How Teachers Learn

‘How Teachers Learn’ is a much-needed reminder for most “grown-ups” to open their eyes to view the world through the eyes of the children. This lesson gives an insight to understand the young ones in their life and be more patient, enthusiastic, warm and empathetic teacher/parent/friend. Holt believes that children learn best when they learn at their own pace and pursue their own interests–learning should never be forced or uniform, but spontaneous and dynamic. Children don’t need to be “taught” — they simply need to be given opportunities to learn. John Holt’s good-heartedness, warmth, wisdom and genuine appreciation of children needs huge appreciation in the lesson.


Nora was a five-year-old girl. The author used to visit her house on the weekend. One day Nora came and sat on the sofa. She had in her hand a book “Hop on Pop” beginner’s book. Nora taught the narrator about things children do when learning themselves to read, the problems they meet and the ways they solve or try to solve them. To solve their problem a teacher must try to see things as if through their eyes. An adult thinks it should be easy for someone to remember what a word looks from one page to the next as he knows the word. But for children it is not easy since they have seen the word for first time so a teacher should give them enough time to learn and not be surprised or upset by what looks like slowness or stupid mistakes.

In this lesson J Holt as a teacher feels puzzled to see the incompetence of Nora as she forgot to read a word second time when she had read it correctly first time. Holt has doubts about this behavior of the child but he quickly realizes that Nora was a bright child putting every effort to read properly. The writer then understood the problem by remembering his own past experience where he had struggled to read a particular word of a different language which he was learning. This experience opened a new world and the writer suggested that the children coming from disadvantaged families, families of first-generation learners, or children of unlettered families need time to just look at the different shapes of letters and get familiarity with letters before reading them. The writer concludes that the children’s casual looking at books is a sensible and a necessary step to reading. Holt says that children learn and get familiar with sounds first then they talk. Similarly, the children should get familiar with the shapes and styles of letters before they group them as a word and read the word.

So, this lesson is a wonderful guide to the teachers to comprehend the most significant trait of child psychology that Children don’t need to be “taught” — they simply need to be given opportunities to learn at their own pace and convenience.


This lesson provides teachers and parents with a profound and original insight into the essence of early learning. It tells us that learning is as normal as it is breathing. We, as teachers and parents, need to understand the various learning styles of our students.

Key Points

1. It’s a story about a teacher who learns a great lesson from a five year old girl, Nora.

2. One weekend, the narrator (teacher) visits Nora’s family. Though he hadn’t seen her before, but they become friends in no time.

3. Sometime during the day when the narrator seems to have nothing to do, Nora comes up to him with a book, Hop on Pop, and asks him if he will help her read it. He doesn’t say no.

4. At first, it’s not clear to the narrator how she wants him to help her. Most of the time he sits still and silent, an arduous think for a teacher (like him who thinks he is good at explaining and helping) to do.

5. In the first few pages she does meet any differently, but as she goes on reading, she meets words that she doesn’t know: she has to guess the meaning.

6. The teacher helped her there where she seemed badly stuck – not telling her the word, but only suggested how she might figure the word out. And if she still could tell, he would tell her to skip it and go ahead: that perhaps the next time it would be easier to recognize if she saw the word.

7. In the process, Nora misreads a word that previously she has read correctly. This happens a number of times. This puzzles and annoys the teacher.

8. He felt she was careless; but this was not it; she was reading the book as well as she could: she was bright, wasn’t bluffing, or trying to get him to do the work for her.

9. To understand the learning problems of another person, particularly of a child, we must try to see things as if through their eyes. It’s easy for teachers to remember what a word looks like from one page to the next. For a child, who meets the word for the first time, it’s not easy. It’s hard to tell which words on a page are same, or almost the same, and if they are different, where they are different.

10. An experience strikes/ pops into the teacher’s mind: one day he took a sheet of printing in some Indian language, and tried to find the words that occurred most often on the page. It was amazingly difficult. It first the page looked like a jumble of strange shapes. Even when he concentrated on one short common word. yet it took a long time before he could recognize that word at sight. In the same way, it takes a child some time to get used to the shape of letters and words; and to tell one word from the other or to see at a glance that this word is like that word. So, we must give the child plenty of time and not be surprised or upset by what looks like slowness or stupid mistakes.

11. The reason why children from unlettered/ illiterate homes are at a disadvantage when they start learning to read may be that they lack this familiarity with the shapes of words and letters.


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