Just because it was tossed, doesn’t mean it was caught.
Just because it was talked, doesn’t mean it was taught.
How do you define “learning”? And, what causes it? How much of your schooling exposed you to a stream of firehosed arcane knowledge with little connection and relevance? Do you consider that learning?
One measure to consider is whether our thinking or behaviors have changed in a sustainable manner. “Learning” isolated facts that are promptly lost after the test, is not learning. That’s memorization. Or as one teacher so aptly noted, such an exchange is nothing less than “bulimic education”—take it in; then spit it out. A tumble of facts in and a tumble of facts out.
Even engaging in a well-articulated conversation or debate has questionable learning value if there is no change in one’s mental mindset.
Whether we teach a classroom full of eager (and not so-eager students), orient new students to the university, train staff in our organization, or teach a young girl to play guitar, we look for some level of change. Some type of movement.
Calling it “teaching” does not mean the student experienced “learning.” Or as I’ve proffered on occasion, just because it was tossed, doesn’t mean it was caught. Just because it was talked, doesn’t mean it was taught.
The inimitable Truman Capote reportedly said, “That isn’t writing; that’s typing.”
The spin for me would be, “That’s not teaching; that’s talking.”
If you leave with the exact same mental model—no adjustments—then can we say anything was “learned”? Nothing has changed and there is no sustainable difference.
Ken Bain’s work What the Best College Teachers Do reminded me of a teaching and learning strategy I used with my history students. Rather than bombard them with minutiae, I did my best to introduce them to “structures” of United States History. Rather than memorize an endless array of isolated dates, battles, names, I helped them identify patterns. These patterns formed the structures of the course. Here are five of the structures I used with my students:
- Establishment of a national identity
- Challenge to authority
- Evolution of mass-based politics
- Demand for minority rights
- Evolution of governmental power and reach
Think of these structures as buckets into which information (the facts, events, and issues) of United States History can be placed. These containers help the students to see patterns and evolution. This does not condone fuzzy teaching. The students still need specifics to construct the whole from which to make sense of the world.
The flight attendant who just rolled her drink cart down the aisle and stopped at my seat (14C) has a structure. She did not spit back a memorized list of all items and where they were located on her cart to me. To be sure, she is well versed on the cart inventory. But she focuses on the pattern of what to do at each seat and how to fill each drink order. Imagine if she had no idea where anything was located on the cart. And at each seat, she rattled off her memorized list of every item on the cart. Would you be impressed? Doubt it. You want a drink, not a recitation.
Then why are we so enamored with filling students’ minds (children and adults alike) with long lists of stuff that, by themselves do not help them? Why not help the person form meaningful and useful patterns?
What are the implications of focusing on patterns and structures for your workplace? Do you want your team members to remember isolated facts or would you rather they connect those facts in a meaningful pattern so they can be successful for your organization?
Do you want to teach facts or people?
Or as Ken Bain, so eloquently stated, “You don’t teach a class. You teach a student.”
Make it an inspiring week and H.T.R.B. as needed.
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My books Choices for College Success (3rd edition) and Study Skills: Do I Really Need This Stuff? (3rd edition) are published by Pearson Education.
(c) 2016. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.