On Teaching and Learning

March 26, 2009

By teaching, I think that I have cultivated a deeper awareness of learning. As I say at the end of my "kid's eye view of the classroom" professional development sessions for teachers, "Only when we know how we learn can we really know how to teach."

I see manifestations of this when I teach writing; I remember that I learned through imaginative, creative exercises, not a list of boring instructions. As a result, I try to apply the same principles--the importance of using creative exercises to teach a seemingly boring concept. One example of a typical type of persuasive test prompt is "During independent working time, your English teacher frequently plays soft, calming music which you would like to change. Write to convince your English teacher to play the kind of music you prefer as background for independent working time." Some argue that a "realistic" prompt is good practice for kids to use persuasive writing for something practical. But my argument is that, if you want to get kids excited about something like persuasive writing, you should not be focusing so much on practicality but rather on creativity. So when I'm teaching persuasive writing (and also how to speak to your audience's interests) I use prompts like "Aliens have decided to destroy Planet Earth. You have to persuade them to save your planet. P.S. They like chocolate, soccer, and sunny weather." This encourages kids to have a fun time, trying to think from the perspective of an alien, etc., so that they think less about how dumb persuasive writing is (not that it is!) and more about using persuasive writing techniques--and that will help them pass state tests.

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