Learning Something New

I have learned a lot by observing my students over the past two years. I marvel at how they can pick up new materials and just create. I have had to monitor how I provide feedback. I use prompting that asks, “what do you think you should do?” “What do you need?” “What other ways could we learn how to do…?” and “What do you need from me?” I have had to learn to not jump in and tell the students how to build or create. I sit back and watch and see their learning unfold. I do jump in when a knowledgeable other is needed. “Oh, you need to sew that piece to hold it together. How will we learn how to sew together? What do you need? How can we learn this?”

I have watched my students create doll shoes, duct tape creations, super structures, bird houses and much more. Rainbow looms were a big hit in the winter so I brought some in and left them at a table. I watched as the students explored and created. I watched as some asked their peers how to make a loom. I laughed when a group of students got an iPad and found a video on line and began creating. I enjoy watching the thinking and seeing those moments when it all comes together. I also love seeing the pride on their faces when they feel they have achieved their goal.

This summer, I wanted to experience that too. I am having a hard time ‘coming down’ from the school year. My brain is still swirling and I have a lot of thoughts about school. I usually do professional readings and learn new apps or I learn something specific for next year’s role. However, this early in the summer, I felt I needed to learn something that was not school related. I decided I wanted to learn how to crochet.

I wanted to learn in the way my students are learning in the classroom. I did not want to be told how to crochet. I did not want to attend a class. Well, at least not yet. I want to muck about. I want the pleasure of learning how to do this on my own or with my own resources. I set out to Pinterest and looked for steps and free patterns. I created an initial list of things I thought I might need. I went to Michael’s and bought some wool and some hooks. That day I settled in and searched through Pinterest and found some great videos on how to create stitches. The best thing about the videos is I could stop and replay and turn the screen so it displayed the way I was holding my hook. I found a video from the site http://newandlostcrafts.com/beginner-crochet-lesson. I watched as Grandma Ann demonstrated the basic stitches. I tried and retried and finally got the hang of the stitches.  I then discovered a great tutorial on how to make a chunky scarf. Melanie taught me how to make a simple craft in a short time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yB83IQYGeI  I watched and learned and then messed about.

The videos and instructions were available to me and they were essentially my knowledgeable other. However, I could go to them when I needed to see a step again at my own pace.  I wasn’t receiving feedback on my work. I could easily see when a stitch was too loose or too tight. It was all through trial and error.  I enjoyed the fact that no one could see me do this learning. I sat in the gazebo on my own and played. I did not have anyone telling me I was doing it wrong. No one was looking at what I was doing and telling me to use different materials. I was just exploring and learning on my own. I was so pleased with my first scarf that I immediately started on a second scarf and then ran out of wool. Another learning point for me is to figure out how much wool is needed per project.

I initially sought out a task that wasn’t directly related to teaching but in my mind I’m always making comparisons. This new learning task caused me to think a lot about the role of feedback. There is a huge emphasis on the importance of feedback in the learning cycle in our classrooms. I agree and use timely feedback but this year I have had to think more carefully about when I provide feedback. Some of my youngest learners will stop creating if I provide feedback or suggestions too early in the learning cycle. I have to know who needs feedback to continue and who needs access to new materials. I am often watching my learners and then running into our storage cupboard and without saying anything placing some materials on the table that might help them extend their project. I have to consider who needs a video to support their learning or who needs to be left alone to just create. This week I needed to be left alone. I wanted to create and be proud of what I was making regardless of what it looked like. I certainly do not want a pro inspecting my new scarf and pointing out what I did wrong or what I can improve on. As I begin my next project, I’m already figuring out what I can do to improve my technique. This is real self reflection or self regulation.  I am sure at some point in my crochet journey, I will seek feedback but right now I want to just muck about and explore on my own.

Some questions that are popping into my mind:

How often do we provide opportunities to muck about in class?

Do older students get regular time to just create?

Do we value different learning methods across the day? Do we provide step by step directions to some, let others explore and let others do a combination of both?

Do our classrooms have enough variety of materials to create?

How do we monitor our prompts in class?
How do we know when to prompt some students and when to sit back and observe others?

How much feedback do we provide on the final product verses the process?

Does inquiry learning require different timelines of feedback verses feedback in writing?

Do teachers set out with specific prompts for early in inquiry learning and then shift their prompts as the learning continues?

How can I store and manage different open-ended materials in a small classroom?

How will I set up more creation opportunities on a weekly basis for my learners?


Now, my son who is often mucking about with tools in his hand and a Youtube video near by while working on his truck, makes a lot more sense to me.

What are you mucking about with this summer? How will you foster mucking about in your classrooms?

4 thoughts on “Learning Something New

  1. Angie, I love this post, and you’ve really gotten me thinking. On one hand, I’m thinking about what I may like to learn this summer and how I can “muck about.” Do I want to try something just for me (as in your crochet example), or as someone that’s going back to a different grade next year, do I want to try something related to this (e.g., learning a musical instrument that I could use in the classroom)? I’m not sure.

    I’m also thinking about your feedback questions. Your ones about older students have me thinking because this “muck about” time seems to be less in the older grades as curriculum expectations seem to increase (or maybe just become more specific). I know that I used inquiry a lot with my Grade 5’s, and I wonder if we could still have this “creating time,” but with objects and items related to the overall expectations. I’m thinking about the art inquiry that we did this year that connected to the elements of design, and how much the students loved “mucking about” as they created. Maybe Visual Arts is a great way to provide this open-ended creative time for our older learners.

    Finally, I’m thinking about my Grade 1’s for next year. They’ll be coming out of Senior Kindergarten, having experienced the FDK program model. I want to bring this model up into the Grade 1 classroom. How do I do this? How do I provide this “mucking about” time, while still ensuring to meet curriculum expectations and the varied needs of students? I think that this creative time (just like inquiry) will allow for so much learning to happen, but when do I just observe, and when do I step in? This is something that I’m forever considering.

    Thanks for giving me so much to think about (and sorry for such a long comment)!


  2. It is IMPERATIVE that we try to learn something new each year that is completely out of the scope of our current competencies. In this way, we remind ourselves of the feelings of adversity, confusion, frustration and inadequacy……feelings experienced DAILY and HOURLY, MINUTE BY MINUTE, by a quarter of our students in far too many classrooms across the planet.

    Those of us in education have grown immune to thse feelings since we, for the most part, were bred for the existing system that rewards conformity and praises standardized approaches to learning!

    These unique new learning experiences, like crochet, wake us from the arrogance of ‘A-Type Superiority’ and return us to the reality of the marginalized….those 25% children of mystery in our classrooms who haunt our ever-waking moments!

  3. Aviva, look closely at the Science curriculum document and read through and think about the designing and problem solving expectations. How can both the science and art be set up with challenges and mucking about time? I hope you do settled in and find something new to learn just for you. I bought more wool today. I picked up two Additonal rolls just because I like the colour but I didn’t know what I would do with them. I got home, googled the wood type and found a great youtube video of how to do a hand chain scarf in five minutes. I made two! I. Glad I’ve opened my eyes to new possibilities.

  4. Angie – I have always felt students need time to play with the materials (free exploration) to find out what the materials can do and what are their properties before I ask them to complete a task or try an experiment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *