Learning how we learn has been the focus of our new faculty seminar this term. This past week we shifted from thinking about how our students learn to thinking about how we as faculty learn in the somewhat ambiguous and ambivalent space of teaching ourselves to teach. Willingham’s 9th chapter of Why Don’t Students Like School? explores this space through integrating his previous principles and emphasizing the importance of practice.
Willingham’s 9th principle states that “teaching, like any complex cognitive skill, must be practiced to be improved.” This may seem obvious, and yet, although most faculty devote considerable time to their teaching, they may not make the connection between the practice of teaching as a discipline in itself related to yet distinct to their own areas of specialization.
We took some time to model practice at the beginning of our session by writing advice letters to new faculty based on Willingham’s advice for working with differences in learning speeds. Sharing these letters helped to reinforce our own awarenesses of our teaching strengths (and questions), and this led nicely into a boardwork discussion of the learning and teaching assessments in which we are currently engaged. With these examples of practice fresh in our minds, we took some time to read through the chapter opening, a review of the connections and processes between long-term and working memories to problem-solving.
In teaching, we draw on increased working memory for effective problem-solving, which is related to the amount of factual knowledge we are able to place in long-term memory and the automation of skills and complex relationships. When we expand our working memories to retain more information and greater organization of new information, we are able not only to demonstrate more expertise in our fields but also to teach more effectively through modeling, questioning, and careful contextualizing in the classroom.
To bring this principle into our current practice, we began to design logic models for individual pedagogical development over the next year. Each faculty member took time to envision their future teaching selves at their best, using this ideal as backward planning prompt for setting goals and designing activities and partnerships. As Willingham encourages faculty to develop teaching partners who give and receive formative critiques, we are modeling this in our seminar through sharing teaching challenges with our peers and providing feedback based on questions and experience across disciplines.