2. Planting seeds

Good teachers make good learners

This is part 2 of a multi-part series in which I outline a framework for teaching code. The full table of contents can be found here

Any teacher has limited time with a learner. In a tutoring situation, a teacher might spend an hour a week with a learner. In a once-off workshop situation, a teacher might spend a day or two with a learner and then never see them again. In a traditional school, teachers interact with students over the course of years, and then stop.

A teacher has direct access to a learner for a narrow slice of time. The rest of the time, the learner is on their own.

How does a teacher set a student up so that they are likely to make good use of the remaining time?

How can a teacher set a learner up so that they continue to learn and grow on their own?

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." - William Butler Yeats

If a teacher has an interaction with a learner, this can be a class, a workshop, a tutoring session, whatever, then that teacher should aim to plant some seeds. They should aim to make sure that the learner leaves the interaction in a state that sets them up to keep on learning on their own.

Practically speaking, how does one do that?

Like all great questions, the answer is "it depends..."

It depends a lot on the subject matter, the learner, the teacher, and a great many other things. But there are a few common threads worth paying attention to.

A learner should leave an interaction with ______

If a learner leaves a session or interaction in a particular state, then they will be more likely to make progress than not. Here are a few things to aim for:

1. Enthusiasm and curiosity

The learner should feel that it is worth learning the thing. They should leave feeling a sense of excitement, hunger and curiosity for the subject matter.

2. Confidence

The learner should believe that they are capable of learning the thing. They should believe that if they make an effort, they will be likely to succeed. They should be able to associate effort with results.

3. Clarity of next steps

The learner should be set up with some useful next steps. They should have specific steps on how to move forward. The teacher could tell the learner how to practice a skill, set them up with homework, or many other things.

4. Well-chosen next steps

Eagerness and curiosity is fantastic, but it's important to be pragmatic. A lot of people try to run before they have learned how to crawl.

The teacher should set up the next steps so that they are at the right level of difficulty for the learner, and take the learner in the right direction.

5. Metacognition skills

This is a big one. Learning itself is a skill. It is made up of a number of component skills and mindsets. If the teacher's goal is to set people up to learn in their own time, then it is important that the learner understands how to do that effectively.

Learners should work smart. Effort should lead to results. There are many anti-patterns and myths that can leave learners wheel-spinning instead of moving forward.

A good teacher aims to make a good learner.

Some skills and mindsets that come into play here are:

  • how and why to self-assess
  • how to apply spaced repetition
  • awareness of illusions of competence and how to address those illusions
  • the difference between understanding and memorization

And a lot more.

Overarching mindset

There is a time and a place for a teacher to answer questions, transfer knowledge, and solve problems, but the best teachers are the ones who explicitly try not to teach but rather set learners up to teach themselves.

Teaching is not the filling of a pail. You do not teach at people.

Teaching is the planting of seeds, and the nurturing of seedlings.

The teacher's goal should not be to teach but rather to get a learner to learn.

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