Thursday, March 7, 2013

Learning is Messy... Cause Life is Messy

original photo:
I have accepted that learning is messy. I feel it in my heart and in my bones. I recognize when it's happening, and I ride the messy wave the best I can, running from student to student, trying to have meaningful, individualized, powerful moments. Trying to teach.
Accepting the messiness doesn't mean I always enjoy the mess. I think that deep down inside I still have a goal to see things through in a way that satisfies that part of me that wants a neat little package, tied up with string. It's like when you spend a lot of energy cleaning the kitchen. You get a moment of pleasant satisfaction as you look around to gleaming countertops and an empty, shiny sink. Then you cook a meal. Or your kids eat a snack and forget to clean up after themselves (or are my kids the only ones who do that?)

The house would stay clean if only...
if only no one lived there.

Learning is messy because life is messy. And learning is life. And there's really no way around it. 

I've been working with MJGDS librarian and teacher extraordinaire, Karin Hallett, on some research projects with 2nd and 3rd graders. We try to reflect after each session, assessing and discussing the mess, strategizing new things to try. It's a bit like cleaning up the kitchen except that cleaning the kitchen is the same process each time, while the process of teaching and learning is iterative. We try to fail forward

Really it's not failure in any sense. It's actually formative assessment. And reflection. And coaching. It's teaching real students WHERE THEY ARE not where we think they should be. And that is a big, fun, challenging mountain to climb. 


Unknown said...

I totally agree with your post. Learning is messy! Sometimes we have to get our hands dirty to learn something. But at the same time stay focused on a finished goal.

Tracy Watanabe said...

Hi Andrea,

Love this post. Yes, learning has to be messy to penetrate the surface.

I pretty much love organization which is why I am flexible with how messy things can get. I think through the learning task I give, and the evidence of learning along the way. It's messy because strong tasks are not cookie cutter responses.

When I look at Webb's DOK, that's exactly what I see. Levels 1 and 2 have "right" and "wrong" answers, whereas Levels 3 and 4 have more than one possible response. That's what we strive for. It's messy.

Thanks for your post. It got me thinking about the connection between "messy" and strong tasks.

Kind regards,

Andrea said...

Hi Tracy,
Thank you so much for your comment! I really appreciate you adding to and extending the discussion. The connection to strong tasks is a good one, and helps me better understand my own thoughts.

Besides the open-endedness of the task affecting the messiness of the response, there is also the layer of potential messiness added by using different tools to express learning. The tools have their own learning curve that is simultaneously embedded (we hope) in the task. Even though we strive for the tools being "invisible," I think it's important to recognize skill development and fluency students are building while creating and sharing content knowledge (albeit in a "messy" learning environment).

Does that make sense?

Thanks again for reading and responding,

Laura Carpenter said...


My name is Laura Carpenter and I am a student in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama. I really enjoyed your post and I agree. I like to find new and unique ways to look at life. Hands-On learning is the best way to learn and sometimes we have to get a little messy to do so.


Amanda Christopher said...

Hi Andera. I am an EDM310 student at South Alabama, and I have been assigned to your blog again. I enjoy reading your posts. I agree; life is indeed messy! And so are little ones. I have an 8 yr old and a 5 yr old, and cleaning up after them is never ending. I have attended many of my boys’ class functions and craft time turns into a mess. I am sure elementary education teachers will appreciate your research. Thanks for sharing.
I will be summarizing your post on my blog you may view it here. You may also view our class blog here.
Folow me on Twitter @AmandaDiane.