During my junior year at Michigan State University, I took an English class in support of my major. The class was titled something to the effect of “Literature and Medicine”. I was thrilled by this class. It was taught by one of my favorite professors, who had a quirky sense of humor and an unrivaled passion for the material. He didn’t know me of course, as the distance of professor and student seemed so well-established by the time I came to him for a second class. One week, after becoming inspired by one of our readings, I found myself provoked to take advantage of the extra credit that had been posted that week- a found poem synthesizing our understanding and personal experience with the text. I wrote what I thought was a beautiful rendition of my learning, with a running metaphor of a child in utero. Looking back, I blush with embarrassment that I wrote it, much less handed it over to be read by another- much less to a person I so much esteemed. His response included that sort of uncomfortably awkward expression that people have when they feel self-conscious on behalf of someone else.
He replied, “Well, it’s kind of gestational, isn’t it?” I walked back to my seat, mortified, and never saw the poem again. His words though, stuck with me. It’s kind of gestational, isn’t it? I’ve found this to be a running motif that appears when I’m pulled into the learning that has become a routine in my life.
It’s my belief that learning is gestational by nature. In the Introduction of our reading, How People Learn, the writers describe the idea of learning as something that, “takes place in settings that have particular sets of cultural and social norms and expectations and that these settings influence learning and transfer in powerful ways” (2000, p. 4). This idea was rather meaningless until I understood “transfer” to mean the building on and application of background knowledge. This idea of building and growing knowledge seems essential to me- especially as I consider the vast knowledge base of my students, and how great is their collective knowledge. The implications of that are huge! Students are not just receptacles for information, they are agents of knowledge that enter the spectrum of expertise as they learn.
As teachers, it becomes essential for us to acknowledge student “expertise” and help them to recognize it as well. As novices, they may, and inevitably will in some ways, identify with the metaphor of being a receptacle of knowledge, regurgitating the content that they think will most likely lead them to success. How People Learn develops this idea, saying, “One dimension of acquiring greater competence appears to be the increased ability to segment the perceptual field (learning how to see). Research on expertise suggests the importance of providing students with the learning experiences that specifically enhance their abilities to recognize meaningful patterns of information” (2000, p. 36). I’m struck by their use of the word competence, which I associate with skills-based proficiency- not just knowledge acquisition. As we shifted in our reading this week (I think particularly of the piece, Create Circulate Connect Collaborate, by Henry Jenkins), I was excited to see that we can springboard off of this idea and dive into the New Literacies and skills that will be required of our students to become the competent agents that I know they must be (2013). For this reason, educational technology instruction must underscore the literacy of using technology to build and develop content skill bases.
My favorite part of this week was the sort of “light bulb” moment where I realized my mission as an educator will be to help students to become metacognitive, to identify the “gaps” that the writers of How People Learn described in chapter 2 (2000, p. 47), and to help them realize that “sweet spot” between artisan knowledge, and virtuoso creativity. They should be “gestational” in their learning, and to realize that is a realization that is worth being proud of.
(2000). J. Bradsford, A. Brown & R. Cocking (Eds.), How people learn Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=9853&page=R1
Jenkins, H. (2013). Create circulate connect collaborate. Retrieved from http://www.newmedialiteracies.org/