Practical Application
Comments 5

Grace and Learning by Lisa Cadora

I’ve been thinking lately about what conditions are necessary for genuine learning and whether or not it is possible, once they are identified and articulated, to deliberately bring those conditions about for our students and watch real learning occur in them. It’s a difficult ponder, and immediately, even as I write this, I’m asking myself to define my terms: What do I mean by “conditions”? What is the evidence of “genuine learning”? How would “deliberately” bringing the conditions about differ from those conditions occurring naturally? What about the mindset of the learner? Nevertheless, it occurs to me that other than the right curricular topics, the best materials, the most age-appropriate methods, or developmentally appropriate tools and techniques, the most important and indispensable condition for learning is grace.I experienced grace in a learning situation recently. Because I was both the teacher and the student, the grace that enabled me to learn was given to me by my very own self. We’re always most gracious with our very own selves, aren’t we? It occurs to me that when it comes to fostering the learning of others, we just don’t feel quite teacherly unless there is are elements of law and judgment in there somewhere.Here is my account of a graceful learning experience, offered for your analysis, in hopes that we can put our heads together and tease out the graceful elements in order to apply them to our own teaching relationships with students:


I very much wanted to crochet a scarf, a skirt, a pair of gloves, a shawl and a purse I found in a funky little instruction book given to be me by a friend at Christmas time. To give myself some goals and deadlines, I had my nieces choose which items they would like me to make for them. The delight of the girls, the fun of choosing what kinds and colors of yarn to use, and the challenge of learning something new spurred me to move beyond the very rudimentary needle know-how I had acquired years ago from my patient grandmother. Eager to get past ripple afghans and granny squares, I set to work.After an hour or so into my first project, I noticed that what I was creating looked NOT ONE BIT like the picture in the book and would be entirely unusable if I pressed on. I realized that learning from a book was going to be a different experience than learning from Grandmother Hall. There would be no kind response to my efforts, no gentle feedback to get me on the right track when I went off on my own. There was only the text and the photographs and my slow and dubious grasp of them. Nothing to do but “rat”, or pull out, all that I had so blissfully worked away at. This was painful, but I had to back track in order to get to the place where I could head out again, this time in the right direction.And so it went. I crocheted and crocheted and crocheted, and read, read, and re-read the directions. Some of what I was reading involved referring back to tables of abbreviations, explanations, step-by-step instructions for individual kinds of stitches, and illustrations of where the yarn and where the hook was in each one. Tedious. I had to mark where I was in my rows with safety pins. I had to write down where I was in the instructions so I wouldn’t lose my place. Sometimes I realized that I had the wrong sized hook, or that the yarn I was using was a different weight than what was called for in the pattern. This causes one’s gauge to be off, which can result in what you think will be a cute little baby hat resulting in something like a sleeping bag for Paul Bunyan. And so I ratted and ratted and ratted, and began all over again, sometimes up to ten times on one project! But I had confidence in the edited, published book. On one page I had found a cardstock insert with a correction that had to be made after the book went to press–proof that it had been gone through with a fine-toothed comb. I trusted it. Besides, I couldn’t let my little girls down! They were all waiting for their cool, hip crocheted items from Aunty Lisa!Each time I persevered, the directions would become clearer to me in the re-reading of them. As I followed them correctly, I would eventually come to a place where I was free and clear to work with confidence and even minimal attention. My fingers would seem to know what to do on their own, and the yarn and hook felt like they were animated and falling into place without my eye upon them all the time. The mass of yarn I began with shaped itself into an actual recognizable, even functional, accessory!! I was elated!!! I was addicted!!!


Charlotte Mason said that the only education is self-education. Did she see that grace is necessary for learning, and that we are most graceful with ourselves? If so, maybe it’s not only that we as teachers must create gracious, grace-ful conditions, environments and relationships in which our students can learn, but that we must bring them to be gracious to themselves. In your reading of this account of my own learning, what do you think about grace, self-education, and the deliberate creating of conditions optimal to learning?

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Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.


  1. recnepsrefinnej says

    Thank you for that, Lisa. I am finding this blog spot to be one of the most helpful ways to refine my understanding.

    Now I am thinking about reconciling this topic with what Carroll wrote about projects. Projects are a way to allow students to work out knowledge on their own through research and trial-and-error, which is what you did with your crochet experience. I am also trying to connect these ideas with the “Understanding By Design” session at last year’s conference, which talked about the danger of constructing units of study for their own sake. Instead, all instruction and assessment should extend from essential questions. Can we apply this notion to projects, as well?


  2. lauriebestvater says

    Thank you Lisa. I have had these two quotations which I think are about Grace and Teaching in my commonplace book for many years and they rattle around in my head very often:

    “You can never give another person that which you have found, but you can make him homesick for what you have.” Oswald Chambers

    And, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

    I can’t help thinking of CM saying to the student at Ambleside who when asked why she had come, answered “to learn how to teach.” Mason answered (and I’m sorry I don’t have the exact quote, “no, you’ve come to learn how to live.” As I go on studying Mason and serving the Lord Jesus, I begin to think that all we can do is be those living stones, Receivers of Grace in all disciplines and realms.

    Henry Ward Beecher wrote a thought I have always found terrifying, “The mother’s heart is the child’s schoolroom.” I think we can extend that to the teaching. If we want to make others “homesick” we are left with Peter, “Lord to whom shall we go.” Teaching all seems to distill out to that idea of being Grace FULL,which sounds deceptively simplistic but is in fact the hardest idea to grasp that I’ve ever encountered. I am stunned when others are able to elucidate it and am thankful for this blog.

  3. bethpinckney says

    When you say you were gracious to yourself, do you mean that you were patient and willing to persevere, not berating yourself for not getting the instructions right the first time but allowing yourself space to fail, to rat and start again, over and over until the crocheting came naturally and understanding of the pattern resulted in a lovely hat for your niece? You were gracious to yourself because you had a goal and the motivation of your neices’ joy in their gifts to continue.

    If I understand correctly what you mean by grace, I think there are so many applications for our relationships with our children as we live our learning life together. I’m hashing all this out in my thoughts as I consider the way that Miss Mason thought of parental authority and the respect flowing both directions – from child to parent and parent to child. Surely grace is the key element in the way we interact with children who are struggling with a concept or finding something difficult to understand or hard to do. How to encourage in a grace-filled way? How to motivate not by rewards or punishment, but by a vision of the higher goal in an environment where grace is abundant?

    Thanks for your blog post. Hope your nieces love their cool, hip crocheted items.

  4. One of the things I am studying right now is the “inner speech” we have going on in our minds when solving problems. I bet you had all kinds of dialog going on in your thoughts as you figured out how to crochet.

    This is one way of fostering grace with my kids in teaching them. When they seem frustrated, I reassure them that making mistakes is part of learning. Yesterday, my son had to calculate the angles of a square that had a combination of bisected angles. We sat down together and talked about how to solve the problem. He got the hang of it and reached a point in which the numbers made no sense. So, he came to him and I congratulated him for recognizing when the numbers stopped making sense. Then we “ratted” the wrong angles and reworked. As with your crochet project, he “ratted” his angles several times until he finally got them all correct.

    I think I might share your post with him!

    Hmmmm, I feel a blog post coming on, too! 🙂

  5. I have to let you know, Lisa, that I emailed this post to my son and then blogged about “Grace and Geometry.” He is rethinking his negative attitude when he does not catch onto something as fast as he thinks he should. Thanks for the thoughtful post, which is already bearing fruit!

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