Jun 20 2008

Teaching by Showing Good Stuff

Ok, guilty as charged – it is really easy to critique others’ performances. When a student speaks in class, or writes out analysis, my default is to look for what is missing or ineffective – for ways to improve the student’s work. We do this a lot in law school. But what if we shifted this approach?

My bet is that world-class athletes don’t get better by watching novices do their sport, or by watching others mess up. Sure, they probably review and critique their own performance, and then watch as many outstanding athletes as they can. If I am a mediocre golfer, wouldn’t it be better for me to watch Tiger Woods play than to critique someone at my level?

No question that developing a critical and analytical eye is crucial to improve performance. But perhaps we need to balance this approach with emphasizing good examples and noticing what people are doing right. A clinical colleague tells me about lots of videos that can be used to teach clinical skills. But most of these movies show bad examples. Turns out, it is hard to find good examples. As my colleague pointed out, it is really scary to put yourself out there as a good example. What if people disagreed? What if colleagues and students found flaws in your performance?

This brings up a question. If we the educators have a hard time putting together a video or sample document, how hard it is for the student? Perhaps we might need to adjust our expectations a tad.

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