Experiencing Learning

The other day, Zach (at Reflections on Holes in Graphs and Reasoning) wrote about how he was reminded of how it feels to be a learner while auditing a Hapkido class.

It made me realize how quickly us professional learners forget what it’s like to be in the learner role.

I’m having a similar experience to Zach this week. I am taking a knitting class to learn how to make socks. This is something I’ve wanted to learn for many years, but have shied away because it seemed “too difficult” and too “above my level”.  REMINDER 1: it’s often our immediate reaction to shy away from challenge.

The first class was fine because it involved doing things  I already knew. Awesome! I love it! I’m great at this! I’ll knit socks all the time! REMINDER 2: class is always awesome when you already know how to do it.

In the second class, we started by learning the heal flap. I was a bit confused, but I was doing okay because the stitches weren’t too different than what we were doing before. REMINDER 3: class is still pretty good if it’s not too far of a stretch.

But then we started running out of time and the instructor went very quickly through the heel turn, picking up stitches for the gusset, knitting the gusset, then how to do custom decrease for the foot if needed. WOAH. WOAH. WOAH THERE!! That was too fast! Too much information! I wanted to try it, not just watch it! I wanted to do this in class so the instructor could help me if I had problems! REMINDER 4: too much information that comes too quickly is way too confusing and can be paralyzing; REMINDER 5: trying it yourself really helps with learning.

During this burst of information, the instructor made a couple passing comments that made me start questioning my ability as a knitter. REMINDER 6: even small negative comments can have a lasting effect on students.

I went home to try out what the instructor showed us, and it was a complete disaster. I had made a mistake, tried to fix it, and it just got worse and worse. I got SO frustrated and angry. I was annoyed at myself for not being able to do it, and at the instructor for not covering the most difficult part of socks during class time.  REMINDER 6: Learning can be frustrating, and it can come out in different ways.

This morning, I had a friend help me fix my sock. I’m back on track, but I’m a bit gun-shy about moving forward. REMINDER 8: Failure can be a big stumbling block for some.

Here are some things I’ll need to remind myself of:

  • It’s important to encourage a growth mindset, but understand that it takes a lot of time to embrace it and most will stumble along the way
  • Challenge is good, but not too much and not too fast all at once. Slowing down and ensuring everyone is on the same page is crucial
  • Make sure that students have ample time to try it themselves and offer support (though my flipped experience flopped, I think it really has merit on this point)
  • Be careful with wording and don’t be too negative
  • Frustration can manifest itself in many ways; it’s important to empathize, but help students find ways to cope with and overcome it.

Like Zach concluded in his post, I think it’s important that we put ourselves in the role of a learner so we stay in touch with what our students are dealing with every day.

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8 Responses to Experiencing Learning

  1. htheijsmeijer says:

    Hi Alyssa – what you write it so true! Similarly (and similarly to Zach as well), I started learning the martial art of Kendo a few years ago. It was HARD; physically and mentally exhausting. And then just when you think you’re doing well, an 80+ year old practitioner shows up at the dojo and kicks your butt in two decisive moves. Extremely frustrating and a huge test of resilience.

    I might add another reminder, that’s like your reminder 3: Class is good if you can meet with some success each time. We did a lot of review in Kendo, and while there were always tweaks to be made, it helped that even the most advanced classes started with re-practicing the basics, which we all knew how to do. Then came the push onward and upward into new things.

    Best of luck with the socks – I’ve learned to knit several times, but could never figure out how to purl!!


    • Alyssa says:

      Yes, that’s a very good point! That is one think lacking in the class I’m taking now (granted, there are only 3 classes, so not a lot of time for review). Definitely something that should be included in science/math lessons.


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  3. lisamnoble says:

    Hi, Alyssa. Thanks so much for sharing your thinking process. I think, as teachers (and I do sometimes teach people to knit, as well as being a classroom teacher), we really have to be careful about all the assumptions we make. I remember being astounded when my older son learned to knit, because he made it look much easier than it ever had for me. He didn’t make any “beginner” mistakes – no dropped stitches, no extra stitches in his row. Because he tends to be a process-based, hands-on learner, he understood how the mechanics of what he was doing worked, and could therefore do it correctly. It really taught me to question my assumptions about what we perceive as “hard”, and how we frame that for our learners.

    I’m always available to puzzle through knitting queries, by the way. One of the things I love about my knitting group is that there’s never a ” silly” question. We’re all at different spots on the journey, as in all learning, and it’s amazing what we can do when we pool our knowledge.


    • Alyssa says:

      Thanks for your comment! It always does amazing what students find easy (and I think is hard) or the other way around. Always good to check your assumptions at the door!

      Will definitely drop you a line if I have any knitting questions!


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