How to Teach

During a recent walk around campus, a colleague of mine mentioned a crisis in the classroom. “I’ve come to realize that our biggest problem with students isn’t that they don’t have an attention span,” the professor said. “It all has to do with content. They live in a world where they can have any question answered in a matter of seconds. So they see learning content as something of a waste of time, yet there’s no way for me to assess what they know until I can see that they’ve mastered the content. It’s a kid of impasse.”

Content in the humanities, of course, involves a different skill set than those required upstairs. Yet I admit I am vaguely horrified by the notion that students may believe that all they need to know about William Faulkner or Lorraine Hansberry can be learned from Sparknotes. If content is merely paraphrase, then we are all damned to a world without nuance.

My colleague has expressed a legitimate fear. If Google and Khan Academy can deliver content for free, why waste money on teachers? On brick-and-mortar schools? On going to Vanderbilt instead of East Armpit Tech?

However, it also seems to me that the breadth of content available makes the work we do as students and teachers even more important. Information without context cannot lead to wisdom–heck, it can’t even lead to productivity. I cannot promise what the classrooms of the future will look like, but I hope they look like the ones we have at MSMS.

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31 Responses to How to Teach

  1. Mariana Strawn says:

    Content and material as can be learned from “upstairs” is different that the humanities. The difference between learning something online, and learning it from an instructor, is the mind of the person presenting the content. This is what makes an education at Harvard often times more valuable that one from “East Armpit Tech”. The ideas that come from someone who has attended a university in this topic, supplement the learning that the student is doing. While I do believe that “content” of a book can be learned from Sparknotes, in no way can the interpretation be. The same way as a person may be able to recite a summary on an english exam, but will not be able to make an “A” because they do not understand the book. This is where the line is drawn, understanding and knowing are two different realms.

  2. Micah Robinson says:

    Look I’m not sure what you want use to tell you. If a subject lacks the strength to really capture students that means its time for it to end. I don’t see how learning about British Literature, for example, would be necessary unless I just really like the culture back then or I want to connect with someone who’s only interest is Brit Lit. Just because the older, more discussed classes don’t have many students flocking towards it anymore doesn’t mean its the end of humanities; it just means the focus of the class needs to change. Have students find the new Shakespeare and talk about his work or predict what trend may come up next in modern lit. School should be chugging along with the progress of time not rooting it’s self in the past and hoping to not rot away.

  3. Landry Filce says:

    I am of the opinion that, while the internet can aid learning, it is extremely difficult to learn all you need to learn about a subject exclusively online. For example, if I am struggling to visualize a physics concept, I can search for it on google and gain a new perspective other than that of my teacher and classmates. However, it takes multiple teaching methods to get the point of a lesson across, and this cannot be attained exclusively in the classroom or exclusively online. We need tutorials, study groups, and, yes, sometimes even Khan Academy to grasp advanced concepts in mathematics and science. As far as literature goes, Spark Notes can often be used to pass a test, but it will never give students a complete understanding of the work it surveys. Students using Spark Notes and similar resources often know this, and use it either to supplement their reading and in-class discussion, or are aware that they are not receiving a complete understanding of the work and simply wish to pass the test on that work rather than appreciate it. I do not believe that anyone thinks of Spark Notes as an exhaustive resource giving complete knowledge on literary works, but it can be useful nevertheless.

  4. Sarah Swiderski says:

    The internet is a great resource for facilitating learning. As a student who has taken online classes for both mathematics and humanities, however, I can say that learning without the aid of a teacher can be frustrating.
    I do not see technology taking the place of teachers in an educated world(let’s just assume Mississippi has common sense for the sake of this blog).
    In a recent survey from Somewhere-in-the-United-States University, public speaking was ranked as the number one fear among students, right above death, of course.
    Discussion based learning is only available in the classroom, and I feel it is vital in expanding both one’s personal knowledge and allowing students to come out of their shell.

  5. Shuchi Patel says:

    I believe that you can learn on your own with Google and Khan Academy, but teachers have the ability to engage students. Teachers have the ability to figure out a simpler solution to a problem. You can’t have discussions with a screen; it is the same thing as talking to brick wall. Teachers guide students; teachers at MSMS want students to learn information, whereas teachers at my old school gave students busy work. Real teachers make you think more than screens can.

  6. Mariat Thankachan says:

    I agree that technological resources such as Khan Academy help the students gain a better understanding of the concept in less time, but nothing beats the real classroom experience with teachers who are actually passionate about spreading their knowledge. Teachers make lasting impacts on students, not only helping students grow academically but also building character and giving advice. There is just something about social interactions that makes a teacher valuable for a student, to alter their teaching style to suit the student’s pace. A machine cannot do that, it cannot understand what an individual needs and try to accommodate their learning manner.

  7. Mary Owings says:

    For most, teachers are extremely vital to the learning process. Especially in analytical classes like English, you can’t find what you need beyond facts on the internet. In all classes, the relationship between a teacher and student not only helps in the understanding of topics, but goes beyond that. Teachers influence their pupils to explore higher education, career opportunities, and participate in things that they otherwise would not have known about. Beyond academics, teachers mold their students in a way that a computer could not. School can develop character, responsibility, motivation, and ambition.

  8. Kayla Patel says:

    Google and Khan Academy are great resources for teachers and students to use if they struggle with the topic. I agree with Meagan, saying that the information is not the most important thing taught in the classrooms. Instead of competing with technology, teachers should embrace it and try to use it in their teaching styles. I also believe learning in the classroom is even more beneficial than online classes. School, especially MSMS, is very important; not just for the knowledge that is taught, but all the responsibility it takes to wake up every morning, do homework, study for tests, and gain social skills that will come in handy in the future.

  9. Yousef Abu-Salah says:

    While I will not disregard the fact that online learning is continually growing and evolving, I believe that standard school will almost always have a major benefit over it: social interaction. We, as Reyhan has stated, are social creatures, and this social interaction is necessary for every human being. In order to truly understand and experience a subject, one requires a teacher. If a teacher truly and personally gets involved with their class, no amount of technology can compete, as this bond between the teacher and the student will not incentivize the student but also provide the student with a bit more passion about the subject. This is the key to learning. Teachers, unlike machines and websites, are able to provide students with both inspiration and personal connection to a subject, and this passion will be the primary means of motivation for the student to learn the content. This personal bond cannot be recreated with a machine, and I feel this is the biggest setback to online learning overtaking all. However, I am not stating that online learning is not useful. Online learning is an incredible resource that can be accessed anywhere in the world, and it truly can help in the understanding of a subject when used as a supplement to an actual class. But that’s just it. It’s greatest impact can be felt as a supplement to an actual class, serving as a resource for something that a student cannot learn. This, I feel, is where online learning can be utilized to its fullest ability. I understand that students wouldn’t be able to experience the genius of Shakespeare (and Poe) with Sparknotes, but that’s the whole point of teachers. They must be able to connect with their students, and this connection, as I have said before, can be the spark for true learning to occur. Rest assured Dr. E, brick-and-mortar schools will continue to thrive as long as we teachers like yourself that are able to both inspire and incite passion into their students (if we covered Poe, I would be much more inspired; however, that’s beside the point).

  10. Leah Pettit says:

    I don’t have an issue with online learning as an individual’s primary form of schooling. If done properly, it works, and allows the individual more freedom to focus on his or her own interests. You know no one is getting rid of standardized tests any time soon, so you don’t even really have to be concerned that the material they learn online is below what is nationally acceptable. It often requires more self-determination than regular schooling, but it can be done. I think the issue here is that many people aren’t understanding what you can use online resources for. You don’t just have to use Wolfram Alpha to decompose a complex fraction. You can let it explain how to decompose a complex fraction. Don’t Google an analysis of Leaves of Grass, but rather read it first, then Google several. The internet does not have to limit how much students learn. It only gives them options. It’s up to the students to take responsibility for their own choices.
    Now, all that being said, I have a major issue with online learning as society’s primary form of schooling for this reason: if you standardize teaching, you standardize learning. Perhaps the single best thing having hundreds of thousands of teachers does for society is helps diversify things just a little bit more. Everyone learns differently, but that has more to do with how they were taught to learn than anything else. To come up with more original ideas we need people with more varied thinking, not less. Right now, the internet is providing primary education to relatively few kids, and providing supplemental education to countless more, so right now, the internet is actually helping diversify how people think because everyone is using different sources to a different extent. In the same physical class, all the students will receive the same instruction from the teacher, but now they have more opportunities to learn that material different ways and see different perspectives they would never have access to without the internet.

  11. Amber Jackson says:

    I totally agree with what Jagger said and I agree with the statement that “Information without context cannot lead to wisdom.” I get the point about the short attention spans, but I kind of think that depends on how you were taught at a young age. Usually people who were raised in a good educational environment when they were younger find school interesting. I noticed that from my experience most of the people who had a bad educational experience/background found learning uninteresting or had a short attention span in school because they never understood what was being taught or they never had a teacher who could properly teach the beauty of that subject/make it relatable. (pretty sure that’s a run-on sentence.) Schools and teachers are important but they’re are lots of different learning styles and teachers obviously can’t cater to all of them. There are many different ways to learn new things whether it be through school or the internet, it’s all sufficient. There doesn’t need to be a supreme learning place or supreme learning style, lol.

  12. Aurelia Caine says:

    True enough, if I need to know something, I grab my phone and go straight to google. But also, I don’t see what I learn in class as a waste. Sometimes the techniques that teachers use to teach help me remember better. Going to the internet for videos like Crash Course or on Khan Academy are just aids when I don’t understand what’s going on inside the classroom.

  13. Vera L. Taire says:

    “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” – Henry Adams

    Teachers are important for reasons far beyond what they teach. There is a known link between a student’s social development and the role their teachers play within the classroom. You can’t replace that with digital resources. Beyond elementary school, these behavioral lessons become even more subtle. For example, in second grade, they teach you not to talk over other students. By junior year, E teaches us to engage in critical and divisive conversations without blatantly insulting each other. Important stuff for adulting, ya know?

    “Qui docet discit.” (He who teaches learns.)

  14. Campbell Rolph says:

    Teachers don’t only teach content and facts, they teach critical thinking, and how to view history, and they give insight into subjects that would seem boring and inaccessible without the specialty that they offer. Sparknotes is only useful if you understand traditional literary references and themes. Paraphrasing Shakespeare is only going to get you so far, certainly not far enough to pass a test on King Lear. I don’t forsee the imminent doom of teaching as a profession, because you give insight to something that can’t just be searched up, it has to be experienced.

  15. Angella Osinde says:

    The best tactic for teachers to engage students as of now is to adapt their context in a way that’s relevant and of interest in the students. Such as relating themes (speaking to humanities) and comparing it to a recent/current event. Instead of competing with technology why not use it to enhance lessons and bring the point across?

  16. Reyhan Grims says:

    While technology does become more involved in the way that we learn, the need for teachers still exists. People, like almost all mammals, are social creatures. Mostly, we do our best in the world when others are present, and most would say that we learn best with personal instruction rather than learning from online sources. Teachers provide factors that technology does not, such as the ability to be a personal tutor for a student. When students get personally involved with their teachers, the teachers know more about their students and can adjust their lessons to aid their students in their academic weaknesses. With this learning factor included, I think that teachers will remain necessary for the next generations to learn properly and efficiently, but it’s also important for teachers to incorporate technology into their lessons since the next era is very heavily involved with technology.

  17. Steven says:

    Despite the impending takeover of technology, the truth is that teachers will never truly be a “waste” of funding. Although everyone may say that digital schools will eventually overcome traditional schooling, it will not work in the end. The reason why is simply that (practically) acting as a cyborg and immersing one’s self in technology to gain knowledge is not how humans are biologically programmed. I’m not downplaying the importance that technology plays into important human endeavors such as research, and I can acknowledge how valuable of an add-on it is to education. However, I’m fully convinced that technology will not take over traditional education.

  18. Brent Styles says:

    Technology will eventually grow to the point where traditional classrooms are not needed. Although it would be hard for people that are used to going to a physical classroom to start only taking online courses, I don’t think it would be hard for someone who grows up only seeing a screen for academics. It would be much more efficient, as students would not have to go to school every day, and students could learn material at their own pace without being held back or left behind. Starting out, it would be hard to stop cheating and laziness, but clever tactics and incentives should do the trick.

  19. Kendall Wells says:

    Teachers should not fear they’re being replaced because by going to school, students are learning so much more than what’s taught in their classes. They are taught how to get up every morning and get ready to be productive, communicate with peers and use teamwork, effectively problem solve, and so much more. When I go home I hear the argument all the time that we don’t need school because of the internet, however if we did not have school, I don’t know a single person (excluding MSMS students) that would wake up every morning and force themselves to learn for 8 hours a day. School is crucial to the development of people from childhood to adulthood and the human race. If we stopped making going to school a law, in 20 years America would go to nothing. I think traditional education will be around for a good 50+ years unless someone can invent a way to force people ages 5-18 to constantly gain knowledge while at home, (which is very unlikely) so there is not much reason to worry about it right now.

  20. Jagger Riggle says:

    I love to learn. If I need to look up an answer to something, I look for the work, not just the answer. I want to know how you get from the start to the end. That way I can try to learn the process and use it later without the need for online assistance. Google and Khan Academy can be great for learning as reinforcement or a “I don’t understand what the teacher said, but I want to learn a method for how to solve this problem.” This, of course, applies almost solely to math and science based classes where there is only one answer. The humanities, however, are not like that. Sparknotes can be helpful as a refresher before a quiz/test, but not as a “I have not read this play/poem/book at all, and now I have a test on it.” It is important to read it for yourself so you can form your own ideas and opinions about it.

    While technology does help, I would rather be in a classroom trying to learn. Having a teacher gives it a more human and personal feeling. Being able to look at someone, see their expression (extremely important for teaching the humanities), and being able to ask questions and get an answer while it is still fresh on your mind (instead of waiting possibly hours for someone to reply to a comment) is extremely important for the learning process. Going through a chemistry class and Googling all the problems to Mastering Chemistry because you do not want to try and learn will get you nowhere. Googling the problem to try and understand the process is more justified, but still should not be used all the time. If you use Sparknotes for everything you read, you will not be able to look at text and interpret it in your own way. If everyone spends their lives trying to Google all the problems they encounter, how will you be able to solve the problems that the majority of people cannot answer (like trying to get a man on beyond Mars), or be able to invent something new? How will you be able to read text or look at a painting and be able to interpret it in a way never thought of before? Simple. You can’t. If we all Google answers to all problems and never try to actually learn and understand something, humanity will not move forward in any field (humanities, fine arts, sciences, mathematics, etc.).

  21. Sara Kostmayer says:

    Fear of being replaced by technology is only something that teachers that lack in passion should fear. There is still an incredible life and connection to come from traditional student-classroom-teacher interactions, but unfortunately not all classrooms really utilize such a nurturing and open environment as MSMS. When it comes to the argument of whether or not the children of the future will be taught by robots/software/the internet, it is a difficult debate to side on. It is clear that not all students’ needs can be taught by these sources; special education and adaptations for others with learning disabilities may be left to wilt. Technology will likely be more and more integrated into the classrooms of tomorrow, but unless a grave mistake is made along the way, human interaction will still be a valuable part of instruction.

  22. Alex Monterde says:

    There are, in my estimation, two reasons online resources cannot wholly replace conventional schooling methods. The first is breadth and depth of knowledge. Let us be frank, many of our Carnegie required classes hold little or no interest to us, but they are none the less important. You cannot be an informed citizen of your country without an understanding of your nation’s history, and you cannot be an informed citizen of the world without a similar knowledge of its history. Even if you’re inept in the arts, having an understanding of them is important for an understanding of critical thinking and empathy. Self-guided learning inevitably leads to neglect of some fields which, though they may not be utterly enthralling, are important to our maturation.

    The second is simple responsibility. My latter point is moot if an individual elects not to learn anything at all. The structure of conventional classrooms is obviously conducive to disciplined study. Without its guidance, a significant population would become uneducated, which is definitely an undesirable outcome.

    As some other comments have eluded to, online resources are helpful compliments to traditional schooling, but cannot supplant them as the vehicle for mass education.

  23. Madalyn Coln says:

    There are several items to address in this blog post, but there is one thing in particular that I want to comment on. I believe that the majority of my generation (Gen Z?) has a short attention span. It seems like technology is to blame. Technology has without a doubt impacted my attention span, mostly because if something bores me, I can quickly find anything that I deem entertaining as a replacement in seconds. It also allows us to “take the easy way out” by using Google, Khan Academy, and SparkNotes as a supplement to our poor focus in class. I don’t see this to be a big enough problem to say we no longer need teachers.

  24. Stephanie Dauber says:

    Khan Academy and Google are great supplements to what we learn in school. For chemistry or calculus, they have videos going in depth in areas that I could be struggling to understand. In addition to that, if someone simply wants to get ahead college online courses and tutorials create amazing opportunities to learn more.
    But there are some interesting setbacks to being able to have all information available at once. I once had someone tell me that they really never felt the need to retain information about movies or books simply because they could just Google it. While all of this is true and can be helpful, the classroom experience and hands-on teaching and learning are extremely valuable. In a smaller classroom setting, I feel that more is done in shorter periods of time and there is a more intimate discussion (like in English class, not very applicable to math or sciences). It is up to the students really whether they want to be slaves to technology or not.

  25. Patel says:

    Information can be learned online, but the lessons learned at school can never be learned online. The internet can not help someone find their love for a subject, nor can it make someone realize how much one hates a particular subject. While the internet can be a good resource for additional educational help, it should never replace schools. Even though people think so little of teachers, teachers are the reason why we become successful in our lives. It is a teacher that challenges a student by forcing them to think out of the box, and that is what the internet can never take place of. You can search something up on the internet and find the answer in a few seconds, but it will never make you think.

  26. Maggie Rennie says:

    Someone can go to Google, or Khan Academy and learn some things.. this is true. But you do not learn responsibility by doing so. Physically getting up and going to school is such an important aspect of forming who you are as a person. You must learn how to make the right decisions in school and make them just regarding school in general. You can do online classes in your bedroom, but you get more out of it if you go to a classroom and learn from an actual teacher. Especially if you have a specific learning type, going to a classroom is much more beneficial than an online class. Teachers, especially here at MSMS, are here to help us. They are here to guide us and support us in a quest for a wonderful education. You cannot get that from an online resource. The connections are what’s important.

  27. Harlynn Robinson says:

    The limitless information we have available to us at an instant does to some extent turn people away from learning. It makes us feel as if learning isn’t necessary but information isn’t useful unless you know how to apply the accessed information in the right context. This is the long-standing purpose of a school, teaching us how to use the information we have collected. If a school is to garner the attention of its students long enough to accomplish this task then it must make the subjects intriguing. Show us a concept and let us look it up on our phones as we will so that we feel as if we made the discovery ourselves. This keeps us interested and makes us more open to guidance on how to use this new information we “discovered”. My idea is similar to the idea of a flipped classroom in the respect that I believe children are more interested when we go through that “ah ha” moment on our own. In this age, that moment comes much faster with the aid of a quick google search.

  28. Kamal Bhalla says:

    I feel like students these days (sometimes me as well) feel that some subjects taught in school will never benefit us. One main one is math, and similar courses. If one knows that they are not going to do anything math related, then why should they pay attention to their math teacher talking about some formulas? Why not teach about taxes, and stuff that we will have to do in the near future? But, then again, learning stuff like math, helps the brain process things better. And classes at MSMS really push the student to not only push themselves, but their whole body as well. Unlike other schools, where teachers don’t really care about what they’re teaching, here the teachers actually enjoy their job, which motivates students a lot.

  29. Devon Matheny says:

    I do believe that we as people can learn a lot from the Internet and different websites like Google and Khan Academy. However, when one does this, they (in my opinion) cannot work their brain to their fullest potential. Yes, looking up how to do a problem on MasteringChemistry can be helpful in many situations, but fully understanding a topic and how to do it instead of merely looking up the answer is what distinguished the wise from the foolish. Those who can figure out a problem or answer a question without the aid of Google are able to show their full understanding of a topic. Also, if people resort to relying on technology for the rest of their lives, we are all going to turn into “robots” programmed to let robots do our dirty work. Just like any new car or washing machine or phone, once the computer on the inside dies, malfunctions, or breaks, there is no easy fix to the situation. Without the knowledge and brain power of people who can ACTUALLY figure things out without Google, we would not have these technologies. We have to teach the youth how to function without technology. If the youth is considered “the future of the world” and all they rely on is looking up answers on Google or Wikipedia, then our future will lie in the power of Google and Wikipedia. Talk about generation shifts.

  30. Brianna Ladnier says:

    Everyone continuously complains that everything we learn in school is something we will never use in our life, and I am guilty of this sometimes as well. However, the classrooms aren’t just so you can reference Tennessee Williams during an interview to sound smarter or so you can do advanced Calculus 4 problems on the streets. Teaching in classrooms is necessary because it tests the students on their ability to work and learn. Grades are a way employers and college admissions can amount a student’s worth and skill level.

  31. Meagan Pittman says:

    I have realized that the information and facts that we learn in the classroom is not as important as the skills that are taught in the classroom. Sure, knowing that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell is important, but learning how to wake up at 7:30 every morning, get dressed in time, get to class in time, study for tests, complete all assignments in time, remember to wear lab dress (a common fault of mine), and speak to your peers are all important skills that will help a student succeed later in life as an adult. Sure, I will never need to solve a quadratic equation in my adult life, but the patience I learned in the process of learning how to solve one, and the problem solving skills that lesson fostered will no doubt be useful later on. So, yes, we can get any information we need in just a few seconds on google. We cannot, however, develop dexterity with handling challenges by flocking to the internet with every question that arises.

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