Monday, December 9, 2019

Read the f·&·%·&ing manual

Apparently if you phone for tech help, less of a thing now, but still, they had an acronym... RTFM.  Read the effing manual. 

Teachers have a similar one.  RTFI.  Gonna guess?  Read the effing instructions!!!!

Honestly, there are two elements at work here.  One is that the hardest thing for a teacher to do is to get the students to think.  I mean really think.  It is easy to bore them, and they sit and gaze out the window.  It's a little harder to get them to pay attention, so they take notes.  It is even harder to get them really engaged.  (I'm not talking about little kids here, they are constantly on, engaged and thinking unless you're REALLY EFFING UP!). So, moving back to what I was saying, it is harder to get them engaged, but the very hardest thing to do is to get them to think.  Really really think about something.  Deeply.

Daniel Kahneman wrote a book, Thinking Fast and Slow, in which he described (at aching horrifying length, he must have had the same editor who worked on Moby Dick, honestly, that book was sooooooo much longer than it needed to be) how there are basically two gears to human thinking, one is semi-automatic and based a lot of 'gut' first impressions, associations, assumptions and preconceived notions.  This is generally pretty effective and saves a ton of time and energy.  Anyone who's spent time with a child who will stare and stare and stare at anything new will realize how much of our day would be taken up by this if we didn't start generalizing knowledge.  Then there's really thinking hard and we are reluctant to do it.  Partially, he argues, cause it is so calorie dense in its requirements. which is an interesting take.  It's also work, plain and simple. 

If I ask you what 4 x 4 is, you can tell me, no problem.  16 x 16, most people will work that out, but sorta groan about it.  3579 x 42?  Almost no one wants to work that out in their head.  That's really thinking hard about something. 

See?  (I would be inclinded, based on experience with lots of different age groups and lots of different students, to argue with this binary description of thought, I think there is rather more nuance to it - see engagement as a different level - but this is not the place for that arguement).

Well, back to students and getting them to really think.  It is HARD to get them to think that thoroughly about something.  It can be done, don't get me wrong, but it is tough and usually requires a fair amount of either brutality (see university physics exams) or creativity - my preferred method.

This ties into getting them to read the instructions, and to learn from their mistakes.  If they don't take a moment to really think about what feedback they've gotten, and what the instructions are, they make mistakes, they screw up, the get lower marks, they burn up a lot of their time uselessly and a lot of the teacher's time too.  All to save a couple of minutes of thinking.

I'll tell you something else from years and years of teaching.  The students who read the feedback automatically, and then maybe even sometimes come up and ask about it?  Always the most successful.

Always.  Cause they're thinking.

Now read the effing instructions!!!! OMFG. (AKA; THINK!!!!)

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