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Keep Learning

Today I read a few pages from Peter Johnston’s book, Choice Words. You know this book, right? If not, it is a small, powerful read that can change your teaching life forever. (If you click on the link, you can preview the book online.)

In the excerpt I read, Johnston writes:

Of course, if students need to know something, they shouldn’t be reduced to guessing by their teacher’s assumptions abut what they “should” already know. We often assume that students know things, or know them in particular ways, when they do not (7).

It’s the shouldn’t be reduced to guessing that got me. Then, when I read it again, it was the what they “should” already know. Perhaps it’s partly because it is May, however, I’m getting a little tired of hearing what students “should” know. It could be the exasperation that often comes with the phrase that is pushing my patience.

“They” — the ones in our classrooms who “should” know — are doing the best they can. Parents are sending the best they have. It is our job to meet them at their points of need. It is up to us to figure out their needs and teach into them. It doesn’t matter where we think they “should” be, what matters is we meet them where they are and nudge them to grow as learners.

Later in the paragraph, Johnston quotes Margaret Donaldson:

The better you know something, the more risk there is of behaving egocentrically in relation to your knowledge. Thus, the greater the gap between teacher and learner, the harder teaching becomes (7).

Watch out, I noted in the margin. It is important for us to be aware of this. Just because something seems simple to us, doesn’t mean it is to our students. I need this reminder.

Just because workshop teaching seems as natural to me as breathing in air, it doesn’t mean that it is simple to those new to workshop philosophy. I’ve spent much more than a decade developing my philosophy and honing my practice. I’m reminded of the importance of being a life long learner.

As long as I’m learning something new, I stay humble. I remember how much investment it takes to learn something. It takes time and lots of work ethic. It’s important to remember these things when working with someone who is learning something we already know.

I’m thankful for the reminder today. This is the magic of opening books that are old favorites.

6 thoughts on “Keep Learning

  1. Thank you for reminding me that I shouldn’t just assume things about what they know. Especially towards the end of the year I think If all into this trap…


  2. Thank you for the recommendation! For me, what you shared applies not only to working with students but also when working and collaborating with other teachers. We are all life long learners and at different levels. Thank you.


  3. I’ve been surprised by the things that stumped my students this week while working on practice state tests. Students who didn’t understand the numbering of lines, and students who thought drawing a conclusion meant to actually draw the answer. I’m so glad I was able to clarify a few of those things before tests begin and I can’t answer questions. I think this book should go in my summer “to read” basket.


  4. Way to nudge me just when I needed it most. I saw that book in my teacher basket tonight and thought WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO READ THAT? I’ve been carrying it around for a year . . . I am fairly sure that proximity to a text does not actually produce learning. I think it’s time to just READ it.


  5. You’ve touched me with this, Ruth, as I begin to have my final conversations with teachers this year, I am remembering how I approached this with my students, asking “what do you know that you will take with you into the summer, into next year”? It’s different for each one, what they believe they now know, & what they will need to work on again. You are so right, we can’t assume things we’ve spent a long time learning ourselves. Thanks much!


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