Saturday, May 9, 2009

Teaching like a Cat

I thought I would take the liberty of extending my cat analogy. Today's lesson comes not from our current batch of kittens but from a wonderful mother cat who was part of our family when I was young. Like most of our cats in those days, she had come to us through the fields--just showed up at our back door looking for food. I don't remember that we ever called her anything but "Kitty". Kitty had Siamese coloring, but seems to have obtained her temperament from somewhere else. She was both affectionate and intelligent, and these attributes were most apparent when she was raising kittens.
I remember specifically watching her one day with a batch of kittens probably 5 or 6 weeks old. Kitty had found a mouse (we were in farm country, so mice were plentiful and cats appreciated!) and brought it back unharmed to provide her kittens with an important learning opportunity. Usually I hated it when one of our cats caught a mouse, I felt so sorry for the little mice and used to rescue them when I could. But this time I watched in fascination as Kitty carefully carried the live mouse and dropped it where the kittens were playing. The kittens of course were delighted with this new plaything and immediately set about stalking and pouncing on it. Whenever the mouse escaped from the circle of kittens (this happened several times) Kitty would go after it and bring it back. I don't remember how the mousing lesson ended, but it can't have been good for the mouse. I imagine I didn't watch.
I could learn a lesson in fascilitating learning from that mother cat. She was teaching her kittens an important skill, indeed one that could be critical for their future lives. How did she teach? Did she sit the kittens down and lecture to them? Did she insist they master this skill before they could go out and play? No. She simply presented them with the opportunity, and stayed around to encourage and support.
Yesterday afternoon I enjoyed listening as my husband followed a similar approach with Lily. We were in the car on the way to violin rehearsal, when he said "I want to teach Lily multiplication". What followed went something like this:
Dad: Lily, do you know what 2 times 2 means?
Lily: No.
Dad: Times means groups of, so if you have 2 times 2 you have 2 groups of two. So if you have 2 socks in one hand and 2 socks in the other hand, that is 2 times 2. How much is that?
Lily: (slight pause) 4!
Dad: Exactly! Let's try something harder. How much is 3 times 4? That is 3 groups of 4.
Lily: (longer pause) 12!
Dad: And what about 2 times 10?
Lily: I don't know.
Dad: Do you know what 10 plus 10 is?
Lily: 20
Dad: Putting 10 and 10 together is making two groups of ten. That's the same as 2 times 10. So what is 2 times 10?
Lily: 20!
Dad: and what is 3 times 10?
Lily (thinking hard) 30!
Dad: That's right!

Did you see what Dad did? He presented Lily with the multiplication mouse as something that would be interesting and fun for her to play with. He made it easy for her at first, starting with something well within her grasp--two groups of two. When the mouse seemed to be getting away from her (10 times 10) he jumped in to provide support and encouragement. He kept the lesson brief and ended on a successful note.
I bet he didn't know he was immitating a mother cat.


James said...

I remember that cat, and the mouse

MaryAnne said...

That cat did have a name - it was something exotic that you came up with, an invented name. Something that reminded me of asparagus for some reason...

But I don't remember ever calling her anything but Kitty. She was a wonderful cat...

Elisabeth said...

It's fascinating to me that all three of you remember that specific cat and incident, and I can't say I do. Maybe I didn't connected with the cats as much as some of you? I remember always having cats...and the story sounds vaguely familiar...but that's about it. I definitely couldn't have told you the cat's coloring, let alone remembered how she arrived at our house or that we simply called her Kitty. I remember a succession of cats, but the only one I can distinguish from the others we had while we lived in that house was the one we called Casper the Friendly Ghost...

Paula said...

Mary Anne,
Yes, I remember that I was the one who named the cat, but even I don't remember the name--only that it made me think of onions! It's really interesting that made you think of asparagus...
Elisabeth: hmm, I don't remember a cat named Casper--but the only ones I remember specifically are Kitty and Blacky (but his was a sad story). I think there was also a Whitey, or more than one--could that have been Casper? You probably do remember Kentucky, who was one of Kitty's kittens...but then his story had a tragic ending too, and I've never quite gotten over it because I think I was responsible (accidentally).

Kelley said...

Such a simple, basic lesson. I will think on that for a bit.