Do you TEACH the way you LEARN? Do you TEACH the way THEY Learn?

The recent enewsletter article in Faculty Focus, How we Learn and How we Teach by Maryellen Weimer, challenges teachers to reflect on how they themselves learn and then make changes to their teaching so that students will have meaningful learning opportunities.  Now that’s Teaching FOR Learning!

The article is available at and includes an interesting exercise from Harold White that groups of teachers might want to try out.  This would be great fodder for your next subject department meeting. The exercise will help to reveal the way you learn.

I will try to model the exercise by doing it here.

Exercise Instructions: Think about the most important lessons you learned in life and write six of them on the front of six index cards.  On the back of each card write everything you can remember about the circumstances that surrounded the events.  (Personally, I think 6 is a lot…I have trouble coming up with that many.  But that’s just me.)  I am sharing ONE of my index cards here.

Learning Event 1: Learning to Swim

Swimming confidently

Swimming confidently.

Circumstances surrounding this event: In my early thirties I decided I needed to learn to swim so that I could safely take my young children swimming and know that I could save them from drowning if I had to.   So I enrolled in  private swimming lessons. The instructor was a former math student of mine–very patient and enthusiastic.  We had to begin by blowing bubbles and I recall being afraid of that! As well, I felt a bit embarrassed to be reduced to ‘blowing bubbles’ for my former student. I should mention that my children also took swimming lessons throughout this time and they already knew how to blow bubbles under water!  The sessions were hard work for me and everyone of them tested my humility a bit.   A few months later I had progressed from blowing bubbles to swimming the width of the pool in a modified breast stroke. But there were many struggles in between. I remember thinking that I had accomplished the impossible.  It was a real turning point in my learning and my attitude towards learning.  My instructor suggested that I join a group swim lesson and in fact recommended the Masters Swim team that met every Sunday morning.  The idea of joining a Masters swim team tested my humility even more, but I was flattered by the vote of confidence from my instructor and excited about the possibility of becoming a ‘master’ swimmer.  So off I went, swimmingly, to those Sunday morning sessions.  The group was divided into Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced and  I was placed in the middle lanes in the intermediate group. (Flattered again!)  At each session we were given challenging warm up drills and then a new lesson on technique.  I learned as much from watching others practice the techniques as I did from trying them myself.    I particularly valued the feedback that the instructor gave each of us.  Lots of my own misunderstandings were cleared  up by my listening to the feedback one of my classmates received. Within six months I could swim 40 lengths and enrolled in a triathlon.

I have had similar experiences learning to ski and learning to golf.  I have learned that the WAY I LEARN is by having a teacher guiding me along in a group setting.  I need the interaction with other ‘classmates’ and the combined feedback.  I need the interpersonal relationships with classmates and teachers.  I need to enjoy the activity but I understand that the harder I work, and the more effort I put in, the more I will progress and enjoy the activity.  I DON’T learn by someone telling me something. I usually forget the instructions because I don’t really understand them and can’t connect to them.  I know that I need to DO, and THINK, and REFLECT, and PRACTICE.

The article tells us that when this Index Card exercise was done on a large scale some common features surfaced: the emotional components, the interpersonal relationships, the ‘informal’ educational settings with teachers, etc…

Ms Weimer challenges teachers to think about the implications of how we learn and how we know that students learn.  I suspect that there will be similarities and differences between these two groups, particularly with respect to the use of technology as a learning tool.

This begs the question, Do you Teach the WAY you Learn?    Ms Weimer extends this to “Should you teach in ways that reflect how you learn?” But I am going to extend that even further and ask,

Should you teach in ways that reflect how your STUDENTS learn?

I believe the answer is a resounding YES!  We are Teaching FOR Learning after all.

The challenge is to think more about how students learn outside the classroom.  I see them here at the college, in the Learning Hub or Collaborative Zones here at Taylor’s College.  They are usually sitting in a circle surrounded by books, iPads, smartphones, food and water.  They are laughing, chatting, solving problems together, and clearly learning.  It is this experience that we want to mimic in the classroom. Either that, or move the classroom to these areas.

There is one thing that I am quite certain about.  Teaching by telling and telling and telling, as I often see, doesn’t result in learning.  In fact I wouldn’t even call that teaching.

So, back to the index card exercise.  Try it, even with 1 or 2 cards.  Try it with colleagues in your next subject department meeting. Think about how you learn.  Then think about how students learn.  REALLY think about how they learn.  WATCH them learning.

Then, think about changing your teaching so that you are indeed Teaching FOR Learning.

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