I have vivid memories about when I first started teaching of having to focus so much on my lesson plan that sometimes my delivery was stilted and prodding and well, boring, or at least hard to follow. Within a few weeks I relaxed and I quickly became much less self conscious about my delivery. However, I was observed so much in my early years (which was mainly a good thing) I think I was focused on a perfectly delivered lesson – which beyond teaching effectively in my mind somehow involved “not making mistakes” in the delivery. The lesson was flawed if I made a mistake no matter that the students learned what they were supposed to.
If I was demonstrating how to add and was computing a column of numbers and accidentally got the wrong answer (which happens to us all from time to time) then I was at least moderately embarrassed and my reaction taught students that mistakes were BAD. In addition, depending on who was observing, that mistake would be brought up in the post conference as one of the pieces of the lesson that went wrong.
I also remember other teachers, when sharing about an observed lesson, mentioning those little mistakes and being upset by them. Teaching was obviously as much a performance as anything else, and we tended to discuss them like actors.
This attitude did not lend itself to transparency in teaching and learning. If something went wrong, often I would ask for patience from the students while I turned my back on them and quickly re-worked the problem as quickly as possible and then showed them the right answer.
Ted McCain, in his book – Teaching for Tomorrow: Teaching Content and Problem-Solving Skills, relates just such a scenario. He then goes on to talk about how much better a lesson it would have been for his students if he had explained what his thinking was as he tried to find his error, what he was doing, how he was doing it and why he was doing that.
Years ago I came to that realization myself, and I think I do at least a pretty good job of making my teaching transparent. One important part of that is stepping aside when I make a mistake ( sometimes even trivial mistakes), or if we observe a performer at an assembly for example make a mistake, and debriefing that a mistake was made and noting the reaction. Did I throw a fit or look like I was devastated? How did the performer handle that?
When I have a new class of students and I share a mistake the first several times and why it wasn’t the end of the world I see students have those aha! moments. “Hey I didn’t even notice he made a mistake. And he’s not all upset and embarrassed, maybe its OK.” The more I have explained my mistakes or noted when a piece of equipment didn’t do what was expected , “it was nobodies mistake,” the more at ease and willing to try things my students become. Oh! And I make sure they see when I make careless mistakes – I’m trying to do something too quickly and point that out to them too. We note how characters in books and movies react to mistakes also.
We are currently in the process of producing a video about blogging. Each group shot their scenes for the video and then we downloaded the raw footage onto each group’s laptop so that that group would edit their piece and then later we will put all the pieces together.
I originally wanted to have the students do all the voiceover work and editing, but this week I realized that we don’t have time for their learning curve on that right now – so to speed things up I am pushing the buttons on the laptop to record their narration and doing the work to line the audio up to the clip so it matches. However, I also explain everything I do to each group mainly to share my thinking about how I am deciding what is working or not, and even having them notice when a piece is not easily understood and when it is much better, and they really light up. “Listen to this clip – and now this one. Any difference?” Then if they don’t pick it up I ask them if they notice how even just one word was pronounced better or the enthusiasm in their voice makes it better. They really get it and understand why that is important.
Many of my students speak English with an accent and that accent really shows up when they are concentrating hard on reading the narration. They are amazed how some of the accent goes away when they have practiced some and are more confident. It also gives me a chance to pick up on letters students totally mispronounce and clarify and correct it with them. In other words because I’m involved so closely with their narration I am diagnosing language issues – “ hmmm, and I thought this was a tech project : ).
To sum this up – have transparency in your teaching, point out your mistakes and how you react to them. Students see it is normal, even when you are trying to be careful, to make mistakes and that makes it easier for them to receive “coaching” about their weaknesses and errors. This is an essential part of “messy” learning.
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