The first week of Hack Reactor has largely been review. (Actually, I expect this to be the case for the first few weeks.) I've taken the opportunity to mentor other students struggling with the material. Yesterday, I used half of my lunch time to explain how the functional and functional-shared instantiation patterns work to a student.

Part of what took so long was sussing out the root of the student's misunderstanding. While giving the answer would've been possible, it would not have been nearly as productive. My job as a teacher is to bridge the gap between what they think and what would be a more accurate way of thinking.

During a lecture on life at HR, the instructor Marcus explained his method of teaching. It goes something like this:

  1. There exists some "true" model of understanding about a concept. You have a version of that truth, hopefully fairly accurate.
  2. Provide examples, stories, whatever to convey that model to the student. Now the student has their own model constructed.
  3. Probe with questions to assess the veracity of their model and any missing pieces.
  4. Strategize how to bring their model closer to your own, possibly through minor corrections, more analogies, visualizations, etc. Collect an array of these options.
  5. Run through each scenario and evaluate how the strategy may be interpreted by the student. Choose the one that yields the best result and then convey that one.
  6. goto step 3.

I was quite impressed by this philosophy, for two reasons: a) it shows Marcus invests a lot of energy into pedagogy, and b) I have been doing that for many years in teaching dance, but without codifying the process.

I've often spoken of teaching dance like fixing a car: you watch the symptoms of the car (student) and assess what critical component is out of alignment. Perhaps there are multiple pieces being problematic, in which case find the one that will percolate through the system to the greatest impact.

With the process laid out on a page, I can have even more fun with teaching. It really is like a game to me. I delight in assessing how a student thinks about a concept and carefully leading them to a more informed mental model. If I can only impart one concept, what should it be? I'd say it's really working out. Later in the day, the student expressed how helpful I had been, and that progress was coming along nicely thanks to the improved understanding.

Troubleshooting, or engaging in what follows steps 1 and 2, strike me as a (the most?) deeply engaging aspect of teaching. Good analogies and framing can only go so far, which is what books and online videos are for. If sticking with the car analogy makes sense, steps 1 and 2 are like being the car designers, while 3-6 means being a mechanics. I'll take that.