Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Slice 14 of 31-#sol17: Thinking about steep learning curves

This is the 10th year that Two Writing Teachers has hosted the Slice of Life Challenge. Thirty-one days of writing during the month of March, here we go!


"I need some serious coffee for this," I whispered to Dena as the presenter clicked through slide after slide that reviewed the complexities and details of the Next Generation Science Standards. 

"Most of us have already seen this information a fair amount," she said. "Don't try to take everything in."

Last week, I went along with our district's science coordinator to a state consortium meeting. At the beginning of the meeting, they asked us to fill out a one-question questionnaire. I'm including the screenshot of the responses. You can be entertained by my response. 

The first half of the day was an overview of the NGSS Science Standards, but it was a review of information for almost everyone in the room except for me. They knew the acronyms. They knew the components. They knew the layers and terms and many of them even knew the rationale. For most people in the room, the learning curve was a pleasant slope, sort of like a green circle in skiing terms. 

I was on a double black diamond. 

By the end of the morning, my head hurt--the result of a swollen brain. During the lunch break, I bought some coffee, trail mix and sour patch kids--my go-to sustenance when the work requires serious thinking. (It's good serious thinking isn't always required or I'd have to modify that intake, I suppose!)

The afternoon was hard too, although a less lecture-oriented more collaborative sort of hard, and I was happy to have my thinking food. I was also happy to share my sour patch kids since I felt like I was contributing something to the work--I'm not sure my scientific thinking was up to par. 

I share this experience because it was a reminder to me of how hard it is to be in a room and feel like the least competent person there. How hard it is to have to learn new stuff fast. How hard it is to not have the background information to assemble new learning and contribute meaningfully to a project-oriented task. It's really hard. Really, really hard. 

How often do we ask our striving learners to be in this position of muddledness? For me, I had the wherewithal to rub my temples and use self-talk through it. I had the courage to whisper clarifying questions to Dena when I needed to. And I had the car and the money to pick up some protein, chocolate, and sugar for the afternoon. What wherewithal do learners have other than to be compliant and try to look busy? 



  1. Sometimes it's good to experience some hard learning, but oh so painful. Too often we forget what it's like when we are teaching something that we know a lot about to those who are less informed on the topic. A great reminder to me, as I'm trying to plan how to introduce writing workshop so they have some background knowledge before we pick up this work next year.

  2. This is such an important question to ask: How often do we ask our striving learners to be in this position of muddledness? I have even reflected on this throughout this challenge. If I am stuck writing I can take a break, go for a walk, decide to switch gears, eat candy -- kids can't do that. It has made me think more about having "literacy workshop" in classrooms so kids can shift between reading and writing as they need.

    Was the afternoon better with more collaboration time? Also interesting to think more about structures to scaffold when thing are new or difficult.
    Much to think about...

  3. O love this post - especially because I am assisting in a presentation on Friday about these very standards. Our teachers will be introduced to the new state frameworks. My hope is we can go slow... but I am not in charge.
    I agree some muddleness is necessary - but we need to find that balance.

  4. Melanie, you're right. It's so important to have experiences as learners ourselves. Especially those almost too hard ones from time to time. When it happens, I almost always have a particular child who comes to mind, the one who needs me to pay attention to how it feels. Often a teacher will come to mind also--one who can feel like she's on a black diamond, or one who makes the trail smoother and less harrowing for her learners.
    Thanks for the reminder. And your survey response was priceless. Whoever developed it had a sense of humor.