Professional Noticing: It’s Hard!

Teaching, in my opinion, is one of the most complex occupations in our society.  As Miriam Sherin puts it in Mathematics Teacher Noticing, “the blooming, buzzing confusion of sensory data that teachers are faced with” can be overwhelming.  Remember back to when you were first learning how to drive. You had to pay attention to where the car was going, push the gas pedal or the brake using just the right amount of pressure with your foot, and move the steering wheel with your hands – all while worrying about what other drivers around you might be doing at the same time.  At first it was confusing and even a bit scary.  Through experience we gained insight on where to pay attention at any given time.

An inexperienced teacher is often “in the car, learning to drive for the first time”.  Faced with thirty different perspectives and multiple interactions, while at the same time trying to deliver information for students to learn, is daunting.  Professional noticing / teacher noticing is the complex and reflective process that teachers go through as they learn what to focus on in the classroom (and what to ignore).

This connects to the ideas of allowing our students to be the ones who are doing the hard work of learning.  As a teacher, if I was more fatigued than my students at the end of the day then I knew I had not done a good job of allowing my students the chance to learn.  If I did more talking, more thinking, and more processing than my students, then I most likely learned a lot that day.  But how much did my students learn?

We all learn through a process of productive struggle and I believe it is our job as teachers to provide time and experiences that give our students the chance to be engaged in their own learning process.  As our students engage in the process of solving problems, analyzing texts, and communicating with one another, it allows us to step back and watch the interactions in both small and large groups.  Teacher noticing in the classroom becomes less confusing when we have more perspective, and we have time to analyze and reflect on how our students are interacting and processing concepts.

As this blog continues I hope to broaden the definition of what professional noticing or teacher noticing is, what it looks like in the classroom, and to connect it to the idea of constructivism – the idea that our students construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences.  As you think about your own practice, are there situations and experiences in your classroom that you feel have become more important that you notice?  Are there others that have become less important?  I encourage you to reflect on why…


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