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  • Writer's pictureDerek Stoppels

Teaching Doesn't Equal Learning

Teachers need to stop talking about teaching. We need to start talking about learning. Students don't need more direct instruction. They need more opportunities to struggle and fail (in a safe environment). Students need to solve more problems, not consume more content. Students don't need to be given more information, they need to find it and do something meaningful with it.

A colleague once told me that while the students are taking notes off the board, the teacher is synthesizing the information for them. That statement really made me think. How can a teacher synthesize information for a student. If students aren't even responsible for synthesizing the information for themselves, what are they responsible for?

About 11 years ago, I got a job teaching in a Developmental Disabilities Program (DDP). It was the most transformational opportunity in my teaching career. I learned in an awful hurry that teaching doesn't equal learning. I could stand at the board all day long, lecturing and delivering the best lessons I'd ever come up with, and I would be able to say "I taught you how to _________," but chances are good that nothing was learned!

I wanted my students to make sandwiches, so...we made sandwiches. I wanted them to be able to fry bacon, so...we fried bacon. I wanted my students to travel safely on an OC Transpo bus, so...we travelled safely on an OC Transpo bus. I wanted my students to ask safe strangers for help, so...we asked safe strangers for help. You could say that I spent 6 years in the DDP and I didn't teach anything to anyone. And you'd be correct. But holy smokes, did those students ever learn a lot while they were in my class.

I'm not saying there is no use for direct instruction, there would be times when I'd have to say "Now take out your bus pass and show it to the driver," or "Now where do we find the bread? Can you get the bread, and the peanut butter out?" or "This is how you turn on the stove, but be careful not to touch the burner." But in the grand scheme of things, students always learned more when I was out of the way.

In my experience as a "regular" classroom teacher, I have noticed the same things. Students learn more, think more, do more, when I get out of the way! I don't get out of the picture, I just get out of the way. I don't want my students to crash and burn, but I do want them the struggle with the controls for a bit. I want things to be hard for them. Because when a student does hard things, they feel better about themselves afterwards.

I think all of our classrooms should look like a DDP classroom. Students practicing the skills we want them to learn with direct instruction being an option but not the default. Best case scenario, experiential learning is the default, and if not, then project/problem based learning. Let's stop talking about teaching, and start talking about learning.

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