Do We Teach Like Dogs or Like Cats?

I stumbled across a post on Larry Ferlazzo’s blog entitled  “Do We Teach Like Dogs or Like Cats?”  I was intrigued about the topic and chuckled as I watched the short video about cats and dogs. Click here to watch the one minute video.
I started to reflect a bit on the question: do we teach like a dog or cat? and I realized that just last week while volunteering with a group of teenagers I had a first hand opportunity to see the effects of being taught like a cat.
We were all asked to help with a rather mundane chore.  The directions that were given were simple: “Take these items and put them in a box. You can find the boxes out back.”  Easy to follow directions, but I soon found out the directions lacked purpose and clarity.
As we began to fill the boxes, we were corrected many times over: Wrong box!  Don’t fill the box so full!  Don’t put the box there! Or there! Make sure you stack the boxes this way, not that way! By the end of the day the teenagers were so confused and annoyed that they feared asking any question. We felt dejected and bruised, much like the cat that tumbled down the stairs.  I began to wonder if any of the teenagers would ever volunteer again and I left the volunteer session feeling sad about the experience inflicted upon those young adults.
Reflecting on my teaching I thought about the few times that I have taught like that mother cat, pushing the students down the proverbial stairs by telling them to complete a task without providing a why or a how.  
But then I thought about all the times that I sat at the bottom of the stairs like the mother dog, encouraging and scaffolding my students down the stairs and greeting them with a celebration when they finally arrived.  
Yes, the cat’s way is easier and quicker, but the dog’s way is more effective!  I don’t know about you but teaching like a dog is my preferred way!

Slice of Life

Many of the blogs I follow include an occasional piece called “A Slice of Life.”  The premise of A Slice of Life is that every once in a while, something happens in life that makes you reflect upon your own teaching and learning.  Today, while snow blowing my driveway, I had many Slice of Life thoughts. I thought I would share…
Because of my new life circumstances, I have had to become more independent in many ways.  With winter approaching, I had several conversations with my adult children about how I would handle shoveling out.  They had all the confidence in the world that their mother could handle the snow blower and get herself out of the driveway on a snowy day.  Inside I was uncertain, but their confidence was reassuring.  Deep down inside I just hoped and prayed for a no snow winter. 
Then the first storm came.  I was blessed with an offer from a friend to have his son-in-laws come by and start up the machine and clear my driveway.  What a treat I thought.  When they were done, they told me they left the snow blower in the garage in a handy spot for me to use and communicated to me how easy this machine was to handle.  I didn’t want to become dependent on friends, I needed to do it on my own, but on the second storm, I took one look at the snow blower and decided to shovel.  I rationalized that I really didn’t know how to turn the machine on.  Each day as I left the garage I kept looking at the machine thinking I have to learn.  But I just wasn’t motivated enough.  Besides, I don’t learn well from reading a manual.  I need hands on, minds on instruction.

On New Year’s Day, my brother- in-law called and offered to come over to teach me.  He and my sister in law were gentle in teaching me the ins and outs of the machine.  My sister in law was actually the one giving the directions as she was very familiar with this model.  I gained confidence in knowing that she was smaller than I and could manage this.  I tried out the blower on the small pile of snow at the end of the driveway and gained a little more confidence. 
As the big snow storm approached, I was happy to hear that the snow would be light.  I thought to myself, I can just shovel.  It’s too much work to use the snow blower.  But once my daughter and I went outside and began lifting the shovels, I thought why not give it a try while someone else is here and nearby? 
The machine purred into action and I pushed behind with ease.  I did it!  I made Sarah take a picture of me and my smiling face as I walked up and down the driveway!  I was so proud of myself and thought “Success is sweet!”
So what does this long story have to do with learning and/or teaching?  Here are a few of my reflections as I met with success:    
Scaffolding:  Think of all the baby steps it took for me to plow on my own. From having someone tell me I could do it, to having another person show me and let me try on a sunny day, to finally doing it in the presence of my daughter.  That’s a lot of time.  How often do I give up when trying something new?  Do I have the patience to keep holding the hands of my students even when they keep falling?  Do I tend to give up easily even after someone tells me just once that they think I can do something?
Willpower and Courage:  I wouldn’t have done this without willingness and some courage to move forward.  What about those children who are too afraid to try?  What about those children who are not risk takers (like me?)  Or those children who give up so quickly?  Do I scaffold enough?  Do I provide a safety net if they fall down? Do I give up on them?  How do I “hold their hands” to make it safe to try something new?
It’s the Company I Keep:  Having my daughter by my side helped me risk trying it “on my own.”  Do I take risks when the “company” is not so safe?  Am I afraid to risk when I know there are others around me who are already in the know?  Is my classroom a safe place to take a risk? 
Success Breeds Success:  With my new found confidence, I judged I could tackle other difficult tasks. So I asked myself: Do I celebrate the successes along the way so I can grow confident in other areas? Do I do the same celebrating in the classroom?

What are your thoughts?  Feel free to comment.