How Can We Teach Schoolkids To Do Things Right, Anyway?

One of the most important lessons I have learned, is to teach people a lesson when you see that they don’t know something. The truth is, we do know a lot of things, and we can teach them the wrong things because of our own blind spots.

If you find yourself thinking, “There should be one right way to do this, and that is all there is!”, consider this: When you’re teaching someone that something is wrong and you see that they don’t know something, the best lesson to take away is “Yeah, yeah, I know. That’s not right”. And don’t try anything like that in front of the younger kids.

But if you decide that you are going to get a group of kids who are going to learn to write without any kind of lesson on how to do it right, I’ve got some suggestions which might be helpful. The first one is, you really need to think before you write. Here’s the problem with this: the younger people will write things with this in mind, but as they come to write the actual work, their brains are going to think about it differently. When you think about it before they start, your students will probably feel, “Wait, there is something wrong with it? Can we really do that?” (And no, I’m not kidding.) So really, before you start writing, let them see that you feel the same way, and then when you are done, you can give them a bit of feedback when they do write, so that they realize that you’re not trying to teach how to write bad writing, you’re teaching the value of writing right. They can learn that when you do it wrong, you think about it, and that’s how you learn.

The second lesson is: Make sure you have as much information at your disposal as possible before you start teaching. Again, the younger folks will tend to use information you have at hand. You only need to get to know them enough to give them the information that they need to write, but they will usually do some reading of their own. So you don’t know what they are going to go through, so don’t give them as much as you think you need to, and keep it basic, simple, and to the point so that if their brain isn’t really ready for it, they aren’t going to learn from it.

(Okay, I lied. This has also been a topic of conversations in my classroom.)

The third lesson is to find something that each kid can do, that they really want to do, and let that drive the teacher towards a solution. We used this quite a bit when we first started teaching in our home, as kids would get frustrated because we didn’t know what to do with them, that the teacher wasn’t teaching the skills they were actually going to learn. When a kid would say “I want to do that”, this would then get the teacher thinking about what that student could do with the knowledge you had. For example, if you had a child who had a weakness for math, and the teacher was telling them about the quadratic formula and the theorem and all that, that could get the teacher thinking about ways that that student could solve a math problem. That kind of thinking is what is actually going to make the difference in how fast the student will learn.

So when you can tell from your students what they would like to do, then find a way to do it! The problem with asking them what they might want to do, is that usually the answer they give you will be something like “I was thinking of doing X, but Y would be really cool”.