How to learn? From mistakes.



Here are some quotes illustrating the main points of Diana Laufenberg's TED talk, entitled,"How to learn? From mistakes."

School as access to information
In 1931, my grandmother graduated from the eighth grade. She went to school to get the information because that's where the information lived. It was in the books; it was inside the teacher's head; and she needed to go there to get the information, because that's how you learned.

Fast-forward a generation: this is the one-room schoolhouse, Oak Grove, where my father went to a one-room schoolhouse. And he again had to travel to the school to get the information from the teacher, stored it in the only portable memory he has, which is inside his own head, and take it with him, because that is how information was being transported from teacher to student and then used in the world.

When I was a kid, we had a set of encyclopedias at my house. It was purchased the year I was born, and it was extraordinary, because I did not have to wait to go to the library to get to the information. The information was inside my house and it was awesome. This was different than either generation had experienced before, and it changed the way I interacted with information even at just a small level. But the information was closer to me. I could get access to it.

[What is] possible when you are willing to let go of some of the paradigms of the past, of information scarcity [like] when my grandmother was in school and when my father was in school and even when I was in school, and [come] to a moment when we have information surplus. So what do you do when the information is all around you? Why do you have kids come to school if they no longer have to come there to get the information?

In Philadelphia we have a one-to-one laptop program, so the kids are bringing in laptops with them everyday, taking them home, getting access to information. And here's the thing that you need to get comfortable with when you've given the tool to acquire information to students, is that you have to be comfortable with this idea of allowing kids to fail as part of the learning process.


The right answer vs. the process of learning
We deal right now in the educational landscape with an infatuation with the culture of one right answer that can be properly bubbled on the average multiple choice test, and I am here to share with you: it is not learning. That is the absolute wrong thing to ask, to tell kids to never be wrong. To ask them to always have the right answer doesn't allow them to learn.

What learning can look like in a landscape where we let go of the idea that kids have to come to school to get the information, but instead, ask them what they can do with it. Ask them really interesting questions. They will not disappoint. Ask them to go to places, to see things for themselves, to actually experience the learning, to play, to inquire.

I sat the students down, I said, "Who's got the best one?" And they immediately went, "There it is." Didn't read anything. "There it is." And I said, "Well what makes it great?" And they're like, "Oh, the design's good, and he's using good color. And there's some ... " And they went through all that we processed out loud. And I said, "Go read it." And they're like, "Oh, [actually] that one wasn't so awesome." And then we went to another one -- it didn't have great visuals, but it had great information -- and spent an hour talking [in this] learning process, because it wasn't about whether or not it was perfect, or whether or not it was what I could create. It asked them to create for themselves, and it allowed them to fail, process, learn from. And when we do another round of this in my class this year, they will do better this time, because learning has to include an amount of failure, because failure is instructional in the process.


What do we really need school to do for us?
The main point is that, if we continue to look at education as if it's about coming to school to get the information and not about experiential learning, empowering student voice and embracing failure, we're missing the mark. And everything that everybody is talking about today isn't possible if we keep having an educational system that does not value these qualities, because we won't get there with a standardized test, and we won't get there with a culture of one right answer. We know how to do this better, and it's time to do better.


Some questions to think about:
How did you learn things when you were 8 years old in school? How did you figure things out when you were 8 years old, on your own?
How did you learn things when you were 16 or 20 years old at high school or college? How did you figure things out when you were 16 or 20 years old, on your own?
How do you learn things now (new computer programs, new way to do something, new job, new educational program, new city, new people)?

How has your attitude about learning new things evolved, from when you were 8 to now? Are you more and more eager to learn? Are you more and more challenged by things changing on you? Do you feel the same then as now?

Think about some big or small mistakes you've made recently. (I know this might be painful, and I'm sorry!) e.g., in interpersonal relations, when doing a project, when responsible for something, when buying something.
What is your emotional reaction when you realize you've made a mistake of whatever sort? Do you get really afraid? Do you get very angry at yourself? Do you shrug it off?

What does the culture say you should feel/act when you make a mistake?
What potentially could happen when you make a mistake?

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