17 March 2010


"I taught the lesson, but they didn't learn it." How many times have incompetent teachers fallen back on that lame explanation? Speaking from both theory and personal experience, I suggest that teachers are guides in the learning process. If they fail to understand the presence of different learning styles among their students; if they fail to bring enthusiasm, creativity and dynamic flexibility to their exchange with students; if they fail to model respect and affection for their students, and for the act of learning; or if they fail to keep up with the evolution of their subject matter, then they should not be teaching.

From the general to the specific -- there is an insightful article by Ralph Butcher in the current issue of AOPA's Flight Training magazine. Butcher is the chief flight instructor at a California flight school, and a military veteran pilot. His articles are informed and enriched by both his military and civilian experience.

In recent posts I've commented on teaching, as it exists in both public and private schools. Butcher adds a valuable perspective, which I would like to quote directly. He attributes the following to Glen Williamson --

"To teach is a somewhat meaningless term. I cannot teach anyone anything. I can only help them to learn something -- maybe. I can try to be an enabler.

"To really learn requires full participation by the learner. Also, and more importantly, learning is not a linear process. No one learns in a straight line, logically or sequentially. I have only met one person who claimed to learn in a linear fashion. He is feeling much better now, and will be released next September.

"Learning is the accumulation of bits and pieces of knowledge and information. For everyone these can be different. It is the accumulation that is important.

"Oh yeah, there is the absolutely mot important required ingredient: curiosity! Without curiosity you may as well close the book and take up taxidermy."

Hear hear!! Butcher adds: "The importance of individual backgrounds, which always vary, cannot be overstated. When an identical flight lesson is given to several students, each will assimilate the lesson differently. That's why a good flight instructor will take time to understand a student's background and will always ask questions during the pre- and post-flight briefings to ensure proper student knowledge. You say, 'My instructor does not conduct those briefings.' Get another instructor."

A sidebar in Butcher's article is a useful guide to the learning process in any setting. Using aviation examples, here is what the sidebar presents --


Every flight instructor learns early on that there are four basic level of learning. These four levels represent steps at which students comprehend and can utilize information. Your goal as a student is to reach the top level. Using airspace as an example, let's explore all four:

Rote -- Can you recall basic information as it is presented to you? That's a rote level of learning.
Example -- You know that the regulations require a transponder to operate in Class C airspace.

Understanding -- At this level, you can comprehend why something is the way it is.
Example -- You understand a transponder is required in Class C airspace because air traffic controllers talk to pilots in the area.

Application -- When you've reached the application level of learning, you're able to put your learning into practice.
Example -- You contact ATC prior to entering Class C airspace for a transponder code because you know a transponder is required, and why.

Correlation -- Once you take your knowledge and apply it to different situations, you have reached the highest level of correlation.
Example -- You contact ATC prior to entering Class B airspace because you know it's even busier than Class C, and thus a transponder is required.

Pretty cool, huh?

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