“Build Something That Matters”

That’s the fifth of Douglas Kiang’s “top five secrets” to a deeply engaging learning experience, and it’s obviously the same idea as building something meaningful together.  In some ways it’s the easiest of the five principles to apply, but in other ways it’s the hardest.  It’s easy when you have really built a joyful learning community; in fact, when there’s a joyful learning community in place, it naturally seeks to “build something that matters.”  “Can we create and solve mysteries for each other?” the Latin Family at District Q asked … and when I got that email, I knew that the community had truly formed.  But it’s hard because, if you want to build a joyful learning community, you have to do Kiang’s other four elements:

  1. “Wrap them up in the story,” which inspired my post on Monday;
  2. “Fail early, fail often,” which led to Tuesday’s post;
  3. “Provide multiple paths to success,” which we talked about on Wednesday; and
  4. “Scaffold and recognize progress,” which was our focus in yesterday’s post.

And of course those elements are interdependent … and of course “fail early, fail often” doesn’t just apply to the work that the learners do.  When you’re building a new joyful learning community, the lead learner or teacher or community organizer will experience plenty of failures and partial successes, too.  Sometimes it’s hard to find and frame the story in a way that works well for this particular audience, especially if school has meant Doing That Worksheet or Copying Ms. X’s PowerPoint.  Often it’s hard to normalize failure and struggle if the learners are used to a success- and perfection-driven school culture.  Multiple paths are a challenge for learners who are used to being told the One Right Way; I’m reminded of a story I know I’ve told before, a Ms. X colleague who was furious at her students for “doing Chapter 7 problems the Chapter 6 way” on The Test.

Scaffolding can be a challenge, too.  What does this group (or this person) need today, and how is it different from what they needed yesterday?  Celebrating progress is natural for me, but it can feel strange for a learner who only expects celebrations for absolute “achievement.”

And of course sometimes, when you try to get one element “just right,” you overcompensate and throw the whole structure out of balance.

But it’s not just in my personal life where I see signs of real progress on all five elements.  When K emailed me last night, he said he could feel the difference that the Unknown Vocabulary List process was making in his reading comprehension.  “It’s more like the Old Book,” he said, because the Former Teacher had given students the vocabulary list at the beginning of the chapter.  “Should we do that?” I asked him.  “Do you think that would help?”  I certainly don’t care whether I send the links to the VOCABVLA spreadsheets and documents at the beginning or at the end of a Lectio!  “Yes, that would probably help a lot,” K responded, and so we’ll talk about that in the intermediate and advanced classes today.  We may even bring back an old Latin Family favorite called Vocabulary Images, where you find or create images that help you remember three or four particularly troublesome words.

That’s a great way to “build something that matters,” both for you personally and for the larger Latin Family.  It’s also a great thing to share and publish on the Tres Columnae site … which I deliberately didn’t hyperlink in this post.  After so many issues with Joomla in the past week or so, I took the site down for maintenance … and when I bring it back up, I think it won’t be running on Joomla anymore.  CMS options are much better today than they were in 2011, the last time we had to make a back-end change in the site … and with a short week for District Q and District Y tomorrow, and end-of-quarter exams for District Y, I should have time and energy to build something better, simpler, and more flexible.

“But I can’t!!!” a Former Me might have wailed as recently as a week or two ago.  “The Old Site is old and familiar, and I’ve spent time and energy learning the software and finding those plug-ins.”  But as I think about old and familiar and time and energy spent in the past, those aren’t exactly compelling reasons to avoid a change in the present.  In fact, old and familiar can turn into stifling and constricting … and if you’ve already spent time and energy on something, that doesn’t mean you necessarily have to spend more time and energy on it.  Sunk costs can be upsetting and frustrating, or you can look back on them as time, energy, and money well spent.  But economists are right when they say that sunk costs shouldn’t guide your future investment decisions.  In less than an hour of experimenting, I found a solution that I really liked … and in less than thirty minutes of searching, I think I found plug-ins that will allow the Next Version of Tres Columnae Online to do everything the former site did, but better.  We may even be able to implement some things we’ve only talked and dreamed about before!

That’s the thing about the flexibility that suddenly emerges when you abandon the idea of perfect and embrace excellent for now instead.  That Old Thing worked well in its time, but is it still excellent for now?  If not, we can celebrate the good as we move on to the Next Right Thing, even as we know that it, too, may need to be replaced in time.  On a beautiful fall Friday, that’s an important lesson not just for me, but for everyone involved in building and sustaining joyful learning communities.  I wonder what else we’ll all discover in the days and weeks ahead!


Published in: on October 31, 2014 at 3:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

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