I wrote a post earlier this year about a Post It activity we did on the first day of my education class. The basic idea was to think of five things we were each good at and then to brainstorm answers to the following three questions regarding the five things we chose:
- Why is it important?
- How do you know you’re good at it?
- How did you get good at it?
As a wrap-up activity for the last day of my education class, we did a similar activity, except we answered the three questions above with regards to teaching and learning. One group was asked to brainstorm things that are important for teachers-in-training to know; a second group was asked to brainstorm ways to assess teachers-in-training; and a third group was asked to brainstorm ways for teachers-in-training to develop competency in those skills.
After breaking up into groups and coming up with ideas, we came together as a class and presented our ideas. My professor commented on how thorough we were in our brainstorms, but that we had missed one important concept (he said he intentionally set us up to fail). Because he had split us up into three separate groups, each group had independently come up with their own ideas without discussing with the other groups. In an ideal situation, the different bodies in charge of deciding what is worth learning, how to assess it, and how to develop those skills are constantly communicating with each other to make one cohesive big picture. However, in reality, communication among those three groups is often minimal. My professor left us with a final reminder of the importance of considering all three of the questions together.
One of my classmates asked my professor how teachers decide what level of mastery is acceptable for a given class. I thought my professor’s response was quite insightful. Just to set the context: in addition to teaching education, my professor also teaches the intro to statistics course at a different university. All students have to take his class first before taking the upper level statistics courses.
My professor explained to us that most things worth learning (like statistics) are complex. Because they are complex, it often takes more than one pass to truly master the material. Rather than thinking of different courses in a sequence as discrete levels (like in a video game), you should think of the levels as overlapping. When a teacher first introduces an advanced concept to a class, it is unrealistic to expect all the students to fully understand it the first time around. When that same concept appears a second or third time in a later course, however, then the students are more likely to understand it better. I had never thought about the different levels of mastery quite like that, so my professor’s explanation was very eye-opening for me.