6x16,  Teaching

Instruction…What is it good for?

meme shout out to old people for graduating high school without google

Is it just me, or does this sum up the state of education today? How many kids are getting by with the help of Google and “Hey, Siri”? Back in the good old days, students might buddy up to do homework, but at least that resulted in a collaboration of sorts. A dialog about the questions, the answers, where they are found in the text, drawing out diagrams, giving examples–in short, learning was happening. In math, when we looked at the back of the book for the right answer, we still had to be able to do the work to get the credit! But Google doesn’t foster learning–it just gives quick answers. Apps like Photo Math take a picture of a problem and provide the solution, but how many kids then take the time to look at that solution and figure out for themselves how it was done? They might be getting the answers right, but are they actually learning?

direct Instruction definition. "By using direct instruction the teacher provides students with clear explanations and opportunities for guided practice with feedback."
Image licensed CC BY NC

I love this definition. Instruction is more than just telling students what to do and making sure they get the right answers. We have to give them the opportunity to practice and give them real feedback on that practice–feedback they can understand, not just a letter grade or a one word response or, worse, a theoretical answer that they don’t understand.

I’ll never forget standing in front of my senior English teacher’s desk, teary-eyed, hoping he could help me understand how the paper I’d written using the same process I’d used to get straight A’s until this point suddenly wasn’t up to par. “It’s just not organic,” he said. “What does that mean?” Unfortunately, instead of an explanation that day (or ever), he just repeated, “Your writing needs to be more organic.” After over two decades of teaching English at the college level, I still have no idea what he meant. I look back at those essays (yep–still have them) through the lens of all of my experience, and I still have no idea what he could possibly have been looking for. (By the way, I went on to place into Honors English in college, which I earned an A in using the exact same process I’d used for that course.)

If we really want our students to learn, we have to give them actual feedback and make sure they understand the process–make sure they aren’t just parroting back the answers. No, we can’t make students learn…but we can do our best to provide opportunities for them to have to show up, make them show their work and give them rich feedback that clearly points them in the right direction.


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