What happens when you assume

During a staff meeting a month or two ago we were asked to sum up our teaching persona in one word. The word that I chose was unassuming.

Not pretentious or arrogant;  modest:  “an unassuming and kindly man”.


modest – unpretentious – humble – unpretending – lowly

I thought this was accurate because I try to model inquiry all of the time. I’m always seeking independent confirmation when trying to work out the answer to tough questions, looking for multiple solutions to the same problem, or feigning ignorance in class to help demonstrate a process to students. I don’t really want students to look to me as some inexhaustible source of knowledge; I want them being critical and searching for answers themselves. My approach to misbehavior is also unassuming; I try not to base how I deal with students on preconceptions, stereotypes, or guesses. Instead I talk to students and really try to understand what is happening.

As unassuming as I am with students, I assume far too much in dealing with other teachers. And it’s becoming a serious problem.

Working with students, I never assume that they have background knowledge of what we’re discussing and I’m constantly checking for understanding. Talking to other teachers I assume what they know is consistent with what I know, and end up keeping important details to myself. If I delegate a task to someone else I assume they know exactly what to do, whereas I’d provide at least a semblance of directions to students. I assume both the best and the worst from my fellow teachers, and end up pleasantly or troublingly surprised after lengthy periods  without follow-up conversations. I trust my students to do their best but constantly seek confirmation.

COMMUNICATION is the theme in our three-person Sp. Ed. department, and there’s no room for assumptions in good communication. I feel that I’m definitely communicating more with other teachers than I have previously, so now it’s time to communicate more effectively. Eliminating assumptions seems like a good place to start.


How Smart Can We Get? 4 Takeaways for Students

A recent episode of NOVA scienceNOW tries to answer an interesting question: How Smart Can We Get? The human brain is an impressive organ that changes over time – here are four useful points for students interested in how they can develop their thinking skills..

  • Areas of the brain literally grow through training.

Size isn’t everything, but learning creates visible growth in the brain. A knob forms on the right motor cortex after just 15 months of training on a string instrument, and a similar knob forms on the left side through piano training. These are stark examples of the concept of brain plasticity; the ability of your brain to change and grow throughout your lifetime.

  • Your memory is more expansive than you think.

A memory champion can memorize 303 numbers, or the order of a deck of playing cards in just five minutes. An average person can memorize 60 random numbers or 40 random words in about ten minutes. How? A memorization technique called the Method of Loci. It’s a multi-sensory, location based approach.

Like every other one of our biological faculties, our memories evolved through a process of natural selection in an environment that was quite different from the one we live in today. And much as our taste for sugar and fat may have served us well in a world of scarce nutrition but is maladaptive in a world of ubiquitous fast-food joints, our memories aren’t perfectly suited for our contemporary information age. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t need to recall phone numbers or word-for-word instructions from their bosses or the Advanced Placement U.S. history curriculum or (because they lived in relatively small, stable groups) the names of dozens of strangers at a cocktail party. What they did need to remember was where to find food and resources and the route home and which plants were edible and which were poisonous. (NYT)

You’re wired to remember locations – use familiar places as an anchor for new information. By adding extra information like a stupid, novel image (bacon hands), sound, emotion, and movement, you create even more connections that increase the odds of remembering.

  • Intelligence can improve over time.

Your brain can grow over time, but bigger might not be better. The ‘grey matter’ of the brain is the outside nerve cells. Your brain also includes ‘white matter’; long nerve fibers connecting different regions of the brain to one another. New research suggests that these connections between specific regions might be one of the best indicators of intelligence; and you can do things to improve those connections, like learning to juggle! When it comes to your brain, you need to use it or lose it. Learning new skills builds connections within your brain and makes future learning easier.

  • Your emotions are important.

What happens in your brain when you choke during an exam? Activity in the hippocampus, specifically the amygdala which processes emotions including fear and anxiety, interrupts your prefontal cortext (where working memory is). Your emotions are talking over your rational brain, and you choke.

Break the cycle by journaling before a stressful task. In a psychological study, students who wrote about their feelings in a journal for 10 minutes before a test scored 1/2 a grade-point higher than those who didn’t. This suggests that taking time to get your feelings off your mind frees up cognitive resources, allowing you to perform just as well in a clutch as you would normally.

Your emotions are a central part of your thinking and affect your learning, memory, and performance in school.