In conversation with an active school board member at a teachers’ workshop on the west coast last week, I was again reminded of the peculiar differences some of us experience in learning sets of basic facts, such as multiplication tables. He never learned the multiplication tables, although his full time work is property investments. When I asked him how he’d find the value of 6×7, he described a rapid visual way he’d see three sets of 14’s and add their sum.
He described his thinking methods in general as not approaching things “head on” like is generally taught (we train ourselves to explain things clearly, logically, and connect them to the “known”), but rather he somehow comes around and “in the back door” to understand things.
Just another reminder that among the groups we teach, there will be those who cannot master standard spelling (a rather modern requirement tied to standard print) or cannot “master” the lists of math facts, especially if mastery means being able to recite sets of number families for addition and multiplication.
And we need to humbly remind ourselves that one can recite the facts without much comprehension–and conversely some can have a deep intimacy with number sense and yet fail to memorize sets of facts. Some are mystified by the whole project.
So we teach. The teacher is tasked with mediating between his student and the subject, praying to understand how his student’s heart, mind, will, emotions and peculiar mental faculties function. Then he works with “what is” in the moment to help his student learn that which he would not learn without a teacher.
To learn basic skills and facts, effective teachers will introduce their students experientially to a wide variety of methods, including tactile, visual, oral, aural, and kinesthetic. Students may resonate with one or more of these approaches and learn to use them. Teachers are students of their students, seeking to learn how they learn–perhaps by encouraging them to articulate or somehow demonstrate how they know what they do know.