Have a look at this study of a bull by Pablo Picasso:

It starts off with intricate drawings and step by step Picasso moves from detail to just the essence of what a bull is, using just a handful of lines.

Sometimes we have to ‘cut the bull’… We have to look at the essence of what good teaching and learning looks like.

Unit planning: What do you really want students to know, to understand, and be able to do? How does this connect to other subjects, and to the world we live in, and to the students themselves?

Lesson planning: What do you really want students to know, to understand, and be able to do? What are students doing during the lesson? (How does the lesson engage students?) How do they connect with/to the learning?

I remember teaching a an introductory lesson on fractions to Grade 8’s that I thought went really well. The following day I drew a number line from 0 to 1 and gave students a bunch of fractions to put on that line in the order that they would fit. The results were dismal. Sure, a handful of students understood the problem, but they probably understood it before I gave the lesson. For others, there were all kinds of guesses and incorrect patterns followed (like the bigger denominator or numerator being closer to 1). One kid actually raised his hand and asked if this was a trick question, and while I did have a bonus question with a fraction like 7/6 that would have extended past the number line, that is not what the student meant.

My introductory lesson had completely missed the mark. While I introduced fractions, I failed to answer the very basic question of ‘what does a fraction represent?’

The questions we ask ourselves before we plan determine what we really need to ask of our students.

Picasso didn’t do his final drawing by asking, “How can I use the least amount of lines to draw a bull?” In each drawing he took away the non-essential components, leaving behind only what was necessary.


Also published on Medium.

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