Loose Ends

In New Brunswick, we're nearing wrap-up time for many of our paid classes, including mine. That means lots of paperwork (though perhaps not as much as some colleagues suggest). It also means a chance for me to review the job I've done for my learners.

When I find disappointment, when I find I haven't done my best, it's almost always because I didn't push the questions "What is it you want to learn?" and "What is it you want to do to learn it?" The spirit behind these questions is learner-centered self-directed learning - the kind of thing that really can help people become life-long learners.

Instead, falling into the familiar banking-model of pedagogy, I too often asked learners "What do you want me to teach you?"

I know why that happens - it's because I have an unquenchable power need and like the illusion of being important to people. But there's little to be gained from creating life-long, teacher-dependent students.

Today, a learner asked, "Is there any way you could make up a small review to keep me going through the summer?"

*my best wtf look*

"Just some random questions? For half way through?"

"No. But you could."

"Yeah. Well. Naw. But could you..."

"...what? Do two hours worth of work? Listen, if you want to spend this afternoon making up your own quiz or review sheets, I'll support you. But I'm not going to do that work."

Even if his attendance hadn't been wretched all year (yesterday, for example, he came a half hour late and left an hour early) and I hadn't a pile of paperwork on my desk, I would have refused. Or, I hope I would have. Because that kind of "doing for", when it really isn't needed, is a bad model. Besides dependence, I think it facilitates false confidence among learners. They confuse work I do to cast a question in easier terms, to explain it, for work they've done to figure something out. Then, they too quickly plunge ahead without mastery of maps or fractions or whatever. And then they do a test and fail - and I bear a whole bunch of responsibility for that.

Later in the day, a question came up. He started to explain, then, sensing my mood, asked, "So, should I write it out and try something before getting you to show me?"

"I think that's a good idea. Don't get frustrated. Don't rush yourself. But if you can work it out, that will help you learn. If you can't, tell me and I'll help."

He tried, and he solved his problem ("Actually, that one turned out to be really easy," he said). Then he moved on. Which was good, because my monthly attendance totals are all screwed up and so I've got math troubles of my own.



KarenB said...

What is it about waning attendance in the latter days of May and learners' sudden urgency to make gains? Deadlines approaching make us all uneasy, I guess.
You elucidate the difference between your teaching and their learning rather ingeniously. If I can only remember this before stepping in, too soon, with solutions, I might not be buried under a pile of work next long weekend. Happy May 2-4!

Wendell said...

I have to admit that even I've been spending more time gazing out the window... feeling like a kid waiting for the end of school.

Not that my literacy work ends in summer. It just happens outside.