is the lavatory?’ type of question, which you can’t really answer with ‘where would you expect a lavatory in a building like this?’ So I do get the occasional ‘where is the loo?’ type question, and if I really can’t get any of the learners to answer, or show, the questioner, I do it myself.
And finally I read a lovely quote in Rebel Angels this week, by Robertson Davies. I don’t have it to hand, but he describes the energy needed to teach, and the even greater energy needed to stand back, hold off, and let the learner do it.
And a final postscript, when the Ofsted person was explaining my ‘outstanding’ last term, the only thing she said I should have done that I didn’t was that I actually went through an answer on the screen/smartboard, whereas I ought to have a learner do it. I blamed PowerPoint, saying it was a bit tricky for new learners, but in Smartboard all my learners know the basics.
So, keep the faith indeed, and never tell them a thing!
Thanks for taking the time for such a detailed response.
I am going to give it a go!!
A pleasure, and have faith – it really does work. All the best for the future.
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