Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Teaching to Learn is Learning to Teach

Here it is Mid Term already again. Doesn't the time fly when you're having fun "learning"? At least that is what I used to believe when I taught. It has been more than six years since I was actively engaged in "teaching and learning" full time (as a career). Maybe it takes some "distance" from the profession, a degree of "stepping away" or maybe it just takes "being a student" again to begin to realize the delicate and dependent relationship that is, as the title above suggests: "Teaching is to Learning as Learning is to Teaching".

I have had a number of recent experiences and observations of the above that certainly have impressed on me how vitally linked these two activities are. i.e. one creates the other, one feeds the other and not just in our formal "institutions" called schools, colleges, universities etc. Relationships are key at all levels and in all subject areas I believe. And lately, I've seen vibrant and healthy ones and...the opposite. I can only reflect back on my own experiences while drawing these conclusions and hopefully learn to share and accentuate the positive ones.

My midterm in my Physical Fitness class was very "hands-on" and interactive. We had to prove that we had become more than alittle bit familiar with our "muscle groups" and what "trains and improves them". We did this with a written test of identification and spelling. The "coach" pointed to the muscle group on her body and we had to name it. This was "a piece 'o cake" because I had been trying to exercise and improve the flexibility of most of these groups. She was very "animated" and helpful/hintful. She also assured us that if we missed five or more we could take the test again. We then went up to the track to have our jog/walk test. I had suggested that we take the written test first since "some of us" might be too tired and "shakey" after the heat and stress of the "laps". She listened. Six laps around a field of uneven turf is a challenge at my age. I was determined to do it and show improvement from my first time at the start of the semester. With her verbal encouragement at every lap marker, I did improve by more than three minutes. I was so jazzed. All that work had paid off and I was beginning to enjoy exercising my "bod" again. This time I wasn't "next to last" but "next-to-next-to last". You see I walk the whole trip at a steady jogging. Others, the kids, who I have more than 40 years on were trying to do six-minute miles. I even have more that 20 years on the professor...and yet she made me feel "self-actualized" I had learned something. It was as though "I taught myself"...but I know I hadn't. There was her example and encouragement all the the many weeks and days.

After my hand-packed lunch I had my other midterm. I felt pretty confident that I knew the material. There were five chapters of Art History with more than 250 pieces of "Art" (paintings, sculptures, architectural examples) covering more than 525 years (mid 1200 A.D. to mid 1700 A.D.) There were hundreds of artists and architects, styles, trends, movements, schools to memorize and show understanding about. There were many historical events and movements that also had to be dealt with. This is what you call "a survey class". What is being called for is mainly "surface knowledge and recognition". It is very difficult even for someone like me who has "lived" and seen alot of these works of art and places of interest. So we had already had two multiple-choice tests, one twice with revisions. I did better on the first attempt(s) or guesses. Now for midterm, here they come again, same tests with most of the questions in the "negative" and only 30 or so new ones. This would've been ok if we had actually found out what the correct answers were to the previous ones we missed. But no, we had to go "figure them out" from the four or five "distractors" we hadn't chosen previously. We never got a "firm grip" on what was thought to be correct answers and why. So I now have this "sinking feeling" that I may not have learned as much as I thought I had. When I brought up my "numbered scantron" I had to make sure it was in the pile in the correct numerical order with all the other that all were accounted for...none missing. None of this "evaluative knowledge" must be compromised in case it is put to use in the future.

One hundred questions about Art and not one "visual" slide or projection for comparison or analysis; and I ask you, is this anyway to "teach or learn the Love of Art"? I'm not discouraged because I'm taking the class for other "reasons" but just think of all those young, neophyte Art Students and even those who are just taking the class to "get the credits" and get through it. Will this method teach them to learn more about Art? enjoy it? Or just how to better take a test? I'm betting the latter. Why do they still have classes like this? Why are they taught this way. Is it really just easier? Is it worth it in the long run? I'm thinking, "Nope!"

Then I got to thinking...I was a "tenured teacher" for many years. I was a "mentor teacher" in my district. I was not only asked to help teach students but also new teachers. Did I ever get to the place where I was just "going through the paces", just "marking time" until I could retire? Was I presenting a "good and vibrant" approach to learning and teaching toward the last of my 38 years or was I looking for the "survey technique", the "scantron evaluation"...of what I tried to teach? Was I so disenchanted with my subject(s) and students that I did the least I could get away with and still call it "school"? Was I open to any questions or suggestions from my students and administrators or was I just trying to "cram in" as much material as I could?

Fortunately, I was blessed, or lucky, to work at the "Elementary Level" and have other challenges to "teaching and learning". I felt I taught "some of students...some of the times"; probably never "all of the students...all of the times"...but I tried my hardest to make sure they felt they were learning and liking it. I tried to figure out ways to get them to help each other and teach each other. i.e. share what they had learned with me and with each other. At one time I actually thought that teaching was a "Performing Art". Now, I'm seeing that both teacher and student have to "perform" and exchange roles at times to be in a successful learning relationship. Yes, I do keep going back to an old saying that was shared with me by one of my first teaching year's Hispanic Grandparents: "El que da, recibe! El que ensene, apprende!" "He who gives, receives. He who teaches, learns"


At 10:16 AM, Blogger BOB! Your Life Preserver said...

I'm just glad, in hindsight, that yesterday wasn't "The Ides of March" (3/15) like today. It would've been worse I'm sure. Yesterday was probably challenging mathematically since it was "Pi Day" (3.14) This would make a good activity at school...i.e. "Pi Day" What more could you find out about "Pi"? We already did "Leap Day" every Feb. 29th. Bob!

At 9:50 AM, Blogger BOB! Your Life Preserver said...

St. Patrick's Day...a birthday party for our other "grand" child, Shelby. Bringing "green" gifts to Layla and Stone...just for fun. One of them is a hideous green thing that Layla has been missing. Bob ;-)

At 12:55 PM, Blogger BOB! Your Life Preserver said...

I talked with one of my musician buddies and told her I felt like dropping this Art Hist.II because the Prof. "doesn't have a clue" and isn't testing what is taught. She said I could just "WP" it...and take it next semeester. Think I'll try to do that Monday. In the mean time, I'll keep doing my "self-teaching/learning" that I'm enjoying. I'll also go out an participate in "The Arts". Bob!


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