Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Teaching What You Just Learned

James Lang, a professor of English at Assumption College, has an interesting review-and-commentary article dealing in part with Therese Huston's Teaching What You Don't Know.

Having read the article and not the book, I suspect they are mistitled, and that the correct title would be something like "Teaching What You Recently Learned." The core argument seems to be that novices (recent learners) remember better what it's like not to be learning a subject than do long-time experts. Lang quotes Huston: "A content novice is also more likely than a content expert to relate difficult concepts to everyday, common knowledge—to something the student already knows—simply because the instructor doesn't have a vault of specialized knowledge on the topic from which to draw."

There is surely some truth to this, but I can think of plenty of counterexamples in genealogy world. And surely one job of a good teacher is to retain that precious memory of their former ignorance and how they climbed out of it. Your experience?


[P.S. Yes, Huston's book was published almost four years ago. On this post-Thanksgiving week, I also thank the publishers and editors with the good sense to know that books published more than six months ago are still worth writing and talking about.]



James Lang, "Teaching What You Don't Know," Chronicle of Higher Education, 22 October 2012 (http://chronicle.com/article/Teaching-What-You-Dont-Know/135180/ : accessed 22 November 2012).

Therese Huston, Teaching What You Don't Know (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009).

Harold Henderson, "Teaching What You Just Learned," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 27 November 2012 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

4 comments:

Bart Brenner said...

Harold, I have always tried to teach what I have just learned. In fact, I probably haven't learned very well until I can teach it or have taught it. My sense about good, experienced teachers is that they are always learning... that is what keeps them "good."

Harold said...

Good point, Bart -- that's a stronger claim which I have found to be true. Teaching is like writing that way, somehow it shows up stuff that I only thought I understood!

Patti Hobbs said...

I do think in genealogy, though, that it's not just a matter of knowledge. I know there are a lot of things where that would be true: many academic subjects come to mind. In order to really *know* well enough to teach genealogical topics, we have to have experience along with the knowledge. Having the experience introduces us to many variations in possibilities -- which is another reason hearing people who lecture on difficult cases and reading case studies are valuable, too. Often experiences of others can help us, but only if we have our own experiences on which to hang the information about the variations.

Harold said...

Well said, Patti. There's no substitute for having been there! The other side of the coin is that nobody has seen all the possible variations, so we can all add to the store of experience.