The Best Teaching Advice No One Ever Told You

Be quiet. That’s right. Stop talking sometimes, especially at critical thinking moments. This is one of THE hardest things for me to do. Here’s how I typically get it wrong.

“So Glenn, you’ve got two fractions and you need to divide one by the other.”

He begins to think. He’s working it out in his brain. He’s sorting. Accessing. Processing.

But before he’s able to complete the newly forming thought, a little mommy bird begins chirping in his ear.

“Do you remember?”

“What’s the rule again?”

“Think. There’s something special you need to do.”

“How does that little math rhyme go again?”

Peck. Peck. Peck.

About this time, the little line of thought that his brain was forming disintegrates, and he slams his pencil down on the workbook in frustration.

Here’s the truly sad result: he now believes he’s not good at math.

But the truth may be that he can’t do math with constant chatter feeding into his ear at the same time that he’s attempting an intense mental activity.

Here’s an idea. Stop talking. Wait. Truly wait. . . in silence. . . until he takes this thought as far as he can. Let him complete the download. He may not get the right answer. But you can deal with that after it arises. In fact, his wrong answer may give you a clear clue of just where he’s going wrong in his thought. But if you stop the process before that point, you may get nothing. And now you have no idea where he went off track.

But also possible, he may get the answer right. It’s just as likely that he just needed time to process the information all the way to the end, time to create the neural pathways that learning new stuff requires. In our house, we call this building new roads in the brain, and then building little garages in which to store this new piece of understanding. That initial garage is kind of flimsy and weak on the first journey. It will take several more trips down the road and into that garage to reinforce and strengthen it. But if the process is blown off track midstream by our “helpful chatter”, then the garage never gets built.

Sometimes we just need to let it be—allow our kids the freedom to think, to process, to work it through slowly till it makes sense. Sometimes we just need to be quiet.

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9 Responses to “The Best Teaching Advice No One Ever Told You”

  1. Nancy Goyette Says:

    Good one – I have lost track of how often have I done this – thanks for the insight. Blessings!
    : )

  2. Michelle Says:

    Thanks for the reminder. Needed that.

  3. Jeannie Says:

    Do you have a site for little ditties/rhymes. Especially for math?

    • carolbarnier Says:

      Jeannie–I have put a few of them “out there” in various places. But after much encouragement, I finally put them all together onto a single CD. http://ow.ly/ez3O2 This little link should get you there. Take a look at the index and you’ll see just how many math ditties it has. Thanks for asking!

  4. Sheryl Says:

    AMEN! I can’t tell you how many times I have over-helped my kids and ruined a perfectly fine good learning experience. Patience is a hard lesson to learn.

  5. Laurie Says:

    My husband just told me this yesterday. I sat there listening (sort of, I guess) to my 5 yo son at the supper table, and he would start with “Mom,..,” then he would start over again with “Mom,…,”adding another word, then again and again. He did this FIVE times.

    I had not realized what I was doing when I was telling him to just tell me and that there was no need to keep starting from the beginning again each time. I kept interrupting him after the first couple of times, which did not help him.

    Of course, I was somewhat offended, but understood. I will have to tell him that you second his comments to me. If he had not mentioned it in the first place, I wonder what kind of damage I’d have started and how it might affect the schooling and communication down the road.

    I will have to remember that at times, he will have a slow download…and that is EXACTLY what it seemed like, a download restart…only they usually don’t say “Mom” so often. lol

  6. Jeanne-Marie Says:

    I will try this! This is a huge clue for me. One that I did not even think about. My daughter’s mom is very very very talkative. I think it dampens her resolve to learn, and she might even think she cannot catch up to me, so why even try. I need to slow down with her, not speed up! Give her time. Be quiet!! Thanks for the tip.

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