If you want to be a good teacher or a good learner, come sit on my living room carpet for awhile.
Sit with my boys and I, and do a jigsaw puzzle. I guarantee it will teach you more about learning than any lecture, any textbook, and possibly any degree.
A jigsaw puzzle distills teaching and learning to its very essence.
As kids learn, they need the appropriate levels of assistance. If you help too much, you're taking the learning away from them. If you don't help enough, kids may grow bored or frustrated (the ol' "flight or fight" thing). It takes skill and a careful eye to determine the appropriate level of scaffolding.
Today, as Owen worked on the fifty-piece dinosaur puzzle, I could see his brow furrow. His jaw set in frustration. He threw a piece over his shoulder and yelled, "This puzzle doesn't work!"
I gave him a minute, and then subtly found the pieces that made the Tyrannosaurus Rex. "Hey, buddy, why don't you work on these pieces?" He pieced the T-Rex together, and smiled with pride.
We did this again and again until the puzzle was complete.
Two-year-old Joel worked on the puzzle at the same time as his big brother. While Owen was at a point that he could piece scenes together, Joel was not yet there. I differentiated my teaching to fit his learning needs.
I found a few pieces that linked together, and sat next to Joel, as he experimented with the shapes and dimensions. Because I held my tongue and my hands, he surprised me by linking all three pieces together without any help at all.
After the puzzle was complete, Owen and I talked about our thinking process. We unpacked our thinking, and determined a few strategies that helped us be successful:
1) We figured out that straight-edges go on the outside edges.
2) We looked for like colors and patterns.
3) We did little bits when the big bits seemed like too much.
4) We asked for help when we needed it.
As Owen and I talked, I stated, "See how you can do hard things?" and "I like how you worked to meet your goals." I was trying to develop his sense of self-efficacy. Things in life aren't always going to be easy; having strategies when things get tough can be the difference between confidence and defeat.
Know when to Fold 'Em
As the boys looked at the puzzle with pride, Owen said, "Let's do it again!"
We tore it down, and two pieces in, Owen turned to me and said, "I want to play dump trucks."
And we did just that.
Thanks for tolerating my know-it-all post today. Lest you be too impressed or annoyed with me, let me also share that I flipped out over rice cake dust on my coffee table. I am no Jaime Escalate.