What I've Learned From My Students June 14, 2017 06:59

Two things I have learned: I can't read minds! I am not a magician.

I am entering my 23rd year of teaching third grade. In my 45 year in this profession, I think I have enjoyed what I have learned from my students more than anything. I think the one most important thing I've learned from them and an Ah Ha I would want new teachers to know about is I can't read their minds. 

When I finally realized that I could not predict what my students would glean from my words of wisdom, I became a more effective teacher. It was when I stopped teaching concepts and started answering their questions that real engagement occurred. Yes, the good old Socratic method of teaching. It is by far the most effective way of engaging students I have found to date.

Students today are more self-centered than in the past. The influence of technology has changed the way they think. They want immediate gratification and have little patient for long drawn out instruction. I can't model their games, so I just have to cut to the chase. I begin by sharing with them the following words, "I don't know what you don't know. I want to know what you don't know, because I don't want to teach you what you know already because that would not be interesting. I tried taking mind reading classes and have been hugely unsuccessful. So, since I don't know what you don't know by looking at you, how am I going to know?" Of course, it takes them a few minutes to process what I have said, so I often repeat it. It gets a chuckle and then one student raises his/her hand and answers, "If we tell you?" Then that follows with how can you tell me what you don't know? The obvious answer is by asking questions. 

Why does this method engage so beautifully? Think about our engagement when we ask someone a question. We want to hear the answer. 

The one challenge with this method was getting students to recognize the value of listening to their classmates questions. So, I ask them, "Whose question is more important than your own? It is your classmates. They are going to ask something that you didn't even think of asking and alert you to something you didn't realize you needed to ask. When others ask questions, think to yourself, 'Can I answer that?'" 

I love this method of instruction. It puts the students in the driver's seat and allows for natural differentiation of instruction. I have been teaching the curriculum for 22 years and I always get questions I have never heard before. It really takes the boredom out of teaching for me.