Thank You for “How” | Shaqe Kalaj

“Thank you for how you taught us,” said the third-grader as she asked to shake my hand. “You are very welcome,” I replied, all the while wondering how this eight-year-old could so astutely spot my approach. She was insightful, perceptive, and right on target.

As I work to make a residency effective, I ardently focus on the “how” – the process — rather than the “what” — the results.  I’m driven to engage students in meaningful learning that fits with how children want to learn. They’re usually unable to communicate the difference between “what” and “how,” but they know it when they experience it.

This comment, like so many other comments from students during a residency, shows me their willingness and desire to learn. When a student thanks you for your teaching style, they are learning. And they are more than just learning — they are excelling. The barriers have been removed and they can immerse themselves in creative learning.

As I consider the ‘how” in teaching I am focused on process. From the first day of a residency I look for personal characteristics about the student. I ask the students, “What is your favorite color?” This gives me information on whether they process through their bodies, mind, or emotions. I have done a lot of studying on color and personality and I utilize this in my teaching. In my first lesson I do an assessment of how the students engage, where they have difficulty, and where they are excelling.

As I engage the students I like to go in the minds of the age group of the children that I work with. For instance, first graders love Sponge Bob, but third graders don’t. I also like to offer a lot of surprises in presenting the lesson, which draws them in. I do that by drawing a square and asking them “what could this be?” Then I will add more shapes and then all of the sudden they will scream: It’s Sponge Bob!” My goal is for them to love what they are learning and love what they are creating.

The students are sometimes focused on the end product. They can often become critical about their work. So my goal is to continue to involve them in process. I had a student who came to me and said he did not like his artwork. I smiled and told him to go ahead and color it in. He came back with smiles on his face. I find it imperative for students to love the process. However, I never discount the end product; I find it important that their art work is good. Essentially, if you focus on process you inevitably come up with a great product.

There are other strategies that I utilize in the “how.” I will continue to write about these approaches in future postings, because I do think this is the million dollar approach.

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