When I sit down to create lessons for teachers, or help them create lessons for students, one of my most frequent points is how they are creating “good stress,” within their students. Without pressing, most know what I mean inherently: there is an amount or type of mental strain that permits the mind to flex around a new issue or concept in order to overcome it and create new knowledge.
Stealing this from George Siemens (whom I have been robbing a lot from lately)
bit of stress, a bit of ambiguity, and a bit of confusion are healthy
contributors to learning. As long as we have a feedback loop where
learners can contribute and faculty can respond and adapt, we have the
basics in place.
Connections are the starting point of all learning. It’s so
obvious…and therefore so often overlooked. We really need to think
about types of connections learners have with each other and
content…and ways that we can extend the learning experience by
critically analyzing and forming those initial connections.
In two places in the above quote, Siemens mentions the word “connections,” and when we sat down to begin designing the additional language arts course for next year that was focused on critical thinking and writing across the curriculum, I thought back to my days at Eric Smith School in Ramsey. They had a school-wide standards system called “The Quality Standards.” It was partially a gaff among the staff at the triteness of the name, but in actuality, it was sound. The standards were:
- Following Directions
- Supporting Details
- Higher Level Thinking
- Evaluation and Revision
Designing this class forced me to think back to the most effective of those standards, and by far it was connections, and the name for the class was born. In light of reading Siemens post, and in conversations with the teachers of the class, I can see that the term fits. We need students to create links, both mentally and digitally, from what they know already, to what they are trying to know. We are stressing “cognitive leaps” and learning by doing as often as we can, but there are inherent problems with that.
The last time I had the group of teachers together who will be teaching the class this fall, I stressed the first two weeks of instruction. Sure, what a shocker; however, we are asking these students in grades 6-8 to do some things that there are not going to be used to. For example, by the time they reach middle school, a good percentage of students have already perfected the question “will this be on the test?” and have figured out that there is a formula to getting good grades: find the answer the teacher wants, and give it–case closed. Now, we are going to have them walk into a classroom this fall and tell them that there is no right answer, only the answer you can defend in writing and in your ability to argue it. Talk about cognitive dissonance.
One of our group had shared with me a document (which I am trying to get a copy of at the moment) that was a letter to parents informing them of what to expect from this class. When we are trying to move students away from “schooliness” and do some in-country “unschooling” we are going to hit some rough spots, from both students who are not used to being confused or stressed about school, and their parents who haven’t seen their child struggle with school before. As always, we will deal with those situations as they arise.
Image Credits: “Creative Commons = Creative Confusion?” from Joe Pemberton’s photostream
“Confusion” from Lithoglyphic’s photostream