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NCLB Outrages

Teachable moments

Comments from Annie: Simply stated, the following opportunity is exactly what has been erased from the classroom experience. There is no time left in a NCLB classroom to explore the glory and adventure of learning for the sheer delight of learning.

The advice might be helpful to the rare parents who might read such a website, (although I bet that the parent who finds such a website doesn’t even need this advice,) but it is clearly useless for a teacher who has an armload of tests to administer and the fear of her students’ performance to guide her/him through the required standardized curriculum.

by Al Haskvitz

Nothing can create instant interest more than something on the news that can be related to a student's life. Weather, elections, civil disobedience, holidays, sports events, and world record attempts all fall into the teachable moment category and can all be used to make some life long learning opportunities.

Teachable moments are also stellar learning events because they open the arena of what if questions that go far beyond mere repeating of facts and into decision making and critical thinking practice as well as stretching the student's imagination.

One cavet and that is the fact that teachable moments are not always about current events. They should be about anything that catches the pupil's fancy. This requires the use of the Socratic teaching method which is based on questioning. The teacher asks the student a series of questions trying to draw out their opinions and fleshing out the discussion with facts and assumptions that can easily result in deeper thinking and understanding of an issue. For certain learners it is the best way to get involvement and for all students it can easily result in a greater understanding of an issue.

To parents teachable moments are the most overlooked opportunities of any type of learning. This is caused the three main elements. First, the parent is in a hurry. Secondly, the parent does not feel they have the intellectual background to pursue the discussion. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the parent does not know how to turn a question into a teachable moment. For example, in a supermarket every box, vegetable, package, and price is a teachable moment.

Elements of geography, architecture, agriculture, math, social studies, and economics are everywhere.

So a parent must look for these moments to nurture interest. Giving a child a video game or a book to read on a trip may silence them, but they are missing real learning opportunities. Questions for discussion range from the size of the car, length of the journey, direction, gas mileage, and even what the numbers of the radio dial mean. A parking meter, the colors of a curb, fire hydrants, and even the shadows cast by the sun cannot be overlooked as a child develops awareness.

Unfortunately, the more aware a child becomes of his or her surroundings the more time it takes for a parent to go about a task. A quick trip to return a sweater can take significantly more time as a more fully aware child peppers a parent with questions.

It must be noted here that asking questions is not learning. Some children love the attention that a question provides them, but the actual answer is ancillary to their purpose. So a teachable moment needs to be attached to a thinking question.

If an aware child asks a question about the fact that the sweater is made of wool and the parents simple states it comes from sheep the reply is meaningless without follow-up. It is like a game show where an answer may win the contest but has nothing to do with knowledge. It is merely an extension of the player's ability to retrain facts. When the parent explains what wool is it should be accompanied by a comparison to other products such as nylon and cotton so that there is recognition that different materials have different uses and values.

This results in a child who is able to see relationships and evaluates data. This last element is one of the highest academic skills a child can develop.

One thing for certain, teachable moments cannot be planned or planned for. They happen randomly and thus do not appeal to those who are locked into a tight schedule or routine. However, it can be redirected. A child may not be ready to understand the various types of sheep that produce wool or the difference between the types of wool that are produced. But, their question can be redirected into one about what society gets from domesticated animals or even the differences between wool and human hair. Areas that they could understand and make connections with easily.

A parent or teacher who cares about maximizing teachable moments might consider having the student keep a card file titled,
"What I learned Today". "At the end of each day a child thinks about what happened during the day and writes or tells the parent what was learned. This file quickly builds and, if done with alphabetical separators, can be a great way to make links from previous learnings.
Since no parent or teacher can have complete mastery of every subject it is also of great value to tell that to the child.

However, instead of letting that moment pass the parent or teacher should show the child that when something is not known they need to research the information. This serves as a model to the child and teaches them that just saying I don't know is not an answer, but a teachable moment for all concerned.

(The author's links are available on the website.)

— Al Haskvitz
Education News


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