Life's Tool Box – A Guide for Parents and Educators

February 27, 2013

Trowels and Ridges to Make Learning Stick

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts — by Life's Toolbox @ 2:22 am
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When my Dad moved to Florida, he left behind with each of his three children several toolboxes full of all shapes and sizes of tools.  Buried in the bottom of one of the boxes I inherited was a wooden handled tool, with a triangular like wide, flat blade.  Until last week, I didn’t know what it was, or why I needed it.  When two tiles came loose in our front hallway, and I visited do-it-yourself websites to find out how to apply the adhesive goop to the floor, I discovered what a trowel is, and why one side has a smooth edge and the other is notched.


Trowels come in many shapes and sizes, but most of those made for applying adhesive have both smooth and grooved or notched edges.  You first apply the adhesive with the smooth side of the trowel.  The notched edge is then used to create ridges in the adhesive, which, I read, keeps air bubbles from forming.  Air bubbles create a space between the tile and the floor, weakening the adhesion and making the tiles vulnerable to breaking when they are walked on.


As I was smoothly gooping up my floor, then undoing the smoothness by setting ridges into the adhesive, I wondered what lesson this might have for a parent and educator.  I thought of the lessons I would be teaching my students this week, and the lessons they would be teaching their students, and some truths about teaching and learning came to me.  We lay our lessons down, well-planned (hopefully) and smoothly.  We carefully engage students in learning the material, but that’s just the first step.  For learning to stick we need to go back and help students get in the groove.  We need to allow our students to mess up our lessons, to leave their mark, to make the learning their own.


If you read the D-I-Y blogs on tile application, you will find discussion about how even or deep the ridges in the adhesive need to be, what pattern of ridges is best, what type of trowel will serve.  Educators too, fill blogs with discussions of what types of learning activities will prompt understanding, what tasks will build higher order thinking.  After reading dozens of conflicting opinions about how to swirl the grooves in my tile goop, I assumed, I hope correctly, that there was more than one right way.  In teaching too, there are, I suspect, many good methods.  What is critical, is the willingness to try, and to keep trying, and to teach in more than one way and provide opportunities to learn more than once.


The tile-laying bloggers advised different techniques for different size and types of tiles, for wall or floor applications, in varying temperatures . . . etc.  Teachers and parents too, need to consider the types of students before them, and the complexity of the tasks to be learned, as they prepare to teach and deepen their teachings.  For some students, simple repetition may be enough to cement learning, for others, meta-cognitive strategies like mnemonics and charts may be helpful.  Some lessons may be presented with lecture or visuals, others need hands-on experience or time to think and integrate.


In our teaching and parenting, we need to be willing to get into the goop.  To lay it on, not too thick, and to score the surface, to make room for learning to stick, we need to be prepared to try various strategies, and to keep trying.  Not only do our children and students stand a better chance at mastery, but we send the message, through our commitment, that learning takes time and effort, but it is worth the effort for lessons that will hold fast, and grou


1 Comment »

  1. Your analogies are always so apt!! (Can you do any chore without thinking in terms of better teaching and better parenting?) I think not!! So, we all benefit from the “tool box reminders”….. Thanks…..E. and S.

    Comment by E and S Milch — February 27, 2013 @ 3:16 pm |Reply

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