Friday, January 23, 2009

Be careful of assumptions

I recently read Peter Johnston’s book Choice Words. In it he quotes Margaret Donaldson from her book Children’s Minds, “the better you know something, the more risk there is of behaving egocentrically in relation to your knowledge. Thus, the greater the gap between teacher and learner, the harder teaching becomes.” I took notice of this because I had recently had a conversation with a group of teachers about this very topic. Over the years, we become very close to our teaching. We come to know and understand what we do really well because we’ve been doing a lot of years. This knowledge, for all intents and purposes, is an asset. However, we do sometimes begin to make assumptions about what children should know. I think this is the gap that Margaret Donaldson is talking about and it definitely does make teaching harder.

Today I was in a third grade reading workshop classroom having a conference with a boy reading a Pokemon book. I made the assumption that he probably knew a lot about Pokemon from watching the television show and figured I would support his comprehension by activating prior knowledge. Mistake one. He really knew very little about Pokemon and according to him, had caught only the end of a couple Diamond and Pearl episodes. Then I launched into my next assumption. He had some other reason for choosing this book and had thought about what to expect based on the title, cover illustration, and back cover. Mistake two. He had looked at the front cover and had some thoughts about what the book might be about but he hadn’t read the back cover. In fact, he was thinking he’d do that when he finished the book because after all, that is the very last page. Wow. That surprised me. I know that a lot of kids don’t read the back cover of books but it never occurred to me that a child would reason it would only make sense to do that at the end of the book because it is the very last page. This was the wake up call I needed to remind me to stop making assumptions. In order to be the most effective teachers we can be, we need to step into the shoes of the children that we teach .

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