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.