A student brings you a piece of writing and as you glance at it, you notice that he has problems with periods—many are missing, and a few are out of place.
You are moving around the room as students work on a math assignment and as you sit down beside one student, you see that she has done some of the problems correctly. When you look a little closer at the ones she got wrong, you see that she has made the same common error time after time.
A student hands an assignment in and you see right away that he has missed the point entirely—he might have been on a different planet when you were teaching the material, because he has done everything wrong, and you don’t know where to begin correcting the assignment.
Teachers have passed down the method for handling these situations for centuries—mark the papers, pointing out the errors, and ask the student to correct the errors. The teacher may look at the mistakes with the student and review the proper procedure, or may ask the student to refer to the textbook to find out how to do the work. In my experience, this approach works only with students who have got nearly all the answers right.
The opportunity for joy often comes disguised as a request for advice. When I refuse to give advice, when I take a moment to ask a question instead, a space opens up to let the joy of teaching in.
A student working on a piece of writing asks, “What should I do? I don’t know if I should explain that Tom is my boss and my uncle right here at the start, or if I should leave it out until closer to the end.”
I agree. They learn something. But often what they are learning is not what the teacher thinks she is teaching.
M. Moriarty said it well in a comment on an earlier post:
To this day I cannot bear a red pen… it signals math failure to me – and try as I might – I never did learn from my many many mistakes in grade school math – what I learned was that I wasn’t very good at math and that after a while it really wasn’t any use to try…. Continue reading →
The first time I failed at school I was over 30. Don’t get me wrong. I have failed at many things–relationships, do-it-yourself projects, exercise programs, baking–but I finished school and university with good marks, without doing much work.
So when I found myself in a new city (Vancouver) with no job and few prospects, going back to school seemed like a good idea. I enrolled in a community college program to become a court reporter, and started to fail almost immediately. Continue reading →