Top teaching and learning tip- don’t help children

14th April 2009  |  by Greg

istock-help-life-saver-593-x-2251It’s just so incredibly tempting. I really don’t think I can stop myself sometimes but most times that I do, I’m glad I did. But come on, let’s face it: the fact is, it’s so much easier to just do it for them.

I remember vividly an occasion three or four years ago. I was teaching my Year 6 class and a pupil (now coincidentally in my Year 9 maths class) asked me how to add graphics and sound to slideshows using Impress, the OpenOffice version of Powerpoint. I replied quite honestly that I had no idea but was pretty certain it could be done. I sent him away (very politely you understand) and asked him to let me know when he had done it. It didn’t take him long before he had worked it out and many of his classmates followed quickly after. The ones who had worked it out took great pleasure in showing those that hadn’t yet found the right method. My hardest job that lesson was not helping the students but I think the results were worth it.
Meanwhile, I found quite by accident, that in this case the effect of the pupils’ ability and willingness to learn is much more powerful than my ability to teach. I feel quite strongly about this, so much so that I think that learning facilitators might be a better description than teachers. It might not sound such a crazy idea when you notice the way the order of the two words has changed over recent years. Much more often, we now hear about issues surrounding learning and teaching whereas before we would have heard about teaching and learning.

Now it’s not enough to simply allow learning to happen by itself , though this is a start. We need to, in the words of Guy Claxton (my aforementioned educational hero,) talk learnish. It sounds like this:

  • How did you do that?
  • How else could you have done that?
  • Who did that a different way?
  • What was hard about doing that?
  • What could you do when you are stuck on that?
  • How could you help someone else do that?
  • What would have made that easier for you?
  • How could I have taught that better?
  • How could you make that harder for yourself?
By using questions like the ones above, we are not teaching, we are facilitating learning- we become a catalyst for the construction of understanding rather than simply transferring knowledge from the vessel that is our brains to the vessel that is theirs.
So try this method with your children or students today. See how difficult it is. It’s a way to really help children. They’ll be learning to learn rather than learning to be taught.
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