In a TED Talk a number of years ago, Sir Ken Robinson said he had toured many American classrooms and he’d seen a lot of teaching going on, but very little learning. This is in part because the vast majority of interactions in our classrooms only move in one direction–from the teacher to the student. If we are really serious about empowering our students and redesigning instruction, we need to learn to hear what they are saying and have authentic conversations about their learning experiences with them.
This sounds very simple, but it is actually one of the most complex things I have to do in class. Simple measurement tools are often inadequate to the task because the students themselves don’t understand what is or is not working for them. As such, they fail to provide any useful information about my, or my pedagogical strategy’s, effectiveness. It is truly often a situation of the blind leading the blind.
Related content: How well do you understand your students?
When I first started teaching, I remember talking to my late grandfather, who was also a college faculty member, and wondering out loud if I was making any difference whatsoever in my students’ learning journeys. He assured me that I was, but that I would almost never see the results of my efforts. If I was doing my job right, they might not recognize the benefit of what I was asking them to do for years after they graduated. At some point, however, many of them would hit a point where they realized that they were able to write a coherent argument in a memo or a letter of introduction and realize that, “Professor Haymes showed me how to do this.”