A lament was recently posted on Twitter by a teacher I have long admired. He had been dealing with a student complaint, “Why don’t you just tell us?” The student had become quite vocal. Fortunately, he has enough support, experience, and confidence to know that easy learning is often useless. But I wonder if other teachers need to know this is a common experience. For years, I thought I was the only one who had to defend using brain science to teach in ways that students would be able to apply and retain. When the push-back escalates, relationships can sour; and the whole experience becomes demoralizing. Depending upon the students, learning with depth and retention can be a hard sell, but I can usually convince a class with a few exercises or demonstrations.
Students often come from backgrounds where they have been lectured in “sit-n-git” settings where they can zone out, hide what they don’t know, and the teacher figures out how to hammer in the basic surface ideas in games and repetition (“What are you going to do when they don’t get it?.”) If that is the norm in your context, then it will be tougher to convince the students that you are working with their best interest in mind. If the push-back gets too loud, administrators may assume that the more “straight-forward” teachers are their best and the teacher with the most complaints is the worst. Principles to Actions aside, a decision needs to be made: DOK or give them a grade (for completion?)
Administrators usually have families to feed, and keeping parents happy typically means job security. In some districts, the answer is to give the students grades that will make them all happy. But I don’t think I could work in a district like that. I believe a better option is parent education. When parents understand that the college success rates are very low in our country, much of which can be attributed to math classes, it might be possible to bring them on board with effort-based learning.
If you are one of those teachers experiencing push-back from trying to raise the Depth of Knowledge (DOK), here are a couple of quick videos that I think explain a lot:
- Students often think they are learning when they are not: LINK
- Students often think they already know what you’re explaining: LINK
- Students often think they can multitask LINK
I want to encourage you that you are not alone. Find a group that will support you, if not in your workplace, find them on Twitter. Teaching in a way that leads to deeper thought is teaching students how to learn. College success rates for students who do not know how to learn is very low. The truth is, parents and students often don’t know what they don’t know and it is our job to educate them.