Showing Your Work For Learning

Showing Your Work For Learning

“Show your work in the working column,” is something I often heard in mathematics classes in school, and read in question papers for assessments. This display of your calculation process and steps was meant as a proof of authenticity, for the teacher or examiner to make sure the final result had not simply been copied or guessed. Showing your work was an added obstacle to prove your actual mathematical knowledge. I won’t go so far as to say it tested understanding, because if you understood, there are many things you could manage without displaying exactly how mechanically you executed long division. I was never a mathematical prodigy, merely average, but even I remember times when I had to fill out the working column for bureaucratic requirements rather than because I needed to calculate the answer. Showing your work in scribbles at the side of the page was often just examination red tape you tolerated.

Part of the problem was that mathematics was, is and likely will always be taught with a heavy emphasis on teaching prescribed steps with no context other than that it is the way it works. It’s more of that straight line simplification that is both essential and dangerous to basic learning. So it comes to be that showing your work merely proves your passable recall of basic arithmetic and the inculcated steps. A boon to the examiner and sometimes a bane for the learner.

I’m at best apathetic towards the needs of examiners to be shown your ‘work’. It is a necessary obstacle in the number-crunching system we find ourselves in; Not useful but mandatory. However, being shown the working process of others is actually priceless for learners, or at least those who actually want to learn, an aspect that’s not delved into often enough. We’re very gung-ho about the need for examiners and teachers to be shown workings as verification, but we’re not in the least bit enthusiastic to show workings and thought processes to learners, for learning. That being the main aim of education, in case that was not clear.

To all the students out there, of all ages, I have this to say, and it is important. You may not be able to demand that people show you their work, but I highly recommend you find people out there who are showing their work, and sharing their thought process. Find these people and absorb every thing they have to say. You needn’t agree with all of it, or like their choices, but you will learn more of what you actually need to know in any field by understanding the processes, than from all the formulaic qualifications you can collect in your resume.

If you want to be good at something, practice the work, but also keep expanding your thinking on the subject by reading all the case studies, making-ofs, project post mortems, and thought process ramblings you can find. Then think over what you’ve learnt and decide how much of it is spiel, how much is insight, and how much you see differently. Formulate your own thoughts on what working others show you, and see how it can help you improve your process. You will then be well on your way to learning to be good at whatever you do.