Sunday, July 15, 2012

Do you teach the bright, or the slow?

One of the things I have been doing recently, now that I am supposedly the master of my own time, is teaching. Besides keeping me on my toes, the sense of personal fulfillment with teaching is quite distinctive. It is another matter that teaching has made me realize how little we actually use all the stuff that we were taught in school and college life, but that's another post.

Every class has a range of students. Some who learn fast and outdo everyone in their comprehension of a subject, some who are slow and take time to understand a subject, and a vast majority who fall around the means.

As a teacher, a big challenge is to figure which set of students should one focus on during class.

It is often easy to address the fast and the brightest, since they are the easiest to teach to. They get what you say and often tend to challenge you to push yourself. Often they are also the most participate and vocal.

However if you do so, it is pretty easy to leave behind the vast majority who would have understood very little of what you would have taught in class. Particularly the slow learners.

When I started teaching a long time back as a teaching assistant in college, this was a mistake I did - focusing on the fast. The classes would be exhilarating personally since I would focus on solving tough problems and debating with the fast learners in class. Yet after a couple of classes, I would realize that a majority of the class still did not grasp the concepts taught a few classes back. Worse still is the phenomenon that most students hesitate to ask questions when not understanding a topic, and after a couple of classes with incomprehension tend to lose interest in the subject. As a result one has created a whole class of slow learners by not getting the class along early. It took me a while to realize the folly of this approach.

Take the contrary approach of focusing on the slow learners. The challenge here is that by slowing down and working with the slow learners, it is possible to get a large part of class bored. Or so one would think.

Interestingly, even the brightest students often have weak spots. There are classes where even the brightest tend to be slow in comprehension, and even parts of a certain class could register slow. Therefore, slowing down tends to take along the whole class much better.

Add to this the reality that the fastest invariably know how to self learn a subject with minimal tutorial help. As teachers, we add greater value to the class by getting the slow learners and the vast majority to get alongside the fast in their grasp of the subject.

This is my experience. What do you think? Do you teach the bright, or the slow?