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It’s All About the Learning, Not the Teaching

I just completed four riveting days of teaching for Torah Umesorah at their summer teacher training program in Brooklyn, NY.  My classes focused on a number of important pedagogic topics, such as brain-based learning (how the brain functions and retains information), cooperative learning, multiple intelligences, and strategies for student success.

Throughout the week, I continued to remind session participants that it’s not what we teach, but what our students learn that truly matters. We can think that we taught something, but if our students don’t understand or retain it, then we haven’t done our jobs.

The implications for teachers are many. First, we need to adjust our mindset from the need to “cover (curricular) ground” to progressing at a pace that supports student learning. We must be cognizant of the time that it takes students to absorb information and respond to questions, and provide ample time for our students to process and record. We also need to remember that we have different types of learners in our classrooms – 20 students means that we have twenty different learning profiles and personalities to engage. This affects the way that we prepare our lessons (considering various modalities and approaches for each lesson) and also how we teach them.

Other implications include the need to engage students in a manner that promotes active learning. Our brains do best when they are actively engaged in lessons and are expected to participate regularly. We also need to check routinely for understanding, to make sure that our students are getting what we’re sharing. Quick checks, such as thumbs up or down or a finger display to signal a numeric response to a multiple choice question work great in terms of getting instant feedback on what students are getting.

Another great technique is the One Minute Paper. The OMP is something that a teacher can use at the end of each class to gain additional feedback about student learning. Typically, two items are requested. One: Ask them to list the most important (or three most important) ideas that they learned in class. Two: Ask them to identify questions or ambiguities that they still have about the lesson that require clarification. The teacher collects that information before dismissal and reviews it that evening so that she can address any concerns the students may have first thing (or soon thereafter) the following day. It also provides the teacher with great feedback about what the students are processing and what they are identifying as most important.

When teachers and school administrators keep their collective focus on student learning and needs above all other considerations, then our students benefit so much much more than when we prioritize differently.

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