Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Take the Mystery Out of Learning

mysteryI am currently doing an online knit-along to make a Mystery Shawlette. The designer is giving us the pattern in parts which come out online on certain days. I have never done this before so I find it exciting and interesting. But I think the reason is that I know how to do the individual stitches and there are lots of online friends to go to for support. I also have made a few shawls before so I have an idea of what it should look like in theory. But I have no idea what it will actually look like when I am finished and if I will like it or not. Part of the fun at this stage is the ability to create something new with the skills that I have.

I kind of feel like I am putting a jigsaw puzzle together but I have no idea what it will look like when it is put together. I am given only a few puzzle pieces at a time and I have faith that it will all fit together and come out beautifully. I can use some reasoning skills and see which parts fit together as well as some color matching but I have no idea of the big picture.

I wonder if that is how I teach my students sometimes. I teach individual skills but they have no idea how to fit these skills together to make anything. Then eventually I ask them to use these skills to create something new but I don’t give them a clue as to what the finished product should be like. Sometimes I don’t help them practice using these skills to make something they recognize first.

I need to give them visuals to see the finished project so they can understand what I expect them to create. As they feel comfortable using the skills they have learned, they will feel confident to try them on new creations. Eventually they may feel confident to come up with their own designs. Using their own emotions and knowledge, their new creations can be things that I had never imagined before. The possibilities can be endless.

But first, I have to take the mystery out of learning. I can’t jump into the mystery without first making sure that my students know the necessary skills. Once I know they are able to perform the skills, I need to show them how to use them together to make something new. By modeling the use of the skills, they learn how and when to use these skills. Once they see how I do it, they need to perform the same task using the same skills. When they could see how to put it all together, they can then take the skills to create something new.

I like the thought of giving the tasks in small steps. I like the thrill of the mystery but I’m not sure this would work in a classroom setting. Many of my students are easily frustrated and I’m afraid this would turn them off. Due to their previous challenges and frustrations, I think making learning a mystery would not help them at all. In order for my students to be successful, I need to take the mystery out of learning!

Posted on the Successful Teaching Blog by loonyhiker (successfulteaching at gmail dot com).

Original image: 'Puzzling'
http://www.flickr.com/photos/29818924@N00/409083204 by: John Hritz


Sioux said...

It's such a high when you see the lightbulb (or floodlight, in some cases) go off in their brains when they make the connections, tying all the little bits that they've learned in order to complete the task.

Good luck with the mystery knitting project. I could do that--I knit too--but the only "mystery" would be how fat or how long the scarf is, as that's all I know how to make. (Can't follow a pattern. Hopeless.)

In a former crafting life, I DID work on a mystery quilt project at a retreat. Lots and lots of fun. And hey, if you don't like the shawl when you're finished, you can always give it to someone else (someone you don't like or someone who WOULD like the shawl).

loonyhiker said...

@Sioux Good idea about the shawl. I do a monthly shawl for our church group called Loving Threads (they go to nursing homes and hospice) so if I don't like it, they will get it.

Mar said...

I think this is particularly true in our test rich environment. I could take it one step further and say sometimes we KEEP the mystery in learning by all the data gathering that accompanies testing and teaching. I watch teachers ask " What is this letter?" and if the child doesn't know, I would expect "That letter is __, what letter is it?" at the very least. My two cents worth.

loonyhiker said...

@Mar And sometimes even teachers are kept in the dark with all this testing. Too much focus is given to the testing component instead of the learning component. Thanks for reading and commenting!