Teaching Is Harder Than Learning. What’s Up With That?

The question is does teaching make learning harder. The material here comes from the writings of psychologist Carl Rogers. For me, they give insight into some problems and opportunities with education as we know it. His thoughts are in bold-face type.

Why we do it

“The basic idea behind teaching is to teach people what they need to know.”

That seems self evident, but I think Rogers misspoke. From other points he makes, I think he meant it to be a little different. Try this. – The basic idea behind teaching Is to help people learn what they need to know.

Some of his other insights support the revised view of purpose.

“You know that I don’t believe that anyone has ever taught anything to anyone. I question that efficacy of teaching. The only thing that I know is that anyone who wants to learn will learn. And maybe a teacher is a facilitator, a person who puts things down and shows people how exciting and wonderful it is and asks them to eat.”

How we do it and how it might be different

The education situation which most effectively promotes significant learning is one in which (1) threat to the self of the learner is reduced to a minimum and (2) differential perception of the field of experience is facilitated

If the child is afraid of learning, and we’’ll see one of the reasons, it becomes a diferent and difficult task. If the person’s experience is at odds with what they’re being taught, how is that difference reconciled? Or is it?

One of the sources of fear is this:

I believe that the testing of the student’s achievements in order to see if he meets some criterion held by the teacher, is directly contrary to the implications of therapy for significant learning.

Most student’s don’t know what the teacher’s criterion. If achieving a fuzzy goal is expected, uncertainty becomes an issue. Uncertainty feeds fear.

How it came to be the way it is

I think my deepest criticism of the educational system . . . is that it’s all based upon a distrust of the student. Don’t trust him to follow his own leads; guide him; tell him what to do; tell him what he should think; tell him what he should learn. Consequently at the very age when he should be developing adult characteristics of choice and decision making, when he should be trusted on some of those things, trusted to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes, he is, instead, regimented and shoved into a curriculum, whether it fits him or not.

The educational system may have many of these characteristics, however, it’s not the only way a child learns. Parents can do a great deal to enhance the experience part of learning. Little of education at school involves anything tactile. A child would learn about measurement, tools, angles, and material building a birdhouse. Walking through the woods will teach more about which plants grow where, with why left to the student. Music lessons would help develop several skills, not the elast being the ability to listen.

If the school isn’t doing it someone else should.

Adults who think that children must be manipulated for their own good have developed the attitude of a controlling parent who lacks faith in himself, the child, or humanity.

Governments are now adopting the same approach. Perhaps they learned how while in school and have the lacking faith deficiency

Where to look next

The purpose of adult education is to help them to learn, not to teach them all you know and thus stop them from learning.

A person cannot teach another person directly; a person can only facilitate another’s learning

The best teachers do not try to download all they know into the brain of another. It’s impossible anyway, and the process takes the interest in learning away.

What teachers can do effectively

They can carefully choose a place of beginning.

They can address tools and skills that will help the student understand and use the material.

They can identify areas where curiosity can apply. All students are curious, and they like to explore the exceptions.

They can motivate the student with an objective assessment of their achievement. Emphasis on the well done with a technique to address any shortcomings. More like coaching than teaching.

No manipulative marking, no false praise. Maybe they should be told tests are to see how good a job the teacher is doing. If all the students did poorly, would that be their fault, or were the teachers doing a poor job?

Teaching is a very difficult job. There is such variance in entry skills and behaviour that it takes the year just to get it together. The idea of expected entry behaviour, the course, and expected exit behaviours dominates. That gets in the way of individual learning, but individual learning is costly.

Maybe the idea is not to teach but to be an assistant learner. I think the best teachers do that without thinking about it.

Take a look at the Kahn Academy and Sal Kahn on Ted Talks

Let’s use video to reinvent education

Let’s teach for mastery — not test scores


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I build strategic, fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways to achieve spending and estate distribution goals. In the past, I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and Banks – from CIBC to the Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email at don@moneyfyi.com

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