On getting bored and staying interested.
October 5, 2012 1 Comment
Below is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, “How to Teach Adults.”
You will get bored first.
Look for Mr. Miyagi “Window Moments.”
The beginning of a course often feels basic and boring to teachers. Our natural inclination is to rush the beginning to get to the good stuff at the end. But if you don’t set the foundation at the beginning of the course your students won’t be able to make sense of your objectives by the end.
Notice when you feel bored. Are your students bored, too? If so, are they still learning? Are you upset because students aren’t learning – or because you’re not the fascinating center of attention?
If you get bored a lot, it’s probably because you’ve mastered the mechanics of teaching, something that used to take all your focus. Congratulations! Now you get to focus instead on how students engage with what you present them. This takes more energy than teaching on autopilot and feeling bored, but it’s some of the best learning you’ll do.
Finally, if your students are getting bored a lot, show how the boring stuff is meaningful. In The Karate Kid, Daniel-san was PO’ed that he was spending all his time doing manual labor for Mr. Miyagi. At the height of his frustration, his sensei showed him how the same motion used for wiping a window could block an opponent’s attack. Daniel suddenly realized that all the time he thought he was wasting on custodial work was powerful training for his upcoming karate tournament. (Which he won.)
Mr. Miyagi turned a potential breaking point into a breakthrough. If you pay attention, you’ll find “Window Moments” everywhere. Guiding just one student through it can inspire an entire class.
You will bias for the highest.
Half your students are below average.
As a teacher, you will naturally believe that your best students represent the average progress of all your students. This happens because you want students to do well and because you want to believe that you’re a good teacher.
One way we teachers trick ourselves is by explaining away students’ wrong answers and focusing on correct ones – usually from more advanced students. To borrow from Teach Like a Champion, you ask the class “What was the ‘restoration’ in the ‘Meiji Restoration’?” One students says a restoration of the military, a second says a restoration of Japanese power and a third, strong student, says a restoration of the emperor to the throne – the correct answer. You might form a narrative that the class was collectively remembering what they had learned. But really, all you know is that two out of three students you called on got it wrong.
You hear disproportionately more from better students and disproportionately less from struggling ones, who generally keep a low profile. Make sure you listen to all your students – not just the ones who give you the right answers.
Note: This is like President Bush and WMDs in Iraq – when you arbitrarily pick and choose from a lot of different data, you’ll always confirm what you already believe. When you find yourself unexpectedly progressing to advanced material, take a moment to make sure everyone is getting it.