File this under ‘things I read but don’t remember where.’ Again!
Usually I try hard to bookmark or cite articles that stand out to me. I didn’t with this one, mostly because I read it, dismissed the idea, and kept scrolling..
The gist of it was this: All learning feels inauthentic at first.
Not just ‘some’ learning. ALL learning.
Pfffft. I doubt that!
It's why I have had the same quote at the top of this blog for over two years: You see, some things I can teach you. Some you learn from books. But there are things that, well, you have to see and feel."
So I think I rejected it outright because if that was true, then trying to provide students with real-life learning experiences and tangible opportunities to practice was no more authentic than slapping down a worksheet and calling it a day.
And there is no way that is true.
So I scrolled on.
But it stuck in my head, and the idea rolled around until I came to the conclusion that it was right…all learning does feel inauthentic when you are starting out!
(That worksheet? Sorry, that tends to be more like compliance so we can set that aside.)
But actually learning something?
I started to think back on the big things I’ve learned to do over the past few years: snowboarding, playing the fiddle, and trying rock climbing. Did any of those things feel authentic when I first tried them?
No. No. Annnnnd no.
Strapping both feet into a board was frighteningly vulnerable, with the urge to get a foot down for balance, stripped away.
Tucking the fiddle under my chin while simultaneously placing my fingers in very specific places, at very specific angles, and at very specific times was awkward and forced.
And gripping rock with frozen fingers while one toe bore my entire weight and kept me from plummeting off the rock face…uhhhh…yah. Nothing innate about that.
So even though I was in completely authentic learning situations, the beginning stages of learning something new did not feel authentic in itself.
And that’s when I realized that the concept was right.
There was nothing about learning those things that felt natural or familiar. No muscle memory to fall back on. No prior experiences to tell my brain that it was going to be alright.
We know how this goes: the more that you do the thing, the better you will get at it, regardless of what the thing is. I remember hearing once, that it is physically impossible to try harder at something and get worse at it. I believe that.
Because as time has gone on, my snowboarding skills improved.
As the weeks passed by, I actually got better at playing the fiddle.
And even after just two climbs-worth of experience, I had a better understanding of what to do and how to overcome climbing obstacles because I had done it.
But what about new learning situations that are LITERALLY less authentic scenarios than those examples? What about learning MLA formatting and essay structure? Reading your first chapter book? Crafting and punctuating dialogue in a fictional story you’ve written?
We need students to know that we are always learning, and that our ability to learn something isn’t predetermined.
We need students to understand why that growth mindset is important.
And we need students to understand that all learning will feel inauthentic at first. The first attempt at any of those tasks is not going to feel easy. Or intuitive.
I know that we operate within the confines of many things, not the least of which is now COVID, and that not every learning experience will be as tangible as the skills I was learning. I will continue to try and find as many 'authentic' experiences as I can for my students. But if we embrace that all learning will be messy and frustrating and maybe even feel contrived at first?
We will get better.
And that, I don't doubt.
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