HOW instead of WHAT

9 Sep

Why do we so often emphasize the frames or structure over deep understanding? Knowing what something is only takes you so far. Isn’t knowing how something works or how it is connected much more valuable than just knowing it exists? And the very same principle applies to teaching: understanding how to help your students learn makes a real difference for both the effectiveness of learning and for classroom management, too.

Patricia Buoncristiani discusses this in beautiful details, and reminds us about the importance of improving teacher education:

She says how effective teachers employ good strategies:

“Above all this, these teachers know how to engage their kids in activities that grab their intellects, their senses and their emotions.

They also know that if they can effectively teach their students how to think skillfully, they will be able to approach everything that goes on in the classroom from an intelligent, thoughtful point of view. By teaching the behaviors that characterize thoughtful, successful people their students will know how to listen with empathy, to manage their impulsivity, to think and work interdependently.

Where do our teachers learn all this? In my experience teacher education programs today offer very little explicit teaching about the HOW of teaching. They focus on the WHAT.

And I cannot but wholeheartedly agree. Knowing how to create an optimal learning environment in your classroom makes a huge difference. How could we help more teachers achieve this (while waiting for the teacher education to be improved)?

7 Responses to “HOW instead of WHAT”

  1. Raunak September 9, 2012 at 10:47 am #

    Nina, so very true! I just spent a month assisting in a village school that practices this approach. At first it was strange to me because I had grown up studying in strict christian schools where it was all about “what”. the process of teaching children by letting them explore and discover nature themselves was a refreshing experience.
    In my country there is a need to spread awareness regarding these methodologies. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful post!

  2. Nina September 9, 2012 at 11:00 am #

    The funny part is that this “methodology” is ancient old: learning always starts from wondering. Sadly, teaching is often just ensuring compliance with superficial standards. Thank you for helping to spread the idea of learning and teaching being two different phenomena.

  3. Raunak September 9, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    and here are some images from that school:

    the happiness that the children felt from the freedom they get to learn and explore is quite evident in these images.

  4. Gary Smith September 9, 2012 at 11:40 pm #

    I don’t disagree but some sort of judgement is needed too. Do you really need every HS graduate to know the workings of an internal combustion engine? Probably not–in 1930 you need 6th graders to know that. Now as an engineer I am interested in that as well as two dozen other kinds of engines. I made my daughters learn how to change a tire–now cell phones are so pervasive I doubt that this is needed. Now of course those who plan on being mechanics or race car drivers need to know this.

    I do thing all HS graduates should be able to figure out gas mileage, balance a checkbook, read a contract, fill out their own income tax. But, I would settle for them to have a passion to read.

    Hugs Gary


    • Nina September 10, 2012 at 11:53 am #

      Judgement is necessary, indeed, and knowing where to find the information. What scares me sometimes is when students are taught just answers but no questions. It makes learning very hard for them! 🙂

  5. Anne Egros, Global Executive Coach October 2, 2012 at 4:58 am #

    Nina, you are so right ! Knowing how to find the information in the age of internet is much more important than remembering what are the names of all the US presidents for example.

    Students need to be able to have critical thinking and apply good judgement so there are basic laws in every disciplines that need to be learned from biochemistry to astrophysics or the books of the ancient philosophers. That is why we need experts with good know-how (good practical knowledge) as opposed to “know-what” (facts), “

  6. Nina October 2, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

    Thank you, Anne! Being able to understand connections and concepts is more useful in today’s world – not to mention the world our students will face when they are grown up.

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