As I switch back and forth among different levels of students as the terms pass–this is my ninth term, you know–I am starting to see the differences among the novice learners and the experienced learners.

My novice learners value quantity over quality.  More problems, more examples, more explanations.  Specifically, they are rely on me to structure which problems, which examples, which explanations.  They still think that their homework is just a checklist rather than a lifestyle.  Perhaps all of the resistance to talking to and with the other students is fear that they will reveal how little they know.  They are but small and scared.  One student commented that my class should stop working in groups because it takes too long to get comfortable, as though comfort were requisite for learning.  However, I sometimes catch glimmers of growth where my students see that all of this would make sense if they could just find the right list or table or diagram that put it all together.  Because they are novices, they think that I have this magical diagram secreted in a .pdf somewhere and that if I would just deign to show them that they would be over the hill.  Review, review, review they say.

What my more experienced learners know is that the magical system for all of this doesn’t exist.  Or it exists, but only inside of oneself and that it is different for each of us.  They know that real, durable learning requires admitting that you are uncomfortable, that the ideas don’t all sit right together for you.  The experienced learner recognizes that the homework and the extra problems and the tutoring and the review session are never enough because the depth and breadth of human knowledge are such that the task of learning will never be finished.  The experienced learners blame themselves when they don’t understand, not me.  The experienced learners recognize how unimportant the teacher really is, except as an example of a more experienced learner.

And I admit that I get a little annoyed by the novice learners because they are focused on the unimportant parts.  I apostrophize: I’ve done so much for you, almost everything you’ve asked, except for what I know is wrong for you.  Why is this not enough?  Why don’t you like me for all of this?

Perhaps, when it comes to teaching, and I am yet a nervous novice myself.

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