Teaching children—whether as a professional educator or as a parent—is the delicate, challenging business of shepherding youngsters through experiences they don’t know much about, that they don’t know how to accomplish and that they may not know how to fit into their lives, nor that they may desire to learn.
Herding and having are effective management techniques for a teacher in charge of 30 pupils. But to effectively teach, teachers must know how and and be given the freedom to GLIDE: guide, lead, inspire, demonstrate and encourage…but not necessarily in that order…
Critical lessons are not likely to be learned by having children memorize stuff to which they have no personal connection. Little can come from assigning them to read and discuss a personally uninteresting text selected by someone else or to solve problems focused on what to them may be obscure.
Rather, demonstrating a skill, strategy or concept is a critical first step in helping children learn. Let me be clear. It’s not enough to assign children to learn something; they must choose to learn it. And they usually make that choice when demonstrations make clear the personal power that comes with acquiring a new skill or knowledge.
After demonstration, teachers and parents must provide a safe environment for youngsters to try new capabilities for themselves. They must be allowed to try and fail and try again, which takes time and patience mixed with a lot of encouragement.
Now let’s carry this forward to literacy. If in literacy we are only working on teaching letter sounds, new vocabulary or making inferences, we risk missing the full scope of reading and writing. If we are only teaching to get children on grade-level by 3rd grade or ready for college, they rarely will develop fully into eager, independent, lifelong learners—the ultimate goal of all education.
To accomplish this goal, teachers must:
- Always carefully demonstrate the personal value of learning important skills and concepts
- Thoughtfully lead children to engage personally with the ideas and thought processes that form the foundation of the new learning
- Gently guide both talented kids and strugglers (sometimes the same child in different subject areas or lessons) from where they are to further down the path to independent research and learning
- Enthusiastically inspire and encourage ongoing self-directed learning in each child.
Teaching is so much more than having and herding. Indeed, the process is creative and difficult, but if done right, you will GLIDE into an immensely rewarding experience.