Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Messy Learning

Learning is messy. I always stress that to my students, especially when writing. I think students have this idea that professional writers sit down to a computer, type, and print. This, of course, is silly. I still always remind my students that any part of the learning process is messy - the rearranging of ideas, the stumbling we do on our way to remembering, everything.

Perhaps the age has something to do with it. My high school students want neat projects - the first time! My younger children, Ty and Za, have very few problems making messes while learning.

This is not a toppled book shelf. This is a ramp for cars, and Ty spent some time figuring out how he could eliminate the bumps the books caused.


They learn by making messes. It would never occur to them to try a new task and not create a disaster. They dig, they discover, they search. And all of that is messy. They are also inquisitive, and naturally curious about learning everything; WHY is their favorite question.

Again, vehicle study. Ty wanted to connect his vehicles, and he tried a variety of items to tie them together: a vacuum cord, plastic hanger, and cloth bag.

My older students, I want them like this. They are not though. They avoid messes and get frustrated if a project goes out of line. Sometimes teachers encourage that behavior - keeping everything neat and contained.

Ty and Za pretending the entertainment center is an ATM, and the papers from my new notebook are cash. Later when I cleaned, I realized they had crammed coins in there as well.


I'm not encouraging disasters. I get terribly frustrated with my messy house. I even get frustrated with a messy classroom. Children, no matter the age, should clean up after themselves. Students should listen, especially because some messes can be dangerous (chemistry lab?).

I do wonder however if one problem with older children's waning excitement about learning lies in the suppressing of messes, the discouraging of them.



Za was not easily discouraged when I told both of them to cut it out, and then collected the pages of my new notebook. Ty obediently went away, but the younger child? She kept pretending.

"Messiness"is part of the learning process. Randy Pausch encouraged "parents to let their children draw on the bedroom walls — where the young Randy Pausch painted a quadratic equation, a rocket, an elevator and, from one of his favorite stories, Pandora’s box." I won't follow that advice completely, but hopefully I am less restrictive when my children are making messes, and learning.