This summer, I learned something new…I mean totally new…something for which I possessed no skill and very little background knowledge. Last Christmas, my husband gave me a stand-up paddle board. I’m not sure why he thought I’d like such a thing. I’m not athletic and I’m not particularly interested in fitness. Nevertheless, he thought I’d like it and it turns out, I do!
Why is she blogging about paddle boarding on an educational blog you ask? As an adult, it has been a while since I learned something totally new. As I have struggled to learn how to ‘be’ a paddle boarder, I have been reflecting on how we (adults, kids… anyone) learn to do something new. I have been seeing analogies right and left as I navigate through my new learning. My experiences have been a great reminder for me as I think about beginning a new year with eager – or not so eager - learners in just a few weeks.
Prior to my first adventure, I built up my background knowledge, talking to a few people who have paddle boarded before and watching a few instructional videos on YouTube. This gave me a vision of how things SHOULD look. Believe me, paddle boarding is way harder than it looks…and let’s not forget that I’m not athletic. The best word to describe my first experience is clumsy. I wasn’t sure how to carry the board, how to ‘put in’ (to the water) how to actually stand up on the board let alone STAY up on the board, how to hold the paddle correctly (yup, there’s a wrong way), how to avoid the fishing boats...it was difficult. My husband paddled around in his kayak offering advice and support…my coach/lifeguard…I wasn’t alone. Let me be clear, he is not a paddle boarder but watched the same videos and once had a lesson. I appreciated the support J My first few times out were much the same. I was an emergent paddle boarder needing support, guidance and encouragement. I stayed in the cove, close to shore. I was slow, unconfident and needed prompting to keep going. I fell in a lot.
After several times out, I got a little better. J I was less clumsy. I became proficient in handling the board. I was able to focus on developing strategies. I was gaining confidence. I was taking some risks – aka turning around without sitting down on the board, not so much avoiding the fishing boats. I was learning that it was easier to move perpendicular to the current rather than parallel. I became more aware of my center of gravity and how to move and shift. I was free to attend to these details because more basic skills were now in place. Don’t get me wrong, I was not competent – just better and still falling in occasionally. But, I was developing my skills. I was still slow – but faster than before. I was pretty good if the water was like glass – no waves – my happy place. You might say I was an early paddle boarder. I still needed coaching, feedback and much time for independent practice.
Just last weekend, I ventured outside the cove! It was windy and the water was rough. There were motor boats creating waves. I went outside the ‘No Wake’ zone…and I didn’t fall…not once! I did use some ‘no fall strategies’ like moving to my knees when things got rough, speeding up when the waves got big and taking a break – aka laying on the board and resting from time to time. At one point I actually self-corrected. I felt myself leaning left and almost falling in. I adjusted my center of gravity and corrected my balance. This was truly exciting! No one was around to witness but I did give myself a little Woo-Hoo! I moved in and out of the cove ‘familiar zone’ as necessary. My speed varied. When things were easy, I went fast. When things were difficult, I went slow. (think fluency) My coach was there, kayaking around and going off and leaving me from time to time but returning to offer prompts (Are you holding the paddle the right way? Make sure you are on the center of the board.) I am a developing paddle boarder. I’m gaining confidence and beginning to enjoy my time on the water. Where previously I could ONLY focus on staying on the board, now I am able to enjoy the wind in my face and the beauty of the lake.
With more practice, I may become independent. It will take a lot of practice. It will take a lot of repetition to consolidate my skills: moving smoothly in and out of the cove and moving gracefully up and down on the board making adjustments. Being independent on Lake Grapevine is far different than being independent in another environment, say the ocean. Different environments require different skills. It may be necessary to move back to early or developing levels to strengthen skills.
So, how does this connect to learning in the classroom? What is necessary in a learning environment for a learner to stay engaged and be successful?
· Time and opportunity to build background knowledge
· Opportunities to fail and be assured of follow-up chances
· Planned guided practice with an encouraging, supportive coach offering feedback
· Recognition and praise for self-correction – this leads to independence
· Opportunities for independent practice
· Time to consolidate skills before moving forward
· Permission to take a step back in order to strengthen skills when things get hard or slow
As I prepare myself for the upcoming school year, I have a choice about how I respond to the learning in my classroom. I choose to engage with learners, to empathize and recall the feelings of struggle…excitement…fear…pride…frustration and self-reliance associated with new learning.