Friday, July 29, 2016

Learn Well: Tackle a Tough Task

When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself." - Isak Dinesen

One recent summer afternoon, I had the time to talk to a relative I rarely see about her life and interests. She told me about her passion for crafts including her latest focus, soap making. Her story included her learning path. She watched many videos about soap making, used trial and error, talked to soap makers, and visited stores that sold homemade soap. As she spoke, she lit up with enthusiasm and a bit of frustration too as she relayed the challenge of squeezing her pastime into her already busy schedule of work and family life.

In all the years I've known this relative, I never had the chance to really listen to her tell a story about her deep affection for crafts and the passion she has for making. I could easily understand her emotions as I feel quite similarly when it comes to teaching and learning and all the creativity involved in our work as educators.

Then today, I sat down and started writing a book. I've tried that before, but this time, I have a specific audience in mind which has deepened my desire to get the job done. Like my cousin, I found myself searching the net for just right advice and the best book writing and publishing program. I decided to use Pages and then I got started with the book, a book I've actually drafted before, and one I want to better in order to share at an upcoming conference and possibly beyond that. I know that the book has merit as I return to the words and content area often to inspire my own work, and I know that many others consult the book's content areas often as they teach and learn.

Writing a book is a tough task. There's lots to think about, and as soon as I started creating this book, I gained admiration and respect for the many authors I know and admire. Sitting down to create with care made me realize just how much time, attention, and focus authors invest in their work. This attempt to write a book has sensitized me to authorship. In fact, I'll never truly look at a book in the same way now that I'm trying to write one myself.

This experience has once again made me realize how we have to give students the experience to create real world, deep structures and results of learning. We have to challenge students to tackle the tough tasks because with those tough tasks comes deep knowledge, process, and respect for learning and teaching well.

In fact, as I write this book, I think that every high school student should be responsible for a significant, published or produced result of learning, exploration, investigation, and creativity by the time they graduate. They should have to go the full process from inspiration to research to creation and publication or production. Last year I visited our high school's STEAM Center and had the chance to see students' inventions--they had that experience of going from inspiration to prototype. Next steps would include greater advertising, new iterations, funding, and production. It was amazing to see their learning, and in fact I tried to gain support to import one of their designs to our school. Unfortunately i was not successful due to a number of reasons, but I may try again.

It doesn't really matter what students create, publish, or produce, but instead, it's that process that matters as that process builds deep knowledge, confidence, and connections that motivate and empower continued successful efforts in a students' area of exploration, passion, interest, and need.

To learn well, we need to tackle tough tasks. In the best of circumstances we'll be able to tackle the challenge and find support.  Nevertheless, it's never too soon to identify the challenge and begin the journey. As so many have said, you'll never regret it.