Thanks to Lana for her Sept 8 blog post, Out with lecturing, in with problem-solving, and the link to a very interesting article, Rethinking the way college students are taught. Of particular interest was the following passage:
"Imagine two students sitting next to one another, Mary and John. Mary has the right answer because she understands it. John does not. Mary's more likely, on average, to convince John than the other way around because she has the right reasoning."
But here's the irony. "Mary is more likely to convince John than professor Mazur in front of the class," Mazur says.
"She's only recently learned it and still has some feeling for the conceptual difficulties that she has whereas professor Mazur learned [the idea] such a long time ago that he can no longer understand why somebody has difficulty grasping it."
That's the irony of becoming an expert in your field, Mazur says. "It becomes not easier to teach, it becomes harder to teach because you're unaware of the conceptual difficulties of a beginning learner."
I live in Shanghai, China, and am studying Mandarin Chinese. I'm still a beginner, but I have a good handle on some of the basic concepts of the language (grammar, tones, word order, etc.). One of my co-workers approached me last week and asked me to teach her Chinese. I admitted to her that I am only a beginning learner myself, and that she might do better studying with one of our Chinese colleagues. She said that she had tried studying with a native-speaker, but had problems understanding the tutor's explanations. The tutor just didn't understand what my co-worker didn't understand. Because I'm a student of Chinese myself, she feels that I will have much more empathy for her struggle to learn Chinese.
It reminds me of the discussion going around a couple of weeks ago: teachers are not necessarily experts in what we teach, but rather we are guides who are just further down the learning path than our students.