Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Today, I was helping my eight-year-old sister, Alice, with her homework and realized just why I want to be a teacher: I want to teach children my way. I don't doubt that my sister's teacher is good at what she does, but I can see that her way won't be my way of teaching. I disagree with the lack of precision and guidance given by some teacher. I've noticed this in my sister's homework and in the work given to some of my tutees. Allow me to explain where this reflection comes from. Most children in grade school write a dictation every week and are given vocabulary words to study beforehand. My criticism falls on the way these lists of words are give: no theme or rule linking them and no explanation given as to the meaning. Words seem to be given at random and children are expected to know the meaning or ask their parents. The problem is, how many children are voluntarily going to ask the meaning of a word unless told to do so? Not many. It's typical with children and, frankly, with adults too, unless they are very serious, thorough learner, to skip over the things they aren't specifically asked to do.
"Are there any word you did't understand?"
"What does claim mean?"
I realize that there are exceptions to this rule and there are people who will ask and double check; but these are exceptional learners.
Just like it's not of much use asking most students open ended questions (i.e. "did you understand?" instead of "explain to me what you understood"), it's not much use giving them open ended instructions either. For example, my sister was giving the instructions to "search in the dictionary". Search what in the dictionary? "Oh just practice searching in it", says Alice. Now tell me, what kind of eight-year-old would thoroughly execute that type of exercise? After much arguing ("But that's not what we're supposed to do!"), I got her to search the words on her vocabulary list with me, explaining that she was killing two birds with one stone. She ended up enjoying the exercise and I was relieved that, for once, she would know the meaning of every vocabulary word for the test.
I suppose my purpose is not to criticize other teachers or the system, but rather figure out for myself how I want to teach. I want to be the one giving children the extra push towards learning how to learn because not everybody's family is evolved; some parents are too busy, others don't know the language and others still, it's sad to say, simply don't care.

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