“Just Show Me What I Have To Do”

This is a somewhat common sentiment among frustrated math students…and frustrated teachers.  In fact, I think this may be a common companion to frustration.  Not always; sometimes we want to establish understanding.   But if we’ve reached the point of frustration, then we may just want to “move on,” “make progress,” or “find a solution.”

I am reading Claude Steele’s “Whistling Vivaldi,” in which he lays out his decades-long investigation of stereotype threat.    Although I have heard about stereotype threat and ways to combat it in the classroom, I am gaining a much deeper understanding from reading Steele’s book.  That is making me see similarities between myself (and my colleagues) and my students.  I am a very busy person.  I don’t know a community college teacher who isn’t.  It is only because I am on professional development leave that I am reading this book.  I don’t “normally” have time to read much.  But this experience is making me rethink that.  We always have choices.  Why do I normally feel like I don’t have time to read books—books that would constitute an on-going professional development?  Maybe I can re-prioritize my time once I’m back to teaching…but I don’t feel very confident about that.  It doesn’t FEEL like a choice.  I’ll have to think about that some more.

I am struck by how, as teachers, we want concrete take-aways to implement in our classrooms.  It is too hard, too big, too much to read all of the research and theory that would support a deep understanding of the sociological and psychological factors of teaching and learning.  I want the Spark Notes, and I don’t think I’m unique that way.  I want a short-cut because the long way doesn’t feel like a viable option.  However, the short-cut gives less value.  Lacking a deeper understanding and context, I may misapply the “take-away” or lack confidence in it.

I see this in my math students.  When the challenge feels unviable, my students look for a short-cut:  “Just show me what to do.”  But lacking an understanding of the foundational underpinnings or the connections, they may misapply the mechanics or lack confidence in them.

How then, can I scaffold the challenge to make it feel viable?  How can I structure the work to support understanding?  L. Dee Fink made some concrete suggestions at a Professional Development Day Workshop at Foothill College about a year ago.  They sounded good at the time, based on 21st Century Learning Outcomes.   I have his book, “Creating Significant Learning Experiences” on my bookshelf.  Maybe I’ll get to it next.

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3 thoughts on ““Just Show Me What I Have To Do”

  1. Great post! I have a similar feeling of choice being taken away due to busyness, life, kids, etc., even though I am (on some level) aware of the fact that I am indeed making choices every day. Perhaps because I am making the “wrong” choice (?) it feels more like coercion… I don’t know.
    But I do know that I’m writing down both book titles. Thank you for the post!

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    1. Work-life balance is hard to achieve, especially when we live in a community that is so defined by “striving.” Opportunity fuels progress and advancement, and we are surrounded by opportunity. It can certainly be difficult to prioritize in that kind of environment.

      Like

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