Dealing with the fear of being a boring teacher.


Copy A “Process”

I had a very nice student ask me if I would be willing to show her exactly how to do all of the math in physics before we started doing anything. She said that she learns best when she can copy a process just with different numbers, like math class.

I had no idea how to tell such a nice young lady that this is exactly the problem I’m trying to fix.

I responded, “Well, there’s an infinite number of physical systems, so there’s no way I can do that. You’re going to have to learn the larger ideas and then apply them.”

She looked at me and said that no one has ever put it that way before.

Not OK.

Shawn Cornally • September 30, 2011

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  1. Arden Stracquatanio November 27, 2011 - 5:50 pm

    You have a way with words. I am adding this page as a bookmark on as – ” ” so all my friends can see it. I think they will like it as much as I did. If they do, then I will add a link to one of my Hubpages with the anchor text – ” Think Thank Thunk » Copy A “Process”: ” or something very similar. All the best with future posts, good work.

  2. Dominique Spence October 11, 2011 - 12:06 am

    Hello. I am currently enrolled in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama. This is one class that I get the most out of because I have to learn on my own and figure out how to operate software and programs required to complete my projects. I am also doing the best in this class. However I am enrolled in Physics 114 and Chemistry 132. I have taken Chemistry in high school and I can say that most of what I was taught or that I was suppose to learn was forgotten. The copy process was used often in my classes and I did have A/B average. Now attending college I have to unlearn that copy method and learn the material in a general way. The questions on our test are nothing like the homework or quizzes. They test an overall understanding of the subjects. As a future teacher I will do my best to help my students learn how to learn and how to do well on test that are not “copy” based.
    My blog is

  3. Bowman Dickson October 2, 2011 - 12:07 am

    the latest anonymous feedback from my class:
    “can you make the quizzes the same as the homework questions because you are confusing us”
    Definitely feeling the same sentiment

    • Shawn October 2, 2011 - 7:33 pm

      Good to know it’s international, I think. Thanks for commenting Bowman, I’m a fan of yours.

  4. Alex October 1, 2011 - 11:59 am

    Yesterday at school I heard a kid in the hallway say: “I don’t care if I learn the content, as long as I get an A, I don’t care.”

    • Santo D’Agostino October 4, 2011 - 12:54 pm

      This is a good reason to eliminate grades, which are a large part of the problem here. Forcing students to take courses they are not interested in is most of the rest of the problem.

      It’s not the fault of the students that grades are all-important, it’s the game that they’ve been presented with. They are just trying to survive the game, as it has been laid out for them, in the best way that they can. I don’t think that there is an easy way to “fix the problem” as long as we keep the current inhumane system of grading. I’ve posted about this on my own blog, as recently as earlier today.

      The way to “fix the problem” is to create nurturing environments where students are encouraged to engage in projects that they feel passionate about. When they run into situations where they need to learn some background knowledge/skills, they will do it enthusiastically, and retain it, because it means something to them. And if they don’t cover all of the background knowledge that we would have liked them to, so what? Once they have practiced the process of initiating, struggling through, and successfully completing projects they care about, they will have all the ability they need to be successful in life, and will be able to rapidly learn whatever they should happen to need in future.

      We are so afraid that high-school studetns will graduate without having covered all the essential background that we have created a system that virtually guarantees that the vast majority of students will graduate with a poor understanding of their high-school studies! University is worse. Whitehead said that “Knowledge keeps no better than fish” and it is high time we heeded this.

  5. RB October 1, 2011 - 8:35 am

    Sadly, this process copying has probably led her to a A/B average, where simple process memorization should probably put a student in the C range. It is exactly the process we are all trying to fix.

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