Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Open Letter to My Students

If you have followed this blog for long, you probably know that I use the Socratic Method to teach Financial Accounting (sophomores) and Intermediate Accounting (juniors). My students are stunned at first when I start asking them questions. Most of them have never experienced anything like this. My goal is to get them comfortable (but not too comfortable) after the first 2-3 classes.

We have now had 8 classes (we start early). Class is moving along nicely (I think). I really want them to enjoy the give and take of learning. A roller coaster will scare you to death the first time you ride it but about the third time “scary” becomes “fun.” I am not interested in scaring anyone but I do want to help them develop their critical thinking skills. That is rarely easy. So, I like to get them to buy into what we are doing.

I also believe in being totally honest and open with my students as to what I am doing and why. I think they deserve to know the why. After all, it is their life; it is their education. I think we should all talk more with students about what we are doing in class and why. Verbalizing the goals can be helpful to you as well as to them.

Therefore, after class today, I sent the following email to my students just to explain what I was doing.

“I often have students ask me why I teach so differently. I could have explained this on Day One but you wouldn’t have understood. For the first 20 years of my career, I was a lecturer and I was good at it. I was as good at teaching copying and memorizing as a person could possibly be.

“And I was very disillusioned – I was ready to quit and go get a real job and make a lot of money. If that was teaching, I wasn’t interested. That wasn’t how I wanted to spend my life. I wasn’t changing anyone in the way I wanted.

“Two things happened that changed me. People can change. That alone is something to remember.

“The Youtube video below is one of the two things that changed me – it comes from a movie of that time. My guess is that a lot of students would watch this video and claim that it demonstrates cruel and unusual punishment (I have a friend here at Richmond who believes that). Hopefully, you’ll have a different view of it. Three things to pay special attention to as you watch.
***First, at about the 3:35 mark, the teacher talks about what he is doing. I wish I could have said it that well.
***Second, it’s all about preparation and thinking. That’s it; there are no short cuts. You either prepare to learn or you don’t learn.
***Third, compare “Mister Hart” at the beginning to “Mister Hart” at the end. That class has changed him and made him a smarter, more confident, much better educated person. That is a class worth having. That’s a learning experience that is worth doing.

“That is exactly what I want for each of you. I promise you that I never call on you where I’m not trying to get you to the point that he experiences at the end of this video. 50 minutes per class – that is the goal."

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