One of the quotes that really hit the spot for me in this week’s reading is, “To teach is not to transfer knowledge but to create the possibilities for the production or construction of knowledge.” I find that this quote really defines what it means to be a teacher. The current educational system is based on the “Banking Concept of Education.” The teacher has a list of things that they want the student to “memorized” and the students are then tested on how well they retained that information. A great teacher not only knows how to “deposit” information to the students, but they also know how to teach the student how to produce and construct their own knowledge.
I know that most of my engineering course are based on the Banking Concept of Education. The teacher stands in front of the classroom lecturing about a particular topic, and the students try to reproduce that information for the classwork, homework, and tests. For me personally, I am able to develop a “bank” of the available types of questions that could be asked on the test. Sometime it comes down to a bank of memorized facts rather than true understanding of the material. I found that I only understand something if I have experience and struggle through the nitty gritty details.
Some of the best teachers have taught me how to ask effective questions about topics that I have little knowledge of. I find that part is the hardest thing about teaching and learning. Most of the time when I am learning a new concept, I do not have enough background to truly understand what I do know and what I do not know. I frivolously try to write down everything that the professor is saying rather than understanding. I am not able to come up with questions until I take the time to sit down and really try to digest the notes. Once I have a basic understanding, then I am able to ask effective questions.
One of my mentors from the industry has done a great job in teaching me how to develop effective questions. I remember when I first started working, I brought a problem to one of my senior technical engineers without truly understanding the questions that I wanted to ask him. He was extremely harsh to me, and he grilled me in ways that made me felt inadequate as an employee of the company. After this experience, I was determined to never let that happen again. I went back into my office and reworked the solution to incorporate his critical feedback in my new design. Before I went back to my senior technical, I sat there at my desk for an hour thinking of all of the critical questions that he could ask me. I asked myself, “What would Bruce grill me on today.” To my astonishment, I developed over 30 questions and answers to what I could be potentially asked by my senior technical. I walked confidently back to his office with my new proposed design and prepared answers. He started asking away, and I started to defend. After about ten minutes, he realized that I have come much more prepared than last time. He took it up a notch, and asked me questions that I have never would have thought of at my experience level. I paused for a minute to think about his questions, and responded to the best of my ability. This continued on for a while, and his feedback were as critical as ever. As the conversation is coming to an end, he grinned at me and said, “Good work.” I was stunned when I heard that compliment from him. He just spent the past hour kicking me down a pit, and started throwing rocks at me when I was at the bottom. After working with him some more, I began to understand the merits of his teaching style. He wasn’t interested in just transferring 30 years of experience to me. He was interested in teaching me how to ask effective questions. He was teaching me how to produce and construct knowledge.
4 thoughts on “Willing to Accept Critical Feedback to Produce and Construct Knowledge”
Your engineering experience reminds me of Tim, a non-degreed senior engineer in an IT function at the plant where I worked. Tim was frequently consulted by plant engineers and supervisors for help with various IT and computer issues. Tim had a reputation for giving people a “hard time” by asking rather than answering questions. I appreciated Tim’s style of “teaching men to fish” rather than passing out fish. When I eventually moved into Tim’s job, the boss told me not to be like Tim, but to help everyone freely without giving them a hard time.
Another of Tim’s duties was to track effectiveness of our department, which he did by using an algorithm to calculate a percentage score. Upon Tim’s departure, the boss changed the algorithm so that our score was always 100%. I secretly continued to use Tim’s algorithm, and I observed the “real” effectiveness decline steadily once we ceased officially tracking it.
All of this may be evidence that “good” educational practices are empowering and make good business sense.
“What would Bruce grill me on today?” – that’s great. I’m sure it would have been much less effective if Bruce did not give you such a hard time or just told you what to do.
Agree that Bruce could have made different choices in how he related to you, but the point about encouraging (prodding?) you to construct knowledge in your own way is well taken. How will you engage learners to help them construct knowledge, develop confidence and expertise, without being quite so critical when you are the teacher (or the boss)?
One of the things that I have been doing is that I have different modes. During lectures and normal interactions I am a very friendly guy to be around. However, when it comes to critical feedback I am a bit harsh. I usually tell them that I will be harsh beforehand. After the feedback session, I give them pointers on how to improve next time.