Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Learning and Knitting Socks

(Listen to this post as an mp3 file.)

Every year I try to learn something new and this year it is knitting. I have learned how to do the basic stitches required in knitting so I decided that I was going to learn how to make something useful. Socks looked like a small project and not too difficult so I went out and found a book with instructions on knitting socks. I studied the directions and read over each step and then reread it again and again. I remember growing up and not understanding things but my mother told me to keep reading it over again and it will make sense. I don’t care how many times I read the directions; I could not see how it would make a sock. I went online and shared my frustration with my virtual friends about the instructions. One person told me to just have faith, follow each step as it is written, and trust that a sock would develop. With a doubtful heart, I did what she said and to my surprise, I knitted a sock. Even though I made some mistakes, I was so happy to say that it looked like a sock and it even fit my foot!

As I was making this sock, I realized that sometimes our students must feel the same way. I teach them basic skills and expect them to know that when I teach them new skills, they will miraculously have a new end product. I teach the alphabet and sounds of each letter so I expect them to put it all together to read words, paragraphs, pages, and eventually books. I teach addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division and expect they will eventually understand fractions, decimals, algebra, geometry, and calculus. I expect the students to have faith and trust me enough to get them where they need to end up even though they might not understand how they are getting there. What a scary world this must seem to them! How can I help them with this process so it is easier for them?

1. First, I think I need to let my students know that I understand their limitations and ask them to have faith. Think about a personal experience to share with them so they know I understand. They need to know that I understand how it may seem strange to them but will eventually come together. This is a good time to share that some people may learn differently than others so we need to be sensitive to each other’s needs.

2. Make a task analysis of the skill I want them to learn. Explain the steps and model these steps so they understand how it will all come together. This is task analysis helps me not to forget steps or take things for granted. Sometimes it amazes me that I do things without thinking about them and forget about the little steps which are important.

3. If they don’t understand how it all comes together one way, I need to look for other ways to come to the same point. I shouldn’t insist that there is only one way to arrive at the correct answer. Sometimes I ask other students to help explain something for me and it helps a struggling student when it comes from the point of view of their peers.

4. Building trust with the students takes time and I try to develop a rapport with them. I ask about their personal hobbies and interests and I ask to see pictures if they mention something special that has happened. Sometimes it helps to talk about their struggles in other classes (not with other teachers but subjects). Sometimes seeing it from a different perspective can help them. I try to ask them questions that show my interest and concern.

5. I need to celebrate with them when they accomplish their goals. Even if it may seem small to me, it may be something big to them and I need to recognize it. Knowing that I am proud of them for doing something right or meeting a goal or having success in something will help their self esteem tremendously. This in turn will help them attempt things that may seem difficult for them.

6. If all else fails, sometimes you need to table the instruction and come back to it later. Just like an engine can get flooded when you are trying to start a car, we can overwhelm our students to the point they will shut down. When I get frustrated, sometimes I have to put it down when I am in a calmer state of mind. My students need to know that this is okay but it is just as important that they know it is also important to finish what they started and not give up.

Do you have any other suggestions, ideas, or comments? Please let me know.


Anonymous said...

Good analogy. When you wanted to knit a sock, you started without the skills, but you had an idea of where you want to be: a sock. Often the problem with learners is that we teach them skills, but they do not see the relevance: they do not see the sock on the foot.

Something I have found useful (for young as well as adult learners) is to show them up front where they can (want to) be ... if only they had the skills. Then start teaching them the skills and help them to see how they are slowly progressing towards their goal.

loonyhiker said...

Kobus: I used your suggestion during my presentation on Voicethread. I made sure the teachers saw the end product before we went into detail about Voicethread. They seemed excited about it. Thanks for your comments!

JoNelle Gardner said...

I am enjoying reading your entries. This one made me laugh at my memory of trying to knit a scarf.
We often forget that we like to see our end goal as a motivator and as a concrete example. We may have strayed too much from giving examples in our efforts to encourage creative thinking. There is a time and a place for everything. Thanks for the reminder.

loonyhiker said...

JoNelle: Glad you enjoyed it. It sounds like your scarf turned out to be an adventure. :)