“I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.”
~ seen on a t-shirt
I believe one of the main roles of a teacher is to try as hard as possible to find each student’s “Learning Language.” How does each student need to receive a piece of information so that it clicks, or sticks, or makes sense?
Different brains remember information via various platforms: it could be through a picture, sound (make song lyrics), a funny anecdotes, a mnemonic, or associating a funny movement with the information.
Several years ago, I came up with a hilarious SNL/Mary Katherine Gallagher/Superstah! pose to teach kids how to remember the absolute value function in College Algebra…of which I am quite proud.
Each of us remembers certain things in certain ways. I tend to find patterns or play tricks in my brain.
For example, every time I write the word “geography,” in my mind I HAVE to say
because that’s how Mrs. Pexton taught us to remember the spelling in 2nd grade.
Zoological taxonomy (which has changed since I learned it) is King Philip Came Over For Green Soup. But I’m so old, that’s outdated now.
The Unit Circle is a pattern of counting. The absolute value graph is a big V.
We as educators can explain away, in as many different ways we can think of…
But what we as educators cannot do is put in the work it takes to make these things sticky.
We can provide the mnemonic device (good ol’ George).
We can draw the pictures, or provide tips on how to make an outline, or even give the URL to a pre-made Quizlet.
We can, much like momma birds, regurgitate the worm into your throat.
What we canNOT do is digest the worm. We cannot put in the extra work and practice it takes to truly understand whatever concept is being presented. We can provide every single resource we have available to the student – we can lead that blasted proverbial horse to the water, but, you know…
The truly successful students are the ones who leave my office after receiving their half-digested worm (from me and/or class) and head straight to the library to chew on it some more.
They trot across the street with their laptop and textbook, and they jump on YouTube or Khan Acadamy (or the gazillions of other learning platforms), and they take what I have explained and use it as a springboard to fully understand. They practice and practice (or chew, and chew) until they really get it.
They explore their resources.
They visit office hours and ask questions of instructors and TAs.
They actually know where the study hall is in their fraternity house…and they use it.
I’m very, very good at my job. I will go the extra mile to get the information presented to my student in as many ways I can think of, until I see that lightbulb go off, that aha! moment.
But I get you or your student, usually, for one hour a week.
Would you like to be a passenger on a plane where the pilot spent one hour a week on flight instruction? How about your doctor? Or the pharmacist? (That actually could be rather humorous, come to think of it.)
I wouldn’t be able to accurately brush my teeth if I was only exposed to a one-hour lecture on the material. It takes practice.
I have received calls from parents after their student took a test who were upset that they were paying me, and yet their child performed badly.
I start a curious conversation about the student’s preparation (let’s call it worm-chewing). And as we drill down, the parent starts to realize that the student was going into that test relying solely on using one hour a week with a tutor as their means of preparation.
Like I said, I am very, very good at my job. But nobody is that good.
Treat your time in class as being fed a half-digested worm, like a baby bird. It is now up to you to fully digest it, which can take time and energy…and it might not be fun.
But I’m not saying it will be easy, or fun…I’m saying it will be worth it.