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Written on Avoid this while teaching

Avoid this while teaching

Curse of knowledge

What is obvious to me, isn't always obvious for students. It's something called the curse of knowledge.

Individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand

When you have given the course for a couple of years you enter this 'habit'. You don't have you Shoshin (beginner's mind) anymore. It becomes harder and harder every class you teach to put yourself in the position of the student. You no longer remember the difficulties you had when just learning that new topic.

Having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would.

Words are dangerous

Words are very powerful. Whenever you teach something there are a couple of words you should definitely avoid.

“Just” makes me feel like an idiot. “Just” presumes I come from a specific background, studied certain courses in university, am fluent in certain technologies, and have read all the right books, articles, and resources. “Just” is a dangerous word.

Speaking Patterns

Recording yourself or watching footage of how you teach is one of the first things you should do when you start teaching something. I was forced to watch footage of me giving a lecture and couldn't watch until the end. It took me off guard to see that I'm very 'strict' when I'm speaking. It's completely different in how I talk with individual students or helping them with their work. In those situations, I'm way more personal and enthusiastic. Overall a more 'fun' teacher. It feels like when I'm speaking (lecturing) I need to deliver my story, straight to the point with no mistakes. That focus makes me a very different person which probably has an impact on the ambiance of the classroom.

Skip the fundamentals

Often more than not you should skip the fundamentals. Focus on students getting to a result and having 'success' experience. They should feel like they are progressing. Don't bombard them with all of the background knowledge, they will get there. Don't stay to long in the 'learning phase' Many people spend to much time in the learning phase, it's a balance of learning and making. Making is usually the best method to learn. Not every student learns in the same way. They should find out what works for them. I don't think you should force students to use one type of learning material, the study material should be diverse in formats. So not always the history of how a thing came to be but how to achieve something right now with the easiest to understand syntax.

Separate work from person

Separe the work from the person. A student is almost never 'bad' but the work is. It's just 'not there yet' or they didn't put in the effort. Whenever I give feedback I always try to give it on the product almost. But this is a very hard balancing act, because you can argue that as a teacher you are also in some part responsible for the process and guiding that. Soft to humans, hard to the product. Remember that giving negative feedback is on the product, not the effort that someone puts into it.

Don't try to be perfect

Always show your mistakes, especially when live coding. It shows that teachers make mistakes all the time and it gives students insight in your problem solving process. Encourage students to play around with code, break things and celebrate error messages while explaining how to fix them. Don't always pretend to be the expert.

Not building relationships

Going to college is not all about knowledge. It's about connections with people:It's about meeting new people. It's about having a drink on friday. It's about going out for dinner when your class ended in the evening. It's about working together towards a tight deadline. And you as as a teacher should also help with that relationship. Go have a chat with your student, go play a video game. Go have a drink after a lesson.

Being vague

Always ask your students to be descriptive of what they want to talk about. If you (as a teacher) schedule a feedback (or coaching) session, tell your students what you want to hear from them so they can prepare in advance.

Danny de Vries