the language of mastery versus the understanding of the student

I’ve been thinking about a point I raised in a couple of earlier posts a third meditation on being a teacher and vocabulary and determining the meanings of words  There, I started speculating about the difficulties an expert might have in teaching a beginner and how we, how I might get around those difficulties.

Some of the difficulties are relatively straightforward to see.  If I have been exploring a topic for an extended period time, mathematical or aikido related or indeed anything else, then how I view that topic changes over time.  The aspects of that topic  I’m interested in are not the same topics as a beginner might well be interested in.  Or indeed should be interested in. And the distance between me and the beginner will grow with time.

So.  What do I do about this growing distance.  And therein lies the rub.  Because however hard it is to see at this moment what to do about this distance, handling this distance will only grow greater with time.  After all, I’ll continue to explore and develop my own understanding, and each time I work with a new group of beginners, they’ll be starting at the beginning.

This is not a new question to me.  This is shoshin, beginner’s mind, and the question of how to develop the beginner’s mind.

So what I would like to do is to develop a strategy.  And this strategy will need to be linked to what I’m doing in a fourth meditation on being a teacher, part 2 in terms of redesigning and reconsidering the structure of the class I’ll be teaching again in the autumn.  And yeah, I like spending time contemplating an issue, but I’m not as good at actually coming up with the means by which I can start to tackle the issue.

Again, it’s easy to say that I’d like to develop a strategy.  But then we come to the crux of this whole discussion.  What is the thing I should do first.  And what is then the thing I would do second.  And third.  What are the steps I will take on the journey of a thousand miles.

This whole train of thought bears on what it means to be a teacher, as well.  I’ve come to realize that while part of being a teacher is the structuring of a set of material, a collection of facts and processes for the analysis of those facts, a significant part of being a teacher is charting a straight and narrow path for my students, missing some of the dead ends and cul de sacs that I encountered during my own journey.  Not all of them, of course, since lots of learning takes place in these dead ends and cul de sacs.

So here’s a first thing for the next time I teach, be it rolling in aikido or the construction of a proof in mathematics.  Break it down into small pieces.  Do this, then this, then this, piece by piece, step by step.

But that’s not enough.  For me, the pieces have context, but the students haven’t yet developed that context.  I understand where the pieces come from, why these pieces are important but other pieces, however obvious they might be, we don’t consider.  And this is something I need to explain.

I need to separate the useful bits of this context from the non-useful, misleading bits of this context.  And this is perhaps the more important thing to do.

Facts are cheap and this means that the nature of education is changing.  (But that’s a separate discussion.)  More than structuring the material itself, the facts relevant to the topic of the class, providing this context is where the teacher adds value for the student.


~ by Jim Anderson on 1 May 2016.

3 Responses to “the language of mastery versus the understanding of the student”

  1. […] think that I fallen afoul of one of the things I’ve written about in the language of mastery versus the understanding of the student, which is the difficulty inherent in explaining something that I’ve spent a lot of time […]

  2. […] I think might trace back to other things I’ve talked about, particularly the discussion in the language of mastery versus the understanding of the student about what happens when we as teachers think about things deeply but then don’t pay as much […]

  3. […] teacher, and this is a sense of reflection.  This gets back to the main point of discussion in the language of mastery versus the understanding of the student.  As we as teachers explore topics and subjects in greater and greater depth, we increase the […]

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