Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Why Can't Everyone Think Like Me?

Being a teacher has proven several things to me throughout my career.  Perhaps the most important is that my students rarely think the same thing I do.  A few years back I read a book by Chip and Dan Heath called, Make It Stick.  The book was about ways to be successful in having others listen to what you had to say.  Recently I remember thinking more and more about the “Curse of Knowledge” referred to in the book.  This means several things, but to me, it means that I take for granted that I already know something and simply assume others have the same idea.

If this year has taught me nothing else, it has taught me the value of modeling.  I’ve learned that I should model what I want the students to do.  For example, if I want them to walk down the hallway in an orderly manner then I should do so.  If I want them to design something in engineering class a certain way, then I should show them that.  One thing that continues to elude me is modeling my thinking.  How did I come to certain conclusions?  Why did I get that conclusion?  Students need to see the thought processes we use to come to conclusions.

People have a hard time thinking abstractly yet often this is the type of thinking expected.  Students often become frustrated but elated when they’re told to create.  They love the idea of creating, but they want to know finite or detailed information like: how much, how long, how will it work?  There are lots of folks who can see the finished product, but struggle to determine how the person got there. 

One exercise I do with the students is to have them write step by step instructions on how to do something and hand those instructions to another student.  Students often leave details out of the directions because they assume people know the details or will automatically do it.  Sometimes students think these “thought” details will be seen as non-essential to completing the task.  If you want to see an interesting breakdown of the human thought process just have someone else write step by step instructions for how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!

We need to give our students the same insight we use when making decisions or we most likely won’t get the result we were looking for.  Understanding how students think is important to this development.  A fun activity I have done with co-workers at different schools is the North, South, East, and West Personality traits.  The results are very enlightening and can also help us to better understand how others process thoughts. 

Here are some strategies I’m going to try using more of:
  • Draw more diagrams and pictures (always heard they were worth 1,000 words.) 
  • Write more of my thoughts on the board for kids to read. 
  • Create more podcasts of me working with projects or just of teaching moments in the class.
  • Explaining to students the process of how I came to a solution to a problem. 
  • Have students explain to me how they came to conclusions.
  • Ask scaffolding questions to help guide students to answers rather than provide it for them.

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