Friday, December 9, 2011

My Favorite Quotes About Teaching – Number One

My Favorite Quotes About Teaching – Number One

(I’m writing this in the middle of a final exam. I figured I might as well do something useful while I sit here.)

I am a person who likes quotes. I have numerous books of famous quotations and I’m surprised by how often I read through them. They can be inspirational; they can make you think. In each book, there are always several quotes that I find touching or meaningful. Certain of those thoughts seem to have been lifted directly from my brain without me ever having formed them consciously. I am surprised by how often I find myself muttering “oh, yeah, that’s what I believe.”

There are a number of quotes about teaching that I really like. Over the years, they have come to mean something special to me as I try to do my job well each day. They have helped me better consider what I am attempting to do in this life as a teacher. Several days ago, I decided to write a blog entry about several of my favorite quotes on teaching. After some consideration, I decided that entry might well be far too long. I’m not trying to create Hamlet here. As a result, I decided to write short essays on each of my favorite teaching quotes. Please feel free in the “comments” below to add your own favorites.

As everyone who reads this blog must know by now, I teach using the Socratic Method. I love to structure my classes around questions, questions, questions, and more questions. In fact, my Financial Accounting textbook is written entirely in a Socratic Method style. I find that if I ask questions (in class and in the textbook) students are able to get away from trying to memorize and start to ask their own questions. Through the learning process, they come to the point where they know enough to pose really insightful questions. And, hopefully, they become curious enough about what we are doing so that they actually start to ask those questions and seek the answers themselves.

Knowledge plus curiosity equals questions. (Joe Hoyle’s formula for learning.)

Each semester, I know that my class is moving in the direction that I want when I walk in and hands all over the room are raised to ask questions. The questions that really impress me are those that take what we have covered in class or in the textbook and move forward. The students are taking the next step on their own: Where does this topic go from here? How can I use this information to solve some problem?

If the questions are basic and easily figured out, that is still okay because it is a step in the right direction. However, what I want is the question that begins “We covered this in our last class and I was wondering if we can use that same logic to ….”

So, here is my first favorite quote. About two months ago, my elder son sent me an email saying that he had read a quote in a blog about home schooling that he thought I would like. Sure enough, I loved the insight:

“The process of learning is asking sharper and sharper questions."

Notice that the word here is “learning” and not “teaching” which is, I think, the key to the quote.

We traditionally think about the learning process from the perspective of the teacher but this quote focuses the emphasis where it should be: on the learner. What do I want from my students? I want them to be so curious that they can and will ask sharper and sharper questions as they learn more about each topic. If they become genuinely curious about the topic, everything else kind of takes care of itself.

The quote here is not about the teacher; it is about the student. I ask questions in my classes to prime the pump. A questioning atmosphere leads students to start asking their own questions. When that happens, the learning process can quickly evolve from memorization to something quite wonderful.

Favorite Quote Number One: “The process of learning is asking sharper and sharper questions."

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