What does it mean to learn? For me, learning is the trajectory between not knowing and arriving at new understanding. What, then, does it mean to teach? Teachers have long been grappling with this question and exploring the best way to define this through the study of pedagogy. Pedagogy is the method one engages to facilitate learning. It makes the difference between those who know a lot of information (content knowledge) and those who know how to skillfully craft learning experiences that will facilitate the acquisition or construction of information. Thus, to teach means to employ pedagogy.
So beyond big words, what does good teaching look like? This is something that I consistently reflect on to see how much I’ve grown and developed as an educator. Seven years ago, as a new teacher, my enthusiasm around teaching revolved around how much knowledge I could share with my students. This was usually demonstrated by how much I spoke. Since then, my vision of teaching and practice of pedagogy has drastically shifted in that now I believe a good day of teaching takes place when my students do much of the talking and we all engage in the learning. Effective teaching, though ultimately reflective of student learning, is the intentional construction of experiences that invite curiosity and nurture the construction of new understandings. In other words, good teaching nurtures the conditions necessary for learning to occur rather than the teacher saying a lot of “stuff”.
As a math teacher, I get excited when learning opportunities arise that provokes dissonance and ignites curiosity. The careful blend of the familiar and not yet known motivates students to embrace challenges that have a low threshold but a high ceiling. Students are engaged in a real life problem that causes them to arrive at many stumbling blocks of previous understandings and must harness perseverance in order to proceed forward in constructing understanding. In such cases, I often encourage my students to “embrace the struggle” as the the inverse reaction to dissonance is learning. This way, students become motivated learners not because of a sticker or a final grade, but simply for the joy of learning. Bottle up this experience and you get good teaching – the intentionally crafted growth-opportunities nurtured by teachers. These experience don’t happen when teachers do all the talking, these things happen when teachers allow students to experience their own journey between what is known to that which is understood. This is what it means to learn.