Friday, 30 December 2011

IS THAT THINKING OR KNOWING? - teaching Vs testing

Being a teacher is one of the most thrilling and exciting risks one can choose to run. It's so rewarding, funny, amazing, never boring, yet so difficult. You are never 100% sure you're doing the right move at the right moment. The very first rule I learnt as a teacheryoungling, years ago, was this one: rest assured, you'll eventually find out if what you did was right or wrong for your students - only, you'll find out months, or even years later (when it's too late!).

I told Dr Diana Hicks my doubts about being successful in my job: how can I be sure my kind of teaching is what my class needs? her answer was another question
"is that thinking or knowing?"
And this question has been my mantra through my job ever since.

If what I do is about knowing, if there's just one right answer, then it's not teaching, it's a test.
Teaching activities have to do with thinking (how?).
Testing activities have to do with knowing (what?).

It may sound ovious, but it isn't - at least, not for me. And I think all teachers run the risk of misunderstanding this difference. Of course assessment is an important (and difficult) part of our job, but if our teaching is not successful, if we are testing our pupils all the time instead of making them think on their own, our pupils are doomed to failure.

That's another reason why I love EU projects: Comenius, eTwinning, Erasmus, and all kind of real-life educational experiences that let pupils (and teachers) meet the unexpected - school is so boring otherwise. Through these programmes, we meet new people and ideas, and we (pupils and teachers) are forced to think, as what we know is not enough. That's how we get to know something new by thinking. Together.
So, teaching first, then testing. And teaching in a way that makes pupils think, not learn by heart - and forget the very next minute after the test.

I'd like to close 2011 with these pictures of the eTwinning Camp in Budapest. A place for teaching and learning, and for sure, a place for thinking.
I'm saying bye to the adventures and experiences of this year with the images of students happily engaged in learning and having fun.

Thank you eTwinning, Comenius, Dr Hicks, and thank you friends all over Europe.
Have a great 2012, full of satisfaction, success, and fun.

After all, despite the tons of bureaucracy and boring papers, ours is still the best job in the world :)

..and now, that's thinking
(and then knowing!)


  1. Dear Laura,
    as you, and as many other teachers, I think a lot about some situation what happened in the classroom. Sometimes after the situation I just find it was a mistake what I did, or I have many question- what I did was the best for children? Yes, the questions are always there, but I think, it could be a problem don't "hear" our questions.
    Thinking or knowing? Interesting question..perhaps a mix could be an answer? Or, sometimes for example with the little ones too - doing, thinking and knowing. I like when our pupils can try out what we would like to teach them.
    With eTwinning and other European projects we have this possibility. For example with BE TWIN our pupils did it, and we too. Thank you for your photos about eTwinning Camp, it was a great experience being there with our pupils together. One of the best moment in 2011, in Twin).
    Have a great new year with a lot of nice experiences.)

  2. Great quotation! My "bravo" to Dr Hicks, whose course I had the pleasure to attend some years ago.
    All of the teachers should reflect on the "is that thinking or knowing?" question.
    Of course our students have to get to know things, but they can't do this without thinking first.
    So when I am teaching I always try to keep them focused and thinking. Later on there will be plenty of time for tests, in order to assess their level of "knowing".

  3. I believe there are still too many teachers who think learning things by heart counts as proper "learning". Many of them go on explaining things in one single way, disrespectful of the different learning styles of their pupils. Sometimes just reading things aloud out of a book is considered "teaching".
    There are lots of teachers who are in fact testing their students even when they think they are teaching them. No surprise if their students are bored, or angry, or not successful.
    Thanks Mrs Hick and thanks Laura for giving your contribution in order to change this.

  4. Hi everybody,
    thanks for your interesting notes. I'm happy we agree on this: it's very important for me that we spread word about the importance of actually "teaching" in a way that's useful for our pupils. They are not to be considered empty bottles to be filled by the teachers' wisdom any more. If they have to learn, they'll have to learn first of all independent thinking. That's difficult, I know. But hey, that's our job, isn't it?