Learning is Messy

Nancy White

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Student to Learner

As adults, when we think back on our experiences in school, we tend to think of desks organized in neat rows, and the teacher standing at the front of the room, perhaps lecturing from a textbook chapter, making notes of the important points on the chalkboard. Students listen, take notes, or occasionally answer questions asked by the teacher.

In contrast, when I think about the circus, memories of brightly colored, costumed performers, trapeze artists performing daring feats, funny clowns, the sound of lively music, the smell of cotton candy and freshly popped popcorn fill my senses. There is an element of high energy, mixed with joyful anticipation. The audience alternately cheers and gasps, relishing in each moment, soaking in the sites, sounds, and smells.

What if school and learning could produce that same level of energy and joyful anticipation? Much like a circus, real learning is messy. When learners are engaged in the pursuit of understanding, transforming the facts and information that they are learning to create something new, answer essential questions, and solve real world problems, learning can truly look like a 3-ring circus. This kind of learning is personalized and personal. It allows room for creativity and collaboration, and has purpose when outcomes are shared with an authentic audience. Students who transform into learners are no longer passive observers absorbing the sites and sounds of books and teachers. Learners are now actively engaged – animated, creating new meaning for themselves and others. Learners are more like the circus performers.

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