This post is reminiscent to me of Katherine Bomer's Essay, "With an Air of Expectancy" from The Teacher You Want to Be (Heinemann 2015). It's about much more than just expectation...it's about expectancy, knowing that something amazing is about to happen, and feeling excited about it. Christopher Emdin recently tweeted, "You cannot teach someone you do not believe in." Kim's post has this air of expectancy, and the wonder that happens when you find the awe in what you'll see.
How’d you do that? This is a question I find myself asking young learners more and more these days. How’d you do that? I ask, primarily because I have forgotten. I have forgotten how I do things, things that I need to teach others to do. How do I summarize a chapter, how do I form a big idea on a character, how do I decide what is important when I read or write, how do I make inferential decisions on the actions of a character? How do I do these things and many others that I need to teach my students to do, without really stepping backwards and showing them the HOW and rather just the HERE IT IS.
My mother in law is a great cook of Thanksgiving dinner and when I cooked my first one, I asked her that question, “How do you do it?” “I don’t really have any recipes,” she replied, “I just do it”. And that is what much of my teaching had been, just showing students the final thinking stage, “so my idea is….” without stopping to think, “How’d I do that?”
I do not think I am alone with this conundrum. Many adults have forgotten how we do things, how we think, we just do it. But our young learners are looking for that recipe, that How To, and it is this thinking part of my instruction that I have been delving deeper into. Recently I watched my youngest son reading a book with a pen in his hand. As I am always working to help young readers understand why readers write during reading, I asked him that question, “What are you doing with the pen while you read?” He explained to me that he underlines things he wants to remember, such as names, things that he finds interesting, and things he thinks are worth discussing (although he is in no book club with this book, just reading on his own.) Similarly, I find that the best thing to do when working with a student who does something amazing when reading or writing is to ask them, “How’d you do that?” And equally as important, “Why did you do it?” Having just learned it themselves, they are better able (and often very excited), to be teaching me the steps in their thinking before they forget the HOW themselves. Sort of like being able to hear Santa’s bell in The Polar Express, as we get older we cannot hear it anymore and we need a child to help us hear it again.
It is this “teaching to think”, in all subject areas and throughout the entire day, which teachers need to teach. And often it involves some deep thinking, relearning, and conversations with others about HOW we do it. It is not the final product that should be modeled and shown as an example of student expectations, but rather the process that we take to get there.
So next time you find yourself working with a young learner who says or does something remarkable, something you need to teach others to do, stop and ask them, “How’d you do that?” Perhaps it will help you remember what you may have forgotten and just how hard being a thinker and learner can be.