Douglas Kiang’s fourth step calls for teachers to “scaffold and recognize progress” just as good game designers do. Don’t expect perfection, whatever that is, from the beginning. Do provide small, safe steps and spaces for learners (or players) to build their skills and to build on their prior learning.
I’m glad I was thinking about Step 4 today.
This has been a week of scaffolding and progress for me personally. American readers will appreciate what happens when you leave a long-time job that provided (not so great) health insurance. I had an important decision to make: continue with that not-so-great insurance coverage through COBRA, or look for a better policy through the health insuranc marketplace. (I realize that readers outside the United States are scratching their heads, especially if they live in a place where employer-provided health insurance isn’t “a thing.”) Scaffolding? I called a local agency and quickly discovered that better coverage for about the same price could be mine. Progress? I picked up the form yesterday, returned it and paid this morning, and the new policy takes effect at the beginning of the month.
And as I drove home, I felt free … more free than I’d felt in a very long time. Readers outside the U.S. might not know how, in the “bad but not so old days,” many people with pre-existing health conditions felt like “health insurance slaves.” They wouldn’t have been able to get individual or family coverage on their own, so they were shackled (as a friend of mine put it a few years ago) to their existing Large, Safe Company … or possibly, if they were lucky, to another Large, Safe Company.
When that changed, it felt like an answer to many prayers. I was at a conference, and I “just happened” to turn on the news in my hotel room to see the Supreme Court decision. And in that moment, I knew that, when the time was right, I’d really be able to build a joyful learning community outside of a “typical” classroom.
The last two years, as I think about them now, have been about scaffolding and progress toward that goal. First I had to find, define, and refine the overarching story. What is a joyful learning community that builds meaningful things together? What does that look like in practice? How does it happen partly on the inside, like the District Y and District Q Latin Family groups? How does it happen entirely on the outside like the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Latin Family? That called for failing early and often; if you look back at blog posts here over the past few years, you’ll see lots of examples of trying, failing, learning, trying again, failing again, and learning some more. In the beginning, influenced by the factory-story I’d lived in for so long, I just assumed there must be a single pathway to the goal; eventually I started to see multiple pathways. And it was only then, when the idea of multiple pathways had taken hold, that I “just happened” to start finding the team, place, and time: the inquiry that “just happened” to come from my friend at GHF, the “can we talk” message from my friends at The Company, the unfillable openings for a Latin teacher at District Q and District Y.
Scaffolding … and celebrating progress. Progress, not perfection.
It was a day of progress, not perfection for the District Y Latin Family, too. “Where are they?” I wondered, when the Stated Time arrived and no advanced students had logged in. It turns out there was an evacuation drill, a special one that called for students to report to a Particular Teacher because they weren’t officially in class at the time. We had less time than usual together, but we were remarkably productive. Then came the beginners, still all excited from the drill … and then came the technical glitches that knocked everyone off-line at least once, including me. We salvaged the day, but W was upset because “people had been distracting” while I was gone. Having read the log of what they said and did, I’m not as distracted as W was, but I reminded everyone that, whether or not I’m there with them, we’re still the Latin Family and we still hold ourselves to a higher standard.
That’s a hard lesson to learn when you’re a young teenager, especially if you’re used to having Other People manage you. I don’t know the other teachers of the District Y Latin Family members, but I’m sure that they’ve encountered a Ms. X or Mr. Y or two at some point along the way. My Ms. X and Mr. Y colleagues try to manage their students’ behavior, and some of them even try to manage their students’ attitudes. But Ms. X and Mr. Y often have trouble managing themselves; they look to Powers That Be to “make those other teachers” do or believe certain things. And Ms. X aand Mr. Y tend to believe that They (whoever They are) ought to provide certain things for Us … things like well-behaved students, new textbooks, regular salary increases, and (not so great) health insurance. When They (whoever They are) don’t play by the rules Ms. X and Mr. Y have designed, you can feel the anger and disappointment from miles away.
When I started writing, I wasn’t sure how the quest for health insurance and the imperfect, but progress-filled day were connected with each other. As I wrote, though, I started to see the connection. Both have to do with progress, not perfection. Ms. X and Mr. Y “just have to” keep their nice, safe jobs with nice, safe, but not so great health insurance … but one day, I realized I didn’t “just have to” anymore. Like the Latin Family, I could take a step and see what happened; I could find multiple pathways and, when the time was right, choose one and follow it. I wonder where this path will lead next!