Saturday, March 05, 2005

a sense of taste and tutoring

One of the things that I have learned since getting involved in ed tech is how much somebody "who knows" understands implicitly. The pattern of thought and mode of problem solving requires doing many things that if they were made explicit would paralyze the process. The unknowing or novice person, of course, has to grapple with these and that is why moving from novice to master is an awkward and often ego deflating process.

If a knowing person focuses mostly or exclusively on their own knowing and learning, she will take for granted the implicit steps and see through those to the core issues of the particular situation. She may readily forget about her initial learning of the subject and any awkwardness she had to go through at the time. Reflection is insufficient in itself to conjure upt the mindset of the novice.

By interacting with others who are novices, however, the knowing person can "see" in the attitudes, questions, and disposition how the novice is learning, where the weakness is, and make suggestions for improvement. If this is done in a way that further deflates the ego of the novice, the suggestions can be hurtful and pernicious. If, however, the tone is sympathetic and the suggestions are well aimed then the novice can make progress and will develop respect for the knowing person, who has shown knowledge of the subject matter and more importantly demonstrated perception on how the novice can penetrate the material.

Even well intended knowing people can err in this role as tutor by giving suggestions that are perceived as opaque or by unintentionally making the novice uncomfortable about his state of mind. The situation is fragile, especially early on before a bond is built and trust established.

Master teachers understand these issues implicitly. Knowing people who are novice teachers likely will not have this implicit knowledge about being a good tutor. One reason why our students don't like to work in groups, especially early on in their studies, is because they don't possess this knowledge. Experiential learning in this case is painful, but it is necessary.

Learning to teach just as with learning to write gives insight into the way others think and come to understand. In the process, it also gives an appreciation of how we ourselves learn and may be the best way to "learn to learn." Thus, allowing our students to teach is one of the best things we can do for them to promote their own "lifelong learning."

The unmistakenable conclusion is that students should teach other students and that we as an institution should promote that. Of course it happens already, from the study group to the greek system where upperclassmen assist the first year students with their studies. But does it happen enough? Is there more that can be done? And what is the role of the faculty in this? Are the faculty integral to the process or does this happen without their involvement?

My view is that the faculty are key. That will be the subject of the next post.

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