Are We There Yet?

Are we getting the point(s) across?  We have no shortage of tools to help us answer that question, and some important people, often the ones who pay us, urge us to show them that we have.  Nationally-normed tests, departmental exams, artifacts for accreditation: we have a mountain of data to evaluate, and we spend a lot of time mining that mountain for the treasures hidden in those facts.  Like you, I use that information to help me modify my teaching and to remind myself that I am not there yet.

Still, numbers aren’t everything. (Sorry, Pat!  I will concede that they are almost everything.) After teaching for several terms, I began to notice a certain sameness in the stories that students were telling me before class and at break, often with laughter and surprise.  These student observations are now woven into my classes as part of our culture and have become part of the pleasure in learning anatomy & physiology. The top 3:

  • “Oh my gosh, Dr. D!  I am dreaming about this stuff!”  Sometimes a complaint, but more often delivered with a chuckle, the dream story appears at some point in every class.  My psychology pal Anne tells me that dream theory is complicated and uncertain stuff, but dreaming seems to allow our brains to synthesize experiences and to solidify memories.  When students start dreaming, I know that I’m offering something to dream about.
  •  “My kid’s teacher asked me ‘Where is she learning this stuff?'” Many of my students have preschool and elementary age children who get a kick out of helping Mom learn her bones.  Since the children are little info-sponges, they often absorb the material faster than their parents.  “Mom, how many times have we been over this? Focus!” was what one student heard from her 7-year-old.  When a four year old proudly displays her cranium, clavicle, and femur at show-and-tell, people take note.
  • “My friends and family are begging me to stop talking about this stuff!”  Are you listening, Dr. Bloom?  My students have moved from merely knowing the goods to making connections and applications.  They watch sports and analyze the injuries.  They watch the news and discuss the accidents and celebrity illnesses.  They go out to eat and talk about molecules and digestion.  They tell their buddies why their noses are running in cold weather. Their comrades are sick of it!

Amusing, but is this really part of pleasure in learning? I think so.  When students offer one of these gems, as they do in every class, I ask permission to share with the group (although the student usually has already broadcast their bit), and wait for others to share their similar experiences.  People realize that they belong to a group.  We enjoy the humor in the stories.  I point to the stories as proof that they are making progress toward achieving the challenge.

For a while, I told students to expect these experiences and asked that they report them as they occurred.  Now, I wait until they appear naturally and let students enjoy the surprise. Each class feels that they are discovering a new phenomenon.  Every time, I enjoy their amazement with them.


Have your students brought you stories that prove to you that they are learning?  Are some of the themes of these stories recurrent?  We hope that you will share with us.

If you have a junior anatomist at your house, visit eskeletons from the University of Texas at Austin.  The “Activities/Teaching Resources” drop-down menu features a printable life-sized skeleton of a 6-year-old child…a fabulous rainy day activity or science project.


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