There are many practices from long ago that we need to rethink as teachers. This series looks to bring up those practices and offer alternate ideas that are more relevant in today’s classroom. Today we’re discussing teaching something once and teachers getting upset kids don’t know.
It Isn't Their Fault
Here are some comments I’ve recently overheard.
“I already told them how to spell the word but they don’t.”
“I told him how to multiply but he just doesn’t do it right.”
“I taught you this yesterday, why don’t you remember?”
“If you listened yesterday then you would know what to do today.”
Then I found myself thinking this at a recent elementary meeting, “maybe if you paid attention while I am talking you wouldn’t be so confused.” This thought stopped me dead in my tracks. What?! Natasha! You cannot blame the student for not knowing! That is not how teaching works! It just isn’t. Just because something is said does not mean that it was taught. Just because something was taught does not mean it was learned. These are very different.
What's the Problem?
I want to make it very clear that I am not up on some sort of pedestal talking down during this series. Usually, I notice myself slipping into old habits of thinking and write these posts to refresh my brain. Sometimes I am caught up in old ways of thinking from elementary school. Things that I didn’t even learn as a teacher but learned as a student long ago. Creating shifts in thinking isn’t simple and it takes time. Maybe you’ll read this post and the teaching still won’t stick. It happens.
Let’s review these statements. Telling isn’t teaching. Just because it was said does not mean it was taught. Just because it was taught does not mean it was learned. Learning doesn’t just happen because you decided it would. These are powerful. Sit with them for a moment.
We know that students learn in different ways. This has been well researched and proven. We know that not all kids in our class are at the same place and they don’t all learn at the same rate. Can we blame our students when they don’t know things? Well, maybe sometimes. BUT… usually… usually when we feel we have taught things a hundred times and kids still aren’t getting it, maybe just maybe we need to reflect upon our own teaching.
Maybe the kids who can’t spell the word you correctly is struggling because he doesn’t understand a spelling pattern. Maybe the child who can’t multiply doesn’t realize that math is built on patterns and if you can unlock the patterns you can solve the problem. Maybe the student who learned something yesterday was having a rough morning. Maybe she didn’t get the point. Maybe the teachers in my meeting didn’t understand what I meant the first time I said it. Does saying something once count as teaching?
What to do Instead
Instead of becoming frustrated in the moment, take a note of the misunderstanding and move forward. Moving forward can mean doing a reteach of something or reflecting further and coming back another time. Think about how many times and how many different ways you taught this concept. If not a lot comes to mind then add in more experiences for the learner to interact with the learning. If a lot comes to mind then build opportunities to develop a deeper understanding. Don’t get frustrated with the learner. Engage the learner in more learning. Our job is to teach. It isn’t to tell once or twice and become frustrated when the learner doesn’t know.
When a child doesn’t understand what we have taught think about what they do understand. What do they know that you can build off of? If this child doesn’t know maybe there are others who are also struggling. Find them and figure out how to get them to understanding. Demonstrate for them, have them build, give them more practice, have a peer teach them, model the work, explain the learning step by step. Just don’t give up on the learner. Don’t become frustrated. Try again. The beauty of teaching is really all the opportunities we have to try again.
If a child doesn’t know how to spell a word reflect on the strategies they do know and teach them how to connect those to the strategies they need. If a student can’t solve the multiplication problem teach them a few more multiplication strategies. Give them more time or tools. Figure out what will unlock that learning for them. Work with what your students know. Work with what they know and build off of it to get them where they need to go.
Teaching takes time and cooperation. If students don’t know right away keep going and keep reflecting upon your own teaching.