TITLE: You Never Know What Students Will Remember... AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: October 08, 2013 3:48 PM DESC: ----- BODY: There are a lot of clichés about teachers and their unexpected effects on students. Some of them are true. In the last couple of weeks, I've been reminded twice that students remember the darnedest things, and those things can affect how they behave and live. First, while at StrangeLoop, I was tagged in a Facebook conversation. A former student had posted an update that involved special-ordering a mini-fridge on-line. The ensuing conversation included the following:
Commenter: "In a college town you have to special order a mini-fridge? Me thinks you are doing it wrong." Former student: "Yeah, I know... Eugene Wallingford once said the same when I wrote a framework to implement a stack..."
I know this student well and remember his stack framework. He is a smart guy who was learning a lot about CS and programming in a very short time. In his earnestness to apply what he was learning, he had indeed written a flexible, generic framework for a stack in response to a problem that called for twenty, maybe thirty, lines of Java 1.4. We talked about simplicity, trade-offs, You Aren't Gonna Need It, and other design issues. I believe him when he says that I said, "You must be doing it wrong." That's the sort of thing I would say. I don't remember saying it in that moment, though. Then, earlier this week, the latest issue of our college newsletter hit the newsstand. An undergrad CS major was interviewed for a "student spotlight" column. It contains this snippet:
Last semester, I went into Dr. Wallingford's office asking why I was not very efficient when answering questions, even though I read the material over and over again. I felt that because I had memorized the books information, I could quickly answer questions.... "He told me, 'when I want to improve my mile time, I run. I don't think about running; I go out and run.' This has really stuck with me since and showed me how books can only do so much. After that, it is the practice and experience that takes you far.
Again, I recall having a conversation with this student about how he could improve his test performance. He, too, is a smart guy who is good at learning the material we see in class and in the readings. What he needed at the time was more practice, to cement the new ideas in his mind, to help him make connections with what he already knew, and to help him write good code faster on exams. I believe him when he says that I used a running analogy. Over the years, I have found that training for marathons illustrated a lot of useful ideas about learning, especially when it comes to practice and habit. And I do like analogies. But I don't remember the details of what I said in that particular conversation. These two incidents are salient reminders that we should take seriously the time we spend with our students. They are listening -- and learning. -----