Mark and Joe sat down to lunch together, a welcome break from their classes. “So how's your morning class going?” Joe asked with a fork full of last night's goulash poised in front of his mouth.
“I'm staying on schedule, well close to schedule at least, but it still amazes me how some of the most basic concepts elude people. The answer is right in front of them but they can’t see it.” replied Mark dejectedly, “You walk them through a problem step by step by step and they keep saying they understand each step but when you get to the end they all look like deer in the headlights. Sometimes it's like I am trying to lecture my daughter.”
“Speaking of which, how is Lindsey?”
“Oh she’s fine. I had a parent teacher conference the other day and the teacher was exuberant about her progress. She is the only first grader reading at a third and fourth grade level and her math skills are at least a grade level higher than expected at this time. Vocabulary and comprehension are high although spelling can be quite creative.”
“Wait until she gets a cell phone and starts texting then spelling will be nonexistent.”
“Tell me about it. The problem is that I never see it. When I try to talk to her all she does is stare at me, shrug her shoulders, or I get the eloquent ‘hmph’ out of her. I don’t think she’s afraid of me, she likes to hang around when I'm working or reading but she won’t hardly talk to me.”
“How do you respond when she fails to answer?”
“I usually return to whatever I was doing.”
"What is she interested in?"
"Some silly cartoonish card game. They get these cards and trade them and play games against each other. It is just like the last card game my kids got in except the backings are different and the language is just as foreign."
"You don't like talking about it with her?"
"About as much as my wife likes listening to me talk about my course subjects."
"That bad?" Joe chuckled. “When you're teaching in class and ask a question that doesn’t get a response what do you do?”
Mark considered the question. Joe had known him most of the years he had been teaching at the college and already knew how he handled the situation. After some thought Mark responded, “You know I don’t let the class get away without at least trying to answer me.”
“And if they give the wrong answer?”
“So what, if the answer shows they are trying to understand then it is a good thing. You know as well as I do that a wrong answer is often a better way to assess where I have failed to teach than a bunch of right answers.”
“When a student comes to you with a problem, say while you are preparing your lecture, what do you do?”
“Come on Joe, what is this about?”
“Humor me, what do you do?”
“I give them my full attention and try to ‘actively listen’, isn’t that the buzz words we're supposed to use?”
“Yes they are. So you are having a conversation with them and ask them a question. What do you do if they don’t answer right away?”
“Joe you know as well as I do that you have to give them time. Sometimes they are concerned that what they say will affect how you think about them, how you might grade them. A little patience and understanding go a long way.”
“Exactly, but with Lindsey you, and I quote, go back to what you were doing. Maybe Lindsey needs to be forced to answer by waiting patiently until she does, maybe you need to actively listen to her, maybe you need to be slower to correct and let her be wrong sometimes to see where your teaching may be falling short."
“Come on Joe, Lindsey is a totally different thing from my students. Lindsey knows I love her and nothing she says will change that.”
“A not so wise man once said, ‘You walk them through a problem step by step by step and they keep saying they understand but when you get to the end they all look like deer in the headlights.' You know you're my friend but don't you consider and worry about your answers to me, or to your wife?“
“I hate it when you do that.”
Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety. Prov. 11:14 KJV
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