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The Must Teach vs The Can Teach

Building and Construction skills teacher and Head of Design Sean Smith looks at what he “must teach students” as opposed to what he “can teach students”.

The “must teach” is the easier element to work with as it is provided to us through governing bodies like the QCAA (Queensland curriculum and assessment authority) and ACARA (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority), there is plenty of written structure, resources and planning that go into these documents and directions and they reflect the most current thinking and research that aims to improve how our children learn, understand and apply things like critical thinking, problem solving and the like through various subjects.

It is the more formal content and structure that surrounds the “must teach” that students can get lost within and potentially disengaged from the more formal structures of education. One way to help prevent this disengagement is to slip into the “can teach” mode of education and an example of this was on display with the Year 10 Building and construction classes in Term 2.

In Term 2 students were asked to design and construct a cutting board made from three different species of timber and they were limited to a size. This task, whilst seemingly uncomplicated, required mental manipulation and planning of construction techniques. This saw some students struggle and start to disengage or provide designs that were basic and unchallenging. At this point the Design staff decided to challenge themselves with the same task and this was shared with the students. The teachers understandably went into overdrive and started to construct boards that were out of reach of the students’ skill sets but instantly reengaged them as they barracked for their own teachers in the competition. Students started to think more deeply about their own board designs and challenged themselves with what they could achieve based on what they observed being produced by the teachers.

Their designs started to become more complex and challenging, they worked through barriers and strived to make their design successful and planned out how to manufacture and finish their projects to a high standard. The shift in the level of design, workmanship and finish was significant and students actively sought instruction and advice on how they could improve their mark.

I believe it was the “can teach” moment when teachers could be seen struggling through the same sets of problems students were, and how they showed resolve when they hit difficult situations that students picked up on and adopted in their own work. It was also the level of cooperation teachers showed when they helped one another solve an unforeseen issue and the pride they showed in the level of finish they displayed in their work.

So, it is my belief that the “can teach” moments, the teaching of resolve, pride in what your do, self-confidence and persistence are the moments teachers can make the most significant positive impact on students as they travel through life during and after school.

Author, Sean Smith Head of Design

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