It’s tough to change our default setting

canstockphoto13724694Did you ever notice how much we (teachers) love to talk?

Recently, I was able to watch another instructor pilot some lessons I’d written. The curriculum was specifically designed to be student-driven and interactive — i.e. not a lecture — and I had planned a series of discovery-based activities that would let students do most of the talking.

I was in for a surprise. As I watched, the instructor revised the first lesson on the fly –really, without even trying. He began by telling the students everything they were about to learn, and before he even got to Step 1, he had spent half an hour lecturing on concepts and terms — something that wasn’t part of the lesson at all.

I was both dismayed and intrigued. This instructor had nothing but good intentions, and he clearly had a strong rapport with the kids. But our teacher instinct for talking and telling students what we want them to learn — rather than letting them learn it through inquiry and discussion — is so strong that it overrode the written lesson plan.

And rather than genuinely wrestling with the content, the students sat passively listening — as they too often do.

I blame myself, of course. I quickly realized, as an observer, that I should have more clearly explained the pedagogy (and the philosophy behind it) in the written lesson. There are ways I can restructure it that will make it much less tempting to default to lecture mode (like putting all of the background in an appendix at the back), even if I can’t prevent it completely.

But I honestly never realized this would happen. How many times have I completed writing a lesson, sent it off to be “field-tested” by other teachers, then read their feedback without considering that the teacher might not have implemented the lesson as it was designed at all?

This experience really underscores my belief that teachers need to experience active-learning in order to use it effectively in the classroom. It’s not enough to talk about it or even provide curriculum that incorporates it. We are so accustomed to our “I’ll talk, you listen” mode of teaching that it will take serious rewiring and practice to change it.

Once I got over my surprise, I realized how fortunate I was to be sitting there. We do not very often get to see firsthand how our written words are interpreted by other teachers.

Now that I know, I’ll be much more thoughtful about how I construct future lessons — and more explicit about the “why”. It was definitely a good learning experience for me.

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