I’m in the middle of reading John Holt’s "How Children Learn" and almost hidden in one section of the book is a fabulous professional development activity for teachers.
"One day I took a sheet of printing in some Indian language, and tried to find the words that occurred most often on the page. It was amazingly difficult. At first the page looked like nothing but a jumble of strange shapes. Even when I was concentrating on one short, common word, it took a long time before I could recognize that word at sight and pick it out of the others. Often I would go right by it without noticing it." ~ John Holt, How Children Learn (1982), p136
I think that every teacher (or parent) who teaches children how to read should have this experience. In fact, if I could find a way to translate this experience into all of the other subject areas, I certainly would. The experience of feeling what it is like to be a complete novice learning something is incredibly valuable. We too often think that because we said something, our students will remember it, or will have learned it.
"We are so used to the feeling of knowing what we know, or think we know, that we forget what it is like to learn something new and strange. We tend to divide up the world of facts and ideas into two classes, things we know and things we don’t know, and assume that any particular fact moves instantly from "unknown" to "known." ~ John Holt, How Children Learn (1982), p136
I’ve embedded a children’s book (licenced under a Creative Commons license from a very interesting organization). I recommend taking the time to try and figure out what the story is, and what some of the words might mean. You can try this activity out alone, with a friend, or as a professional development activity with your staff. If you find a way to create a similar activity for science, math, or any other subject area, please let me know.
Try reading this book yourself so you get the experience of what it is to learn something challenging and new. I’ll try it as well, and let’s compare notes.