Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Just Do It

A number of experiences lately have brought me back to one of my fundamental principles of understanding (not just teaching or learning):  do it yourself.

There is simply no better way that I know of learning, of understanding, of developing empathy, or of evaluating.

I often find holes in my homework or materials when I attempt to do it.  I find other realms of inquiry, new areas of vocabulary, grammar that might be necessary, and examples that might be helpful by trying it myself.  I discover issues in timing--homework that is too long or assignments that fail to provoke a long enough contemplation of the point to be useful.  And perhaps most important, I find problems of unfairness.  I find bias.  I find areas in which I ask questions that my students lack the skill to answer or cannot answer due to social constraints that I hadn't thought about before I did it myself.

And maybe the most effective (not most important) consequence of doing it myself is providing modeling and earning the respect of my students.  If I learn another language in the same way I teach English to my students, that carries weight with them.  If they see me write the same essay that they do and then pick apart my own work in editing (and I do this because I largely doubt the effectiveness of peer review at the lower levels until the students have really been trained BOTH EXPLICITLY AND BY EXAMPLE how to edit), then I have convinced them that I am not wasting their time on busy work.  Furthermore, for young students, it is the beginning of teaching them to be colleagues, and for adult students, it is an innate acknowledgment that I know that they are intelligent even if they can't communicate what they know in my language.

And I have found that this level of respect flings open the doors to learning faster than anything else that I have seen with the exception of bodily care.  People want to be seen and heard.  We can better do that when we take a few moments, stand in their place, and do what they do.

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