Learning By...Watching?

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, 
in order that I may learn how to do it.” 
Pablo Picasso

My father was an amazing man and taught me much about life. He was a successful businessman, working for forty-three years as an executive with a major corporation. Although he was quite successful in his career, his true passions were his family and working on all kinds of projects around our home. We had quite a large home with five acres of land and I do not recall a time when Dad was not taking on a new project, whether it was building a gazebo, new decks, and stone walls outside during the summer or adding a playroom, remodeling a bathroom, and finishing our basement inside during the winter months. I realize I am biased because I loved my dad so much, but, honestly, he could build anything and fix anything. He worked hard all week at his “real
Dad working on a marketing campaign
job” wearing a three-piece suit every day and driving many miles into the city, but he may have worked even harder every evening and every weekend around our house.

As I mentioned, my dad taught me a great deal about many aspects of life, lessons I will never forget and lessons which molded me into the person I am today. One might think that he would have also taught me a lot about flooring, wallpapering, installing drywall, building stone walls, woodworking, and automotive repair since he was a master at all these (and more) trades. Alas, I am not now, nor have I ever been, very handy at any type of manual labor endeavor. I actually learned very little about such skills from my father, but it was not because he did not try to teach me; in fact, he was a stern taskmaster who insisted I take part in his home improvement projects. Unfortunately, his teaching technique in this area was far less successful than the many lessons he taught me about life in general. As soon as we finished dinner in the evening or woke up on the weekends, my dad launched into project mode and summoned me to join the fun. However, my role was a passive one and consisted primarily of watching him do the real work. If I did anything at all, it was mainly to hand him a tool, clean up some mess, or run out to our barn to get him another tool or supply. I recall one time when he was laboring on a stone wall outside on a sweltering summer day with his shirt off that my sole job was to swat flies and mosquitoes off his back so he could focus on the wall he was building. In each of these projects, it was astounding to see what my dad could accomplish. It actually looked like fun, too. My role, however, was far from fun and I eventually began to resent these father-son projects. I left home after college, having acquired no significant home improvement skills from my father even though I most certainly spent more time watching such tasks being done than any other childhood friend I knew.

I fear that school lessons are oftentimes not unlike my childhood home improvement lessons in which my dad did all the real work while I sat by passively. Much like my experiences, too often students in classrooms (and teachers in professional learning settings) are expected to “learn by watching.” Sadly, no matter how attentive we are when watching others, there are definite limits to how much we can possibly learn while doing so. To truly learn, we must apply what we are learning. We must not only watch, but do.

Like so many educators around the world, my professional practice has been deeply influenced by Rick and Becky DuFour and I remain shocked and saddened that they are no longer with us. I devoured every book they worked on, but none more so than Learning By Doing. This handbook is a practical roadmap filled
Via: goo.gl/gLmYcH
with action steps and resources for actually doing--not just learning about--Professional Learning Communities in our schools. At one PLC institute I attended, I even recall Rick gently chiding attendees, suggesting they stop attending the institutes and actually go back to their schools and just do PLCs. Learning By Doing is their handbook designed to help educators actually act upon what they learned.

As important as it is for educators to learn by doing in professional learning experiences, it is even more important for students to learn by doing in our classrooms. Although our profession gets better every year, I worry that students are still watching more than doing. Modeling can be an important teaching technique, but it only takes us so far. We need to release control of the learning to our students, ensuring they are doing the real heavy lifting involved in acquiring any new knowledge or skill in any grade level or subject area.

My dad was a brilliant man and an incredible father. But in his 

Saying a few words about Dad at his 80th.
He died a few weeks later.
quest to teach me all he knew about home improvement and auto mechanics, he took the wrong approach. Picasso, on the other hand, had it right. To truly learn how to do something we currently cannot do, we simply must start doing it. It goes without saying that we need to be taught some fundamental skills, whether those skills relate to installing drywall, writing a persuasive essay, shooting a basketball, or painting a portrait. But then we must pivot, moving from direct instruction to
Via: goo.gl/q6bXZk
guided practice, providing targeted feedback, ongoing support, and consistent encouragement every step of the way. Moving from Learning By Watching activities to Learning By Doing activities in our schools is another way we Teach, Learn, and Lead with Passion!

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