Writing things down serves as a way for me to speak from within. I encourage all of my students to articulate what they learn. Writing has a way of embedding my experiences in my memory. I hope some of the students will take the time to read this so they can understand my motives better and hopefully see the intent of my methods. Below is a list of things I learned from teaching my class for only a week.
Sometimes students don’t believe me when I tell them they need to do their homework because they are going to have to re-articulate what they actually learned from doing the homework.
Some students think they understood what they read, listened to or watched, but they may not always be able to articulate it. I am curious as to how I might help them become more aware of their own retention process. I hope they will help me. I am hoping that by actually having them write about it, discuss it as a group and look at the implications, they will be able to look beyond the superficial view of just getting information and delivering it without undergoing some thought process.
Sometimes people answer the question from the first writing assignment for the second writing assignment because they have predetermined what I am going to ask. For example, in the first writing assignment, I asked, “Write a paragraph discussing the main point of the This I Believe podcast about listening.” I also asked the students to tell me what they remembered from the podcast and Ted.com talk. In the second writing assignment, I asked the students to list three of the seven points Mignon Fogarty made in the podcast about storytelling and tell me what she meant by the three they listed. Some students wrote what they remembered from listening to Mignon Fogarty and couldn’t list three things or explain them.
When we were going over the questions for the Ted.com talk, many students overlooked the fact that the answers needed to come from what Rosenstiel actually said and not from what they guessed the answers should be. There may be a misunderstanding as to why one would listen to experts discuss these things and why I would bother to list all the questions, ask them to pay attention to the talk, come together and discuss them and then finally, share them with the class. Some students sat idle instead of talking about the ideas or maybe going back to the talk and listening to make sure they understood it. They thought perhaps writing down an answer on a sheet of paper was the main point. So often this is what happens in their other classes.
I would like for them to see the process so they don’t do poorly on their quizzes. Discussion makes us aware of what we don’t understand. Everyone can see the wall is grey, but what is important is for us to be curious why all the walls are a certain color in a particular institution. To merely guess that it was the kind of paint they had on sale, though a good guess and perhaps even correct, circumvents the real value of even discussing the color of the walls. The real value comes from exploring, being curious, checking sources online, discussing what different answers emerged and then formulating and articulating an answer. The answer holds less value than the process, not because the answer is right or wrong, but because the process is what helps the answer stick (adhere in our brain). This means we are more likely to be able to deduce an answer for the quiz. So if I ask them, “Why are fast food restaurants orange or red?” they could deduce the answer from a list simply because they had gone through the process when I discussed why the walls in the classroom might be grey or why the tops of drafting tables are often a pale green.
Students are often not aware of how smart they are. They have gone through the motion of school and been rewarded for some pie-in-the-sky answer people have called “right” which holds less value than the process. There may be many reasons for why the walls in the classroom are grey. The question, “What is a gatekeeper?” though it can be answered by “Googling” or by looking up the word in the dictionary, or even by writing down what Rosenstiel said, has no significant if we don’t understand how it fits tin the discussion. So, now, I think I understand why students miss questions on an open-book quiz. They think I am going to ask them why the drafting table tops are green instead of why are fast food restaurants painted bright orange, red or yellow?
Students may be intimidated and confused by the new methods, not because we are working under the premise that they are incapable, but because it presumes they are much smarter and much more capable than even they know. I noticed this morning that as the discussion progressed, students were afraid to give their answers. I am guessing, though I could be wrong, that these things they wrote down were words that answered the questions, but some of them may not have really understood what the words meant. I experienced this last week in my Shambhala Arts Teacher Training in California. The teacher asked a question and I read the answer he had written in the reference guide. He asked me, “So what does that mean?” In that moment, I realized I had no idea. We can all repeat words, but can we understand what we are talking about?
I am never going to give up on the idea that one day, I will ask my students to discuss what they read, heard or watched and all of them will come up with good re-articulations that really show me they understand. After all, we all speak a common language.
Just this week, I learned all these things from teaching one class. We are all smart. Look at all the students taught me. I can only hope to repay them the favor by teaching them as much as they taught me.
I am grateful. This is the new model of teaching. Just like Rosenstiel talked about the new journalism, this is the new way of learning. Thank goodness we don’t have to do it the old, boring way. Though I remember the names of some of the things I memorized for tests, I have forgotten most of them, but ask me to explain how television impacted photojournalism and even after I am old and have dementia, I will be able to tell you. Perhaps, some of them will visit me in a nursing home to tell me something they remember from JRN102. Don’t laugh, several years ago I wrote my fifth grade teacher a letter. She was 98 at the time and had severe dementia. I thanked her for teaching me about class differences and how we should never make fun of people who have less than we do. Her twin sister called me up a year later to thank me for the letter. If only I had realize the value of that lesson at the time! Well, better late than never.