The Reflective Educator

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Lessons Learned While NOT Teaching

At the keynote talk on Friday at the BCAMT conference, Dr. Peter Liljedahl shared three very interesting pieces of his research from the past ten years as an observer of classroom practice, in his lecture entitled "Lessons Learned while NOT Teaching."

  1. Given a choice between a sitting at a desk working on paper, sitting at a desk working on a whiteboard, standing up working on a flipchart, or standing up working on a whiteboard, how would you expect students to learn best?

    According to Dr. Liljedahl, students learn best while working on a non-permanent surface, while standing. He suggested that this because the non-permanence of the surface makes mistake-making easier to cope with, and that by standing up, they are on-the-stage, and so can’t hide their thinking.

    How many of our classrooms are set-up to encourage this type of learning environment?

  2. According to Dr. Liljedahl, note-taking is an activity which takes very little mental energy (from most students). Hence, if our objective is to get students to think more, we should rethink how we share notes. He recommends sharing the notes for your class after the class, and not having expectations that students will take notes from your class. Interestingly enough, this is a practice that many university professors are now moving toward as well, and it is standard practice at meetings to have minutes to share afterward. In other words, note-taking is a less useful skill today, than it might have been 20 years ago, and so it is less important that students learn the skill of taking notes. Note that I think that making notes on a topic is a different activity, and is still useful.

    Is taking notes still a useful activity?

  3. Similarly, the types of questions we answer for students has an impact on their thinking as well. From Dr. Liljedahl’s experience, students tend to ask one of three types of questions: proximity questions (which are questions asked because you are near them), stop-thinking questions (such as: "Is this right?"), and start-thinking questions (such as: "What would happen if…?"). His recommendation is to stop answering the first two types of questions. The result is that students have to spend a bit more time thinking, and that peer to peer interactions become more important.

    Does this change how we ask questions?