Youth is wasted on the young. – George Bernard Shaw
I’ve been thinking about teaching quite a lot the last few days. It’s not because I want to be a teacher – I’m not sure I have what it takes to do that – but because I’m always interested in how to learn better. And it’s well known that the best way to learn anything is to teach it.
Teaching has come a long way since I was a child. In those days it came down to textbooks and chalkboards, taking notes and memorising stuff. I found school hard and didn’t really understand much. The first breakthrough I had was when someone taught me how to use flashcards and I realised I could write down everything in a text book, memorise it all, and do well on the test. This worked for all the important years in school and I left school with decent marks and very little real learning.
That pattern continued into university, where I learned how to capture information and memorise what I needed for the exams, again ending with a First and no useful knowledge.
Any real, useful learning has been messing around with computers, doing hands on work fixing things and trying to solve problems on the job. That makes you think, figure things out, go look for answers. You find information because it’s useful, because there is a point to doing so. You do it because when you know what you need to know you can make a difference, actually make something happen.
Teaching has come a long way since then and I think teachers, some of them anyway, try and help you get an education. And we can see some of this in action. For example, I recently came across the work of Jay Hall. You should have a look at his YouTube channel and two minute videos. They will blow you away. Jay mentions that his mother was an art teacher and perhaps that’s why his lessons are works of art in themselves – models of what you could do if you put some thought and effort into what you did.
One of the things about Jay’s work is that his material is designed to actually teach others, so it’s simple, clear and concise. I’ve been wondering for a while about the value of sketchnotes – especially ones that look great but hard to read.
There’s something here that I need to understand and articulate and a number of the words that matter seem to start with a “P”. Performance, product, process, practice. What are you trying to do when you work on something – is it to show off how good you are? Is it to create something that you can give someone else? Or is it a process you work through, or perhaps it’s a practice to make you better every day.
I think that if we really want to get better at what we do every day, we need to stop looking around the corporate world for models and start looking more into what happens in schools. Teachers have to engage and persuade a very tough audience. I worked out that I can hold my seven year old’s attention for around 15 to 20 seconds and that’s the time I have to get him hooked. We spend too long saying too little, while still expecting people to get it. If you want to communicate better, perhaps watch the way teachers do it, the way Jay does it on his channel. Because he makes it look easy and that should tell you a little bit about just how hard it is to do that well.