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Learning is messy; teaching is neat

Posted on: March 22, 2016

It has been a flipping good start to 2016. Tomorrow I conduct my fourth flipped learning event at a partner institute.

I revisited some of my previous resources, and never content to rest on my laurels, decided to update some of them with newer references and tighter reasoning.

Teaching is neat. Learning is messy.

I plan on using several quotes to provoke thought and create some dissonance. This quote is my favourite of the bunch and I am glad that someone generously shared a near perfect photo of neat and messy clothes.

I am fond of saying it the other way around: Learning is messy; teaching is neat. I swapped the positions of the phrases to suit the photo.

I will share this saying to make a point. One reason why teaching does not lead to learning is because the teacher does not understand or tolerate the messiness of learning.

Teachers are likely to have achieved some order from the chaos in order to gain expertise. They try to maintain this order because everything in schooling is about neatly arranged curricula, tests, and grades.

Most teachers rely on strategies that they have been taught, e.g., deliver, practice, homework, test. If teachers reflect critically on how they know content so well, they might realise that they learnt and mastered content by teaching it.

To teach something well is to first deeply relate to it. This is the initial level of complex processing. Most teachers cycle through these processes with their students when they teach. They might not realise that to teach that content to someone else requires another level of even more complex reprocessing. That is what leads to mastery because it is one form of authentic use of the content.

This is one reason why I maintain that teaching to learn is one of the three dimensions of flipped learning. A flipped classroom might take learners through the first cycle of learning; it does not necessarily challenge them with the second cycle. So I challenge teachers to reflect critically on this and to change their mindsets on what constitutes effective design and instruction.

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