When we find great teachers, we prize them not only because what we learn improves our lives but also because good learning can be one of the most exhilarating things we experience. Unfortunately, a lot of teaching stinks. It’s boring, misguided, useless.
I’ve made a study of teaching. I’ve had to. For almost 20 years I’ve taught and designed courses in the private sector. And for many of those years, my work has been in a revenue-generating department. That means that my classes had better be effective and interesting, otherwise nobody signs up, revenue falls, and a lot of folks will stand around and wonder if it might not be better to just replace me with a potted plant.
I kind of like having a job. And so I’ve tried my best to find the most effective methods for instruction. In the last few decades, education researchers have put many teaching techniques and principles to the test. We know better now than ever before how to structure learning that is effective and interesting. And I have yet to find a better explanation of the proven techniques and principles than Ruth Colvin Clark’s Building Expertise: Cognitive Methods for Training and Performance Improvement, 3rd Edition.
Don’t let the “training” part fool you. We often associate “training” with learning procedures and simple tasks, e.g. the State pays for “sex education” in our schools, not “sex training.” But Clark isn’t using the term that way. Clark’s “training” includes all types of learning.
Two things separate Clark from so many others who would offer advice on teaching. First, she bases everything on tested principles and techniques. I’m not talking about tested as in some teacher somewhere tried it and was impressed. I’m talking about scientifically valid testing that controls for variables and shows causation. The methods she describes are practical and proven. Second, she writes clearly enough and uses enough examples so that I can read about the principle and immediately see how I can apply it in my own class.
Among other things, you’ll learn:
- Why working memory is key to instruction and how to overcome its limits
- How to motivate learners
- How to structure learning
- When to use lecture and when to put learners into action
- When taking notes can actually be counterproductive
You’ll even learn why assigning lots of practice is NOT always the best way to learn. In fact, sometimes your child will learn more if you do half of their homework questions for them. Sound ridiculous? It’s not. It’s science.
You’ll find that there is no yellow brick road in teaching. Instead, you’ll see that the effectiveness of any method depends on whether it’s suited to the specific situation. And Clark will explain what the key factors in any situation are so you know which methods to apply and the trade-offs you’ll make when you do.
If you’re a teacher in any setting–family, job, church, school, or recreation–or if you’re trying to teach yourself, this book (specifically the 3rd edition) will be a goldmine. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Crawdads & the Bear River Greenway in Evanston
Here’s a recipe for a whole lot of family or date fun. And it costs almost nothing. Drive to Evanston, Wyoming. Make sure you bring a bucket. Pick up a few pieces of fried chicken at Wal-Mart then picnic at the Bear River Pavilion park. It’s the one with the small lake west of Wal-Mart and east of the overpass on 89. Keep your chicken bones.
When you finish eating, attach a length of about four feet of string or yarn to each chicken bone. Weight the bone down with some rocks or washers. You want it to sink deep. Tie a loop for your finger in the end of the string. Then go out to the pier or the cement box on the northwest side of the small lake and drop your bone in.
Slowing bring your chicken bone up. You’ll find a crawdad clinging to it, thinking he’s gone to free lunch heaven. Use a net to snag the crawdad. A simple fish aquarium net will do. You can get them at Wal-Mart for a few bucks. Plop crawdad into the bucket. Ooh and aah appropriately. Make sure he’s got some water to swim around in.
Drop your line in again and repeat until you and the kids or dates are bored. We had a bucketful in about twenty minutes. You might want to pick a few of the crustaceans up. Just grab them on the sides just behind the spot where the arms of their big pincers join the body. Wave the crawdad at a selected victim—wife, daughter, girlfriend–for special effects.
When you’re done, dump the critters back into the water. But don’t go home yet. Take a stroll along the greenway that follows the river and enjoy the beautiful sights. If you walk east from the park, you might be able to be at the right spot at the right time to see a train up close as it thunders by.
We just did this with family from Colorado and California and had a great time. Who would have thought Evanston had this gem?
Crocker’s Luscious Lemon Bars
I luv lemon in desserts. I especially love lemon pies, but they take too long to make. Plus you’ve got the meringue to whip up, and half the people hate that stuff anyway. I’ve found lemon bars taste just as good, probably better, and are far easier. Here’s a recipe I just tried and loved. It’s from our Betty Crocker cookbook. Please remember to include the sugar. My sister, bless her heart, attempted it without, and she can verify that, surprise surprise, it just doesn’t taste quite as good.
STEP 1: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
STEP 2: Make pastry crust.
1. Combine: 2 C flour, ½ C powdered sugar, 2 T cornstarch, and ¼ t salt
2. Use pastry blender and cut in ¾ C butter until it mixture resembles coarse crumbs
3. Press mixture into bottom of greased 13x9x2 inch pan
4. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until edges are golden
STEP 3: While crust is cooking, make filling by stirring together: 4 slightly beaten eggs, 1.5 C granulated sugar, 3 T flour, 1 t lemon peel (optional), ¾ C lemon juice, ¼ C half-and-half (you can substitute with light cream or milk if needed)
STEP 4: When crust finishes, pour filling over hot crust.
STEP 5: Put it all back into oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until center is set, i.e. it doesn’t jiggle and slosh.
STEP 6: Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes.
STEP 7: Cut into bars, but DO NOT EAT IT YET! The lemon bars will taste 500% better if you totally chill them in fridge (the chill is the secret, folks). So put that pan in the fridge and wait! It will take a few hours.
STEP 8: When TOTALLY chilled, take out of fridge, sift some powdered sugar over the top, and serve.
Try to refrain from eating half of the pan.