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?