Thursday, July 10, 2008

What my kids and the military taught me about teaching...

Last year, one of my daughters asked me to help her study for a social studies test she had at school the next day.

We got out her text book and I asked her what we were studying. "Unit 3" she said. I flipped to Unit 3, and realized that Unit 3 consisted of three chapters, each at least 10 pages long. It seemed to cover the entire history of the United States up until and including the Revolutionary War.

The tears started almost immediately. She correctly deduced that there was no way she could cover the whole unit in one night.

I asked her if her teacher had highlighted any areas to key in on, but my daughter couldn't remember.

I told her to just skim read the Unit and concentrate on the main points. I was met with black stares. She had no idea which were the key points and which was just fluff.

Flash forward a week later...

My daughter brings home the test, and she has gotten a C-. I decided to look over the test and see what was covered, but as far as I could tell it was nothing but a quiz of random facts from the Unit. There was no rhyme or reason to it. Trivial matters were covered, but questions about key events were missing. As far as I could tell, she would of had to have memorized the entire Unit to get an A.


The Air Force is very big on professional development of the enlisted force.

As soon as an Airman gets selected to be an NCO, he/she is immediately sent to Airman Leadership School, and enrolled in a "Train the Trainer" course. The professional development, both residence and computer based is reinforced through each state of an NCO's career.

This continuous professional development is one the key reasons our enlisted force is the backbone of the most competent and powerful military forces ever assembled.

In ever single professional development course I have taken, one of the key themes that we are taught in training and mentoring is the establishment of training objectives and measurable goals.

When I am assigned a new Airman, I am required to sit them down and specifically state my expectations. I have been trained to make the expectations easily measurable, and not subjective.

When I develop training plans, I have to write a specific goal, and then define a measurable evaluation. Before conducting any training, I tell my trainee's exactly what I expect them to be able to accomplish upon completion of the training.

It's my responsibility to break down the task, and to go over each step. I am to assume nothing, and develop the tasks so that someone with zero experience will be able to accomplish the task upon completion of the training.

If upon evaluation, my trainee can not perform the task to the measurable objective then I immediately schedule remedial training.

I do not give up or make excuses.

I am continually trying to improve. If someone doesn't get something, I assume that it's because I haven't explained it clearly.

If my Airman were not to get trained properly, my bosses and my commander would hold me responsible.


If I were to conduct my training or mentoring like most teachers teach, I would be fired.

If I were my daughters teacher, I would clearly communicated as to what information they needed to know out of the Unit.

I would of conducted evaluations of my students through out the Unit, and if I had detected an area of weakness, I would of immediately gone back to reteach the material before I moved on to the next section.

By the time my students had taken the final exam, they would of been quizzed and reviewed on the key themes and facts.

My test material would not of been a surprise to the students or the parents.


My example is not uncommon, with the only exception of spelling and math tests.

I coin this method of teaching and testing, "Gotcha education".


CrypticLife said...

Excellent comparison, Rory.

A few teachers do focus on main points. I had one history teacher in high school who assigned maybe 2 pages of reading a night, and quizzed every single day -- only the main points, and the questions were extremely superficial -- so obvious that if you'd read at all you'd get them right (so it had to be about the main points). It was a pretty good system. Everyone would get a perfect score except the 2-3 who just didn't read it, who'd get near-zero.

rightwingprof said...

There are two isssues here.

First, we called these grab bag exams, where nuggets of information are culled from the text with no forethought given to whether they are, in fact, important or not. I've always thought that tar and feathers would be a good solution to those who write these kinds of exams.

Second, your daughter is not alone. Particularly over the last ten years I taught, I noticed more and more students who responded with deer in the headlights when I mentioned main points (like when they came to office hours to ask about the assignment). I do not know why this is, or where it comes from; only that it has become more and more of a problem lately.

Parentalcation said...

On the night referenced, I basically told my daughter to just read the italicized and bold sections.

I have to admit, the text book wasn't the best.

The best text books have a summary of the main points in the back of each chapter.

Stacey said...

This is exactly what I learned from OJT -- but certainly NOT what I learned in my education classes. There's a not-particularly new (1998) movement called UDB (understanding by design) which is attempting to put some common sense back into the classroom. I can't imagine teaching any other way, but apparently many do, hence the money to be made by Dr. Wiggins and his organization...

avoiceinthewilderness said...

Actually schools with talented leadership do provide teachers with "tools" to better reach students.
A great deal of what you mentioned falls into the IFL's "Principles of Learning", one of which is providing "clear expectations" to students.
The difficulty where I work is not providing the resources, but the fact that our turnover is so high that nothing has time to take effect.
If your child attends a school where the teaching staff is stable, then I blame the leadership. Unfortunately, in some schools where the children are functioning well, leaders rest on their laurels.
They don't necessarily have to work as hard to help students process information if the child can go home and receive help from a parent like you.
My students don't have what you describe, so we have to work twice as hard to give them support and meet their cognitive needs.