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When a pupil doesn't understand

“No, I didn’t get that,” replies the pupil.

Or should it be the teacher? When a pupil doesn’t understand something – we need to step back and assess our own reaction. “Why doesn’t he get it?” we may scream internally – it’s so obvious! Well, what are we saying? That “we don’t get why he doesn’t get it.” So let’s put us in the same frame – we both may learn something.

In a classroom situation, when she doesn’t get something the pupil may not enunciate the thought, as she may not want to seem stupid in front of the peer group or the teacher. And it doesn’t help when teachers mock the lack of understanding either, does it? I do hear of sarcasm and undercutting comments – the kind of gesture or word that cuts the child to the core creating mistrust and a collapsing confidence that can take a long time to redress.

We need to be careful using words - they’re powerful.
That’s why we need to respect and to delve into the reasoning behind a pupil saying, “No, I didn’t get that.” Of course, they may not say it – but their face will tell us, or if we don’t see their reaction tests will give us feedback.

So why don’t we “get” things?

First meaning: “I wasn’t paying attention.”

Quite common: with 50,000 thoughts flooding our minds daily, it is actually hard work to focus 100% on a task. I’ll deal with that one in the next issue.

“I was distracted.” Variation on the above and another popular one – the attention shifts to something else in the room and we lose the thread of thought.

“I’m not really interested.” Painfully common too for classically minded educators who love learning for its own sake, but when pressed we may find many pupils and adults are just not interested in wide parts of the curriculum or the gems we’re seeking to impart.

“I don’t see the point of it.” Relates to the previous and translates as, “I have to learn something that doesn’t really relate to my world or anything I know about, and what you’re teaching me just bores me.” Standard variation on this theme: “When will I every use this in my life?” or “Will this be on the exam?”

But before we get frustrated with our inattentive, unmotivated and easily distracted pupils (like we’re not, eh?), there’s also another important reason.

“I’m not ready to learn this.”

We all learn at different paces and at different times. We know this as parents, teachers, and educators. We know that our children and pupils are all different – yet when we compare them against an abstracted average, we create beliefs about “where they’re at,” or “how are they doing compared to…” or “she’s a level 5 and needs to be a level 6…” whatever that means. (What level are you currently on, Mr Comparer?)

We forget what we know about development and then get frustrated with our charge. So who’s really “not getting it?”
Sometimes – the pupil (of any age) is just not ready. The neurons aren’t firing yet, the breadth of learning isn’t yet sufficient, the mind needs reinforcing in other areas, or emotionally they’re just don’t have the confidence yet.

Hey! Are we adults reading this any different? “I wasn’t prepared for this divorce, birth, bankruptcy, loss of parent, unemployment, illness…”

Forcing anyone to compete on an intellectual plane they’re not ready for just damages their confidence. That’s why preparing the foundations for life’s learning is so critical.

Now there’s a basic principle that runs through our entire lives no matter what we turn our mind and energy to: prepare well but always, always, always be patient.

Article by Dr Alexander Moseley
Added Sun, 7 Dec 2014 10:51


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