When I started this blog, the idea was to document how my brain worked, to think about how I thought about, interacted with, and perceived the world. I was working through my discovery of what Autism was and the fact that I was autistic. I wanted to share my newfound understanding with others who might benefit from reading about a different perspective of the world.
I’ve always sort of understood that I thought differently from everyone else. I figured, since I obviously didn’t think like everyone else, that no one else did, exactly, either. To me, this was a logical conclusion. If I was different, then everyone else was too. And if that was the case, then they all had interesting thoughts and stories to tell about how they interacted with the world. This is why I read blogs. I think that everyone has something unique and important to offer the world.
I’m taking a class on teaching right now. The idea is that it’s for graduate students and postdocs who want to go into academia and be good instructors. It’s absolutely horrible. It’s a bunch of graduate students who want to be good teachers, who are voluntarily taking this class for no credit on our own time. The professor has all the right intentions, but he doesn’t really have a clue how to teach. We’re in a “flipped classroom” – this means that instead of doing homework based on class, we have class based on the homework. If you did the homework, class is less than useless, because it covers the first 1/3 of whatever reading you had to do. And the teacher, oh the teacher, his heart is in the right place, but it’s really just not very good. I’m the sort who always goes to class because I feel like I gain something out of it, even if only a tiny little bit. This class, though, I feel like it takes away, and that is incredibly frustrating.
I promise, this all comes back to thinking differently and processing information. A couple of weeks ago, we were discussing Bloom’s Taxonomy (link is to wikipedia). For those of you unfamiliar with teaching pedagogy, it’s basically this idea that learning and teaching occur on different levels. To illustrate how Bloom’s Taxonomy works, the instructor had us all do a basic math quiz, and then discuss with our neighbors what level of Bloom’s Taxonomy each of the problems applied to. Then we had to share our answer with the group. Apparently, there was only one right answer. The instructor couldn’t fathom that some of us didn’t memorize multiplication tables, and that every time we were faced with a math problem, we had to think about it. And not only that, we thought about it in different ways. Thus, our location in the Taxonomy was different than where he thought we should be. To me, this is a great example of a diverse classroom and the need to be flexible in your teaching, to accommodate diverse learning styles. When multiple learning strategies are applied in the classroom, everybody benefits. But instead, the instructor spent 5 minutes discussing how my group (and another group who came to another answer) was wrong. I tried to explain to him how the problem worked for my brain, and he wouldn’t hear it, even when others jumped in and said similar things.
The thing is, though, that this sort of questions about how someone processes information – they have no “right” answer. And that’s the beauty of humanity. Everyone thinks a little bit differently, processes information a little bit differently, and understands concepts a little bit differently. It shouldn’t matter what steps your brain takes to get from point A to point B. In fact, those steps will change and grow and mutate as you continue to process more information, to learn more, and build a framework about a subject. Being a good teacher hinges on understanding this fundamental difference in human cognition, both within an individual and among individuals.
A while back, I wrote a post about how being autistic makes me a good teacher. Going through this class makes me realize that it’s not just the fact that I am autistic and therefore think differently. It’s the fact that I’m a metacognitive autistic who thinks about thinking, and who thinks about all of the implications of how my thoughts differ from other people’s thoughts. I think that this is the way to be a good teacher. And so, I continue to think, read, and write, about how people learn and process information. Maybe I am getting something out of this class after all.