Foreshadowing… not just for English teachers

I have had the good fortune to visit India several times. The first time Delhi was overwhelming. The people — rich, poor and everyone in between. The air: an unforgettable mix of wood smoke, dust and diesel exhaust. The traffic: cars, motorcycles, bicycles, rickshaws, mule-pulled carts, donkey-pulled carts, human-pulled carts, pedestrians, dogs and cows and you-name-it all in a gentle ballet, each wending his way through the fray. Vehicles passing so closely that functioning rear-view mirrors were rare. And driving on the left-hand side of the road seemed — at times — simply a suggestion.

And did I mention the incessant honking? Not the punitive-style North American honking — more of a “honking instead of braking” honking; or an “I’m right behind you” honking; maybe a “I’m thinking about passing you” honking.

It was (capital C) Cacophony.

By my third trip, the overwhelm-factor was way down. I saw things more deeply: the beaded edges of an old woman’s dirty, burnt orange sari. That she was barefoot on the hot pavement, her tarnished silver ankle bangles making a barely audible tinkling as she walked past our stationary micro-van.

On reflection, this marked what I saw as the beginning of my understanding of India.

The parallel to teaching and learning hit me.

Students need to see a topic more than once to really get it. For example, the mole concept can present a serious challenge. Why not mention it earlier in the course? As a quantity unit, the mole lets students understand the use of fractional coefficients to balance a chemical equation — you can’t have half a molecule, but you can have half a mole of molecules. By the time we formally reach the mole concept, students already have an understanding of what it’s about. Their overwhelm-factor is way down.

English teachers call this foreshadowing. I call it good teaching — pedagogy that respects how people think, and maximizes on it.

I’ll need a 500 word essay on this by Monday.1

1.   Just kidding