Learning How to Teach

September 9, 2014

For the last few weeks, Robert was working on “Writing Extensions”, a part of Reasoning and Writing Part B curriculum. He was presented with a picture and he was asked to write two sentences about it. One sentence about one character (or one group of characters), the other sentence about another character (or another group of characters). The exercises were very simple, still they provided a great opportunity to understand concepts and learn to discriminate between two characters and their actions. Today, Robert was presented with a different task. He had the same picture, as the one he wrote about just a week ago. This time, however, he had to start with a general sentence addressing what both characters (or both group of characters) were doing.
For instance:
In the past he wrote, “The older women were raking leaves. The younger women were mowing the lawn.” This time, he had to start with a sentence such as, “The women were working in the yard”, and follow with the details expressed in the two sentences.

This way Robert was exposed to a new way of thinking. Writing a topic sentence that would embrace two details is a step in generalization or… abstract thinking. The fact that the tasks were easy shouldn’t diminish their importance. They were steps leading into new realm of processing information.
I admired the fact that the authors of the program started with practicing writing details first. After all they are foundation for more advanced thinking. The fact that the topic sentence comes first in the processes of writing paragraph shouldn’t obscure the fact, that in real life, the thinking starts with details and changes into more abstract forms later.
It seems obvious, and yet, I have never been aware of that fact. Only through teaching I was able to slow the process, analyze it, and finally notice forgotten roots of our thinking.

I have to add, that we worked on Writing Extensions Part B while simultaneously working on Part A of Reasoning and Writing.
As I wrote before, some concepts in part A are much harder for Robert than the concepts in Part C.

The second lesson on teaching came from Singapore Math. In the past. Robert was able to change fractions with 10 or 100 in denominators into decimal. To my surprise, however, he became often confused when it was mixed fraction.
So 3/10 Robert change almost automatically into 0.3. But when he had 7and 3/10 he made mistakes changing it into 7.3.
I was able to write a few pages of exercises in which the first type of problem was followed by the second where the fraction part was the same.
The problem was, that I didn’t start this way. I used this approach after I noticed Robert having difficulties. The authors of the Singapore Math, started this way. It is so simple. They were showing relation between the kinds of problems.
My fault was not realizing how different those two types of tasks might be for Robert.
This is probably my Achilles’ heel. Instead of thinking about teaching before I start, I learn as I go. I do not anticipate possible problems and thus I am forced later to fix errors that shouldn’t happen.

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