Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Golf Lesson: The Teacher Becomes the Student

Although I haven't blogged in awhile, it is now time for summer and time for reflecting on what I might do differently for the coming year.  It isn't that I'm not reflective during the school year, but time only allows my reflections to be scratched notes on the sides of papers - vague, barely legible scribbles that often say things like "that didn't work well" or "took too long".  So, this blog entry (and a few others over the summer) will be my way to formally record my teaching reflections and perhaps, if you are a teacher, it may spark your own reflections as well.

Early this summer I had a 1-hour golf lesson with Mark Csencsits from Lehigh Valley Golf Pro.  Initially I was nervous, because I hadn't hit a golf ball in a while.  My old hitting style was more missing the ball than hitting it.  I was lucky to drive the ball 100 yards. So, my goal for the lesson was to get better at driving the ball.  As I was learning how to move my feet and shift my weight for optimum hitting distance, in the back of my mind I was also thinking about how I could use some of Mark's teaching techniques in my own teaching.

1. Find out what motivates my students.  At the beginning of the year, many of my students are probably nervous.  Anything new and unexpected can make us nervous.  Before my lesson, Mark asked some questions about golf, but also asked about my other interests.  When asked about why I like to read in the summer, I said that it is relaxing and enjoyable.  This short conversation about my interests immediately made me less nervous, and that meant I was able to focus more of my energies on learning new golf skills later.  Do I take the time that is needed to know what motivates my students?  When they come in for help, what do I do to make them feel less stressed or nervous?  
Rather than using the passing time between classes to get one last item done on my checklist this year, I am going to use that time to talk to students, to find out what motivates them outside of my classroom.
2. Letting students know that mistakes are a part of learning.  During my golf lesson, Mark quickly picked up on the fact that I am a perfectionist. (Although this is a short blog, it will likely take me 2 hours or more to write and revise.)   I have a sign in my room that says "Asking thoughtful questions is a primary way to open your mind to learning."  But perhaps it should be modified to say, "Asking thoughtful questions and making mistakes are a integral part of learning." I need to find ways to have students understand that making mistakes is ok.  For many of my honors level kids, they have rarely experienced this before; they approach learning from a fixed mindset instead of a growth mindset.  
Perhaps a few statements in the survey at the beginning of the year can let me know which students will have problems with seeing mistakes as part of the learning process.  Then, I can work specifically with helping those students see that it is ok to make mistakes as you learn.

3. Switch things up when something is not working. My golf lesson was short, 1 hour.  Mark had to try several analogies and different tools to find one that worked to help me to understand how to shift the weight on my feet. (Reminder to self: pivot both feet toward the green and at impact have 90% of weight in the front leg.) I know what works best with students, but do I switch out my tools when I need to?  Do I quickly recognize when one technique is not working with an individual student and move on to another?

4. Writing to Learn Near the end of my golf lesson I was given a clipboard and pen.  The top of the page said "Student Notes".  In order to get the video of my lesson, I had to send Mark a recap or review of what I learned IN MY OWN WORDS. (Those last 4 words were typed that way on my student note page.)  Just like writing my ideas in this blog, putting pen to paper helped me to review the key ideas and made them more memorable.  Does it take time to write to learn? (I am now on hour 3 of my blog.)  Can it be a valuable part of the learning process when done correctly? (Umm...My bias is showing here.)  So, why don't I have students write more as part of learning?  Time and Time. It takes time to write and it takes time to read what students wrote.  Does that mean I abandon the concept of writing to learn?  No, but I need to find more ways to incorporate writing into what I already do.

Some Final Thoughts.  First, if you haven't been a student in a while, you should. I am not talking about being a student in an education grad class, but being in a totally new element. Experience the growth mindset (and occasional frustration) that comes with learning something new.  It will give you more empathy for your students.  Second, when you are in that learning situation, think about teaching. Are there good things the teacher did that you could be doing? Are there bad things the teacher did that made the instruction less effective? Finally, be sure to share what you have learned with others. I learned much from the golf lesson and by the way, I can now consistently drive about 175 yards!