Friday, March 01, 2019

Be Careful What You Teach

Be careful what you teach. It might interfere with what they are learning. ~Magda Gerber

"Why are those balloons stuck to the ceiling?"

"I rubbed them on my head and Teacher Tom stuck them up there."

"Is your head sticky?"

"No, I made electricity come out of my head!"

I was in the balloon cage, occasionally batting a balloon into the air, but otherwise I was just listening.

"Hey look, I found a little balloon."

"Me too. They're baby balloons."

"Did the grown up balloons have babies last night?"

"I guess so."

I'd thought about tossing the deflated balloons before the kids arrived, you know, because they were deflated, but had gotten distracted.

"All the balloons are on the ground."

"Sometimes they go in the air, but you have to push them up there."

"Then they all get down when nobody's pushing them."

I suppose I could have been correcting the kids, interrupting them with my superior adult knowledge about things like electricity or procreation or gravity. I suppose I could have been teaching, attempting to add to their store of trivia, but then, I would have risked interfering with their learning. From the outside, the balloon cage can look and sound like barely controlled chaos, and sometimes it is, but from the inside, sitting with the children, absently toying with the balloons that drifted my way, listening, I found it to instead be a place where the children were attempting to cobble together understanding.

That they were getting the trivia somewhat "wrong" is immaterial. What matters is the discussion, the theorizing, the agreeing and disagreeing. Thinking matters much more than mere attending, which is what happens when adults interfere, even if we believe we are "extending" or "scaffolding." When I look back upon my long life as a teacher, I see that I've done it "wrong" at least as much as I've done it "right." Indeed, I expect that I interfere every day, arrogantly assuming that I know to what they ought to be attending, directing them to look where I assume they ought to be looking, preventing them from answering their own questions in favor of my own. When I remember to listen, however, to just listen, I leave the space open for thinking which is what school, and life, is for.

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