If I’m completely honest, I’ve been dreading my spot on this blog. As part of the Pedagogical Team I obviously have a passion for teaching and learning and the finer points of pedagogical practice. The thought of committing my thoughts into written words on the page for public consumption is a little out of my comfort zone. However, this gave me the inspiration for my blog post and in a way took me back to my school days and made me contemplate on how I could get my thoughts from pen to paper.
To help our students, we first have to understand our students. What makes them tick? What makes them learn? How can we get the best out of our students? These are some of the questions we ask ourselves, as teachers, every day.
I often empathise with students who can discuss within class using long words, correct vocabulary, answering questions in great detail, giving you precise and clear responses. You can see the student is excited and shows great enthusiasm for the outstanding response they have just given you; sometimes they seem shocked that the perfect answer came from them! Excellent, you think! You walk away from the lesson thinking… ‘Yes!’… They understand it… They get it!
You set a task/ question, believing you have given the students all of the tools that they need. You mark their work and realisation sets in… what has happened? Where has that concise, passionate and clear response gone? What has happened to the excellent verbal answer? How has the student lost the information in transit from verbal understanding to the pen and the finished product on paper? What went wrong? These are the questions you need to ask yourself. Though it is often all too easy to think they didn’t try, that they couldn’t be bothered. You need to look deeper, and ask yourself what happens from the brain to pen to paper?
Understanding is the key word I keep bringing myself back to. How can I understand the process of what happens in a student’s brain and how this makes it to pen & paper? How can I help them? It is also important that the misconceptions of a students don’t take over: just because a student can verbalise answers well with lessons, doesn’t necessarily allow the student to write their answers with the same flair and detail.
You may believe you have given all of the tools to your students to answer an exam-style question under exam conditions. I mean, they understand the question and they provide you with the answer you want through verbalising it. You set the question, you collect in their work – secretly thinking this will be good – only to discover that the answers in front of you are not what you were expecting.
You then wonder what went wrong. You question the class and the students who didn’t do well in the written question, now verbally reply with the exemplary answer that you were secretly hoping that they would be able to write when you first set the question.
So what goes wrong?
Imagine you have had a brilliant discussion about a recent story you have heard on the news. It creates a debate, you understand everything – ideas bouncing off each other, it all makes complete sense. You create an in-depth understanding through verbalising and putting your thoughts across with flair and passion. No hurdles of spelling and punctuation -just your life skill of talking.
Someone now gives you a blank bit of paper with that solitary line that holds that one question you have to answer. Panic sets in. Where do I start? What do I want to write? What was the debate again? How do I spell that word? Tick tock… you look around and everyone is writing. Panic now escalates and doubt creeps in. I can’t do this. I don’t know where to start. You write something down because you feel as though you have to. You know it’s not good; it certainly isn’t of the same calibre as your verbal discussion. Now you question your ability to write, doubt sets in and the confidence drifts.
How can we help?
Provide students with a perfect example, let them process what is in front of them and then ask: why is it an excellent example? Through this, you can ask specific questions which will lead the students to an understanding of why it is excellent and spend time understanding the process.
Share students’ work: this often opens thought processes to other students. They often explain things slightly differently which sometimes enables other students to have a ‘light bulb’ moment.
Allow the students to make notes on work following a teacher and a student’s thought process, giving clear pointers on how they ended up with the correct conclusion.
The main thing is: give students time; allow them to analyse; allow them to annotate and most importantly give students time to think.
We will never understand every student’s thought process but we can help students evolve their own thought process with guidance and time. We, as teachers, can try and find new and innovative ways to embed understanding and launch the passion within our students enabling them to flourish and helping them to gain the skill process of: thought – verbalisation – pen to paper.
Toni Walton, PE.