Category Archives: Learning

Listening to the Inner Teacher

I’m probably not the only one with an Inner Teacher – that part of me that wants to go into Teacher Mode even when I’m not in the classroom. Sometimes my Inner Teacher just wants to tell store cashiers to spit out their gum. But sometimes she wants to make sure people learn.

My Inner Teacher won out today in my statistics class. There’s this guy who has been coming in to class with a look of defeat; he asks questions, but he keeps struggling to understand. The past couple of days I’ve heard him asking the instructor about the tutoring resources that are available on campus, asking if there are any videos that she can suggest to help explain the concepts, etc.

I had been struggling with the desire to offer him help versus the desire to avoid doing something weird/rude/othernegativeadjective. As much as he was asking the instructor for help, he wasn’t asking me, so I didn’t know how he would take it if I offered. But today after class, I caved to my Inner Teacher and asked the guy if he wants help from me. He seemed appreciative of the offer, and I’ll be working with him after class on Monday. I hope I can help him understand.

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Lessons from Statistics

(Refresher background info: I am taking a statistics class at the local community college, since I will be teaching statistics in the coming school year.)

I’m finding the content in my statistics class to be interesting and logically intuitive, and I’m really looking forward to teaching it. The class itself…well, I kind of feel like a spy in there, gaining insights for teaching as I play the role of student. So here are some things that I have learned (or have had reinforced)…

  1. Don’t take over. Allow students to build the connections for themselves.
  2. If someone asks for clarification on how to do something, make sure you understand which part they’re struggling with. If they can’t articulate it for themselves, listen as they continue to ask questions while you go through the process again.
  3. If someone asks a question about application, extension, etc., do not dismiss it as “not what this class covers.” Encourage thinking! It’s even okay to say, “Let me think about it / look at some resources / etc. and get back to you,” or, “I would love to discuss that with you, but can we talk about it after class so we don’t lose our train of thought here?”
  4. Be willing to admit when you could change a question, example, etc., to make it better for the students. Value feedback.
  5. If you tire of hearing from a particular student (or of answering questions in general), don’t let it show. Not all students are concerned enough about their learning to make sure they keep asking questions anyway. Care about student learning.

There may be more to come…three more weeks of the class.

Reading too much into the question

More thoughts on my statistics class from today. We were going over some review questions, and I said that one of them didn’t have enough information for us to determine an answer. The instructor responded,

You’re reading way too much into the question.

Well, no, I really wasn’t. It was a poor question. I’m really not sure why she didn’t just acknowledge that it’s a poor question – it’s not even a pride thing, because these questions are from the textbook publisher, not from her. And even when I am the one who wrote questions, I’ve told kids who challenged them, “You know what? You’re right. I could be asking this question more precisely.” And I make a note to improve the question for the next time I come to that material.

So the first part of my point here is, it’s okay to recognize that a question/assignment/whatever is not the best and could be improved. I think my students like knowing that I will receive their critiques (delivered respectfully, of course) and consider their feedback. I know that I didn’t like feeling like I wasn’t being listened to, being told to just write down the “right answer” and move on.

But the second thing I wanted to say in this post is a question I thought of as a result of this experience. Is there a point at which it’s okay to tell a student “you’re reading too much into the question”? Obviously we want to stop kids from saying,

“Well, Johnny won’t have ANY apples left after he gives 3 to Suzie, because right at that moment Suzie gets turned into a ZOMBIE, and she doesn’t care about the apples anymore but just wants to eat Johnny’s BRAAAAAAINS, so Johnny figures life is more important than apples and he drops the apples so he can run away. Will he survive Zombie Suzie’s attack? Just wait until I turn in my next homework!”

Because that would just be silly.

But. There’s a lot of good thinking that students can do in between “just give the answer you know I’m looking for” and the zombie scenario. I’ve read several bloggers talking about WCYDWT (What Can You Do With This), which is all about posing new problems, digging deeper into what’s right in front of you instead of just relying on the (possibly/probably poorly written) questions in the textbook.

There probably are good occasions for telling a kid he’s reading too much into a problem. But I think we might jump there a little more quickly than we ought to sometimes.

Going back in time?

I’m taking a class that started today. I’ve never taken statistics before, but I’ll be teaching it (one section that will probably have both AP and General kids) in the fall. So I thought that taking it would probably be a good plan.

I’m still processing the reasons why, but it felt somewhat surreal to be in a 2000-level course again. I’m looking forward to learning statistics, definitely; I have thought for a while that I would like to take a course like this. But actually sitting in the class just feels strange. It’s very different than the classes I’ve been in over the last 3 years as a master’s student, and it actually feels much more like I’m back in high school (except the part where the homework is all online).

I’ll have to continue mulling this over. It feels like there are things I can learn through this about becoming a better teacher, but I’m not completely sure what those things are yet. Maybe it will become clearer to me as the next few weeks go by.