Learning Words

Learning Words

as in learning new words

as in learning words in new ways – as I read, as I listen to other learners, as I view how others learn, as I view others teaching about learning

as in words about learning – and finding them, putting them into one’s own voice,

as in putting my own voice into words about learning, my own words about learning, my learning words.

My own need to speak my own learning words into the world partly compelled my decision to require students to complete two “verbal meets visual and for an audience” assignments into the early weeks of the “Teaching in Higher Education” pilot.  That, and the drawings students have brought to Class 2 for the two years that I now call my “infusing learning into 8101″ period turned out to have been a wonderful addition for these reasons:

  • drawing/diagramming/mapping/charting was not the assignment anyone expected or preferred;
  • the visual assignment provoked the inductive / novel / networking processes with students not relying on deductive / received / group think;
  • the process of creating the images – gathering data, creating possibilities, reflecting on images while composing – combined with hearing feedback, offering informative and reflective comments as follow up for individual images and reviewing the small group’s assembled images for continuities and divergences, demonstrated a learning process not unlike the one set out by James Zull in an assigned reading.

As soon as I projected my image onto the screen – along with the  music selected for the week’s 15 minutes before class starts – I knew that I wanted to change it.  I knew that the few words on the page were the right words but in the wrong place.  I resisted the urge to mute the screen and change my images on the spot.  Seemed way better to talk about that impulse, about seeing something I created for the class in that flash of understanding that comes once students actually walk into the room – a more internalized sense that I can carry to working on what I create ahead of class when I am teaching in some way or in some setting or with some focus or some other anchor that makes the course familiar to me.  A flash of understanding that this term I don’t have any of those things – not really.  I’m not doing anything with Teaching in Higher Education that I’ve done before – nothing, really, beyond incorporating a few core, I’d never give up readings into the course, and making use of the University’s web portal set up to house the readings for ease and for keeping myself out of mucking with officials about closed access articles.  Ah, an understanding that let me move a bit more close to my students’ weekly experiences with this course, a perfect moment for the meta-processing of seeing things anew, of realizing you want to change something as you are about to teach that very thing.  Those moments that indicate, to me at least, that teaching always provokes new learning.  Ah, so that’s why teaching is never a perfected thing.  Why teaching – like writing, like learning – is a generative process best done in the company of others with ample opportunities for feedback.  (Feedback, the thing most missing from my learning diagram as projected but certainly in my learning about the diagram once it was projected.)

That moment of wanting to put “Words Become Ideas” above the photo of Minnesota music CDs piled onto a child’s chair given to my dad by his much adored great aunt, then used by me and now used by my grandgirl, and of wanting to move “Actions Become Learning” to a place below the industrial spray painting gun used by my dad and made into a plaque at his retirement, and then finally flipping the middle two photos – that first sense that my picture was all wrong in that flash made complete sense to me: visually and viscerally:

Words, ideas, actions, learning – and understanding the change these provoke, hearing the feedback provoked by the words, actions, ideas, learning, change.

Change as /Feedback emerging from action, understanding, perception, synthesis, integration, conviction, description, modes of interaction, communication practices, development of and engagement with networks, choices for collaborative practices, ways of addressing wicked problems, be they lovely or pernicious.  Ah. learning my learning words.

My first engagements with learning came from music, family, private words from pencils sharpened at home and public words meant to sharpen public questions/perceptions, and using unexpected tools – in my case theory, methodology, research paradigms, classroom research and teaching – to push learning forward, to provoke more change.  Learning by writing sent me to memoirs/creative non-fiction where I saw theory enacted in the stories told and by the telling of stories, sent me to feminist theory where I could frame what I was learning, sent me to teaching writing to pay for my new engagement with learning as a masters degree students, sent me to classrooms where I could keep trying out learning in other ways.


(As an after thought, as much for myself as anyone else, sometimes the tools denied that we have to re-purpose or learn later make it possible to do the bolder work of learning.  The spray gun is a tool that I had to learn to operate later in my life and with some help from my dad when he taught me how to do some carpentry and home remodeling work; I wasn’t allowed learn how to use while working at the factory, with my father as the lead worker, throughout my high school to masters degree school years: left handed and female were two disqualifications set up by the uber bosses – left handed I understood because it required another booth be set up or that I spray paint using my right hand, which wasn’t comfortable; female made sense only in the conservative Christian minds of the uber bosses who paid spray painters more than line workers, which meant it was a man’s job as his income supported a family.  Learning this tool later in my life – while I was writing my dissertation and living back in Minnesota to spend time with my too-frail for yet so young parents – let me learn from my dad again.  Like the years I worked with – actually for him since he was the lead worker – him at the factory here what I learned about my dad and from him more than made up for his 15 crap years of parenting spanning my middle school through undergraduate years.  An essay of its own.)


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