Teaching is listening and learning is talking

How profoundly true this statement is.

I was coordinating the entire class to follow through on a full-cycle modeling activities on a food security problem and we were at the point when we were trying to identify all the variables within the system. I was asking Hwee Han (one of my learners) some questions about what she had done on the board, while the rest of the class were busy working on their activities. During the end of that conversation, I told Hwee Han that the next step of our modeling activities will be to use the Connection Circle to work out the relationships among these variables.

“No!!! No!!! Not Connection Circle. I can’t do Connection Circle. I feel claustrophobia whenever I am asked to use it”, Hwee Han exclaimed painfully.

I could almost feel the deep pain within Hwee Han just by looking at her expression. Under normal circumstances, I would have pushed through the Connection Circle activity believing that once the learners go through it, they will appreciate why I have structured the activities that way.

However, as strange as it can be, at the back of my mind, this sentence flashes out “Teaching is listening and learning is talking”. This is a phase that I have used in my recently concluded micro-teaching for the professional development programme course that I took in NUS.

I told myself that I cannot ignore this sign that my learner is telling me because I do believe deeply about this sentence. And so, I stopped the class and hosted an open dialogue with them about the use of Connection Circle. I asked how many of them felt the same way as Hwee Han. To my surprise, a lot of them raised their hands. And so, I encouraged them to tell me why. Reasons similar to Hwee Han’s one emerged. Some of them commented that they felt that doing Connection Circle before Causal Loop diagram was a complete waste of time since the two tools seem to overlap in its purposes. And I can’t help but agreed in some ways.

After listening intently to their views, I shared with them my rationale why I have designed the activities that way. I told them that in all systems modeling, ensuring the rigour of our model is a very important exercise. I explained that if they would have followed my process (i.e. Using the connection circle before casual loop), they would have checked both the derived variables and relationships in their casual loop twice. This will ensure the production of a high quality casual loop diagram. I was hearten to hear from one of the students that he now saw my point of view. While it was an extremely interesting conversation about learning, I think the class was still largely unconvinced about my approach.

I decided then that I must follow my instinct and let them have a choice on what they want to do. And so, I told them that for the next activity, they can proceed to do what they deemed was most comfortable (i.e. To work on connection circle or casual loop). However, the underlying objective was that they must find ways to ensure that the diagrams were rigourously checked. All of them went straight to causal loop. Their learning activities had spoken. They went on to produce something of sufficient depth at the end. In some cases, they have produced something that I have never thought before. And so I have learned from them again.

This class is particularly insightful and memorable to me for two reasons: (1) It reminded me that I ought to ask probing question at different interval to my learners to find out their feelings about the learning activities that I am advocating in class. I need to listen to their answers intently and figure out a way to understand their experiences and also at the same time help them appreciate why I am asking them to do those activities; and (2) after I have gotten them to understand my rationale, I should let them decide how they want to learn and let their learning activity that they have chosen ‘speaks’ to me.

As a teacher, I have this innate tendency to want to ‘tell’ learners what to do. But this is not going to work if the learners do not believe that it is going to help them in their learning. What I really need to do, as often as I can, is to listen more to my learners and let their learnings do the talking.

Hence, the sentence “Teaching is listening and learning is talking”. What a wonderful phase spoken by Deborah Meier (founder of the modern small school movement).



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