This question is inspired by the realization that my own learning style has been getting in the way of my teaching.
I learn very inductively. (After a distracted quarter of an hour of research, I'm still not sure if that's actually the word I want.) That is, I learn best by taking a pile of specifics and doing the work on my own to turn them into generalizations. I like to stuff myself to the gills with information on whatever topic I'm currently researching, and then I let it all ferment. I find connections, I sort, I sift, I go off on wild tangents that still connect back to the main topic, and after a while it all clicks. All that mass of information is organized into a nifty little outline, with conclusions and their supporting data, along with the occasional sidenote sticky fact. A few months later, I've forgotten the supporting data but the conclusions have become a firm part of my mind.
Because I learn like this, I tend to feel that everything needs context. "If I'm going to expect my students to understand x," I say to myself, "I should tell them about y and z so they can see why I think x is true."
Sometimes this urge is a good thing.
More often, it's not.
One of the main things that connect lessons I come away from feeling like it just didn't fly is that in my zeal to show you x, y, z and their funny cousin q, I got away from the basic principle of all design: keep it simple, stupid.
I need to constantly ask myself questions like:
- "Teaching with primary documents is great, but do I need to expose them to this many different sources on the topic?"
- "Do they really need to know the answers to all 10 of those questions to get the essential understanding I'm aiming for?"
- "Will this information actually help them make sense of things or just bog them down in more facts to memorize?"
- "Am I making the narrative behind the information clear enough or just expecting them to see it because I do?"