Knowledge builds a fence around learning

I’ve been struggling to put down my thoughts from Edutech. I saw so many great keynotes, all of which challenged my thinking and even better, offered me ideas that are helping me to map a route for change and improvement at my school. For now, here is one of the thought bubbles that I had during the conference, which I think will shape what I do in the future.

Knowledge builds a fence around learning.

Sugata Mitra and Tom Barrett both spoke about the difficulties with knowing things. When children, who had never seen a computer before asked Mitra what it was, during his famous Hole in the Wall study, he answered ‘I don’t know’. This set the children upon an amazing path of exploration and learning which is revolutionising the way we think about the role of learners and the role of the teacher. They learned far more than anyone had predicted. If Mitra had answered their questions, they would no longer have been curious, and the learning would not have occurred.

Barrett touched on this in his keynote about Creativity in the Australian curriculum. In a world where information is immediately accessible, we need to be discerning in the way we use that access. When students ask ‘What is it?’ or ‘How does it work?’ they could use a search engine to find an answer. Or they could explore, speculate, theorise and experiment, allowing deeper learning and the potential for curiosity to spark inquiry in all sorts of unexpected directions.

Mitra saw in his work that rather than answering children’s questions with knowledge, it is better to answer them with encouragement. Instead of responding to student work with statements like, ‘That’s not right’, he suggested answering with:

‘If you do it again, will you get the same result?’

‘Is there a chance that is not right?’

And instead of responding to the ‘What is it?’ questions with facts, respond with ‘I don’t know’.

In our role of teachers, we want to support our students in their learning journey. We often feel we are helping when we provide knowledge and answers. But to fan the flames of curiosity that will drive learning, we need to be discerning in when and how we do this, because the moment we feel we KNOW something,  we stop wondering, and its that sense of wonder that drives a love of learning.


3 thoughts on “Knowledge builds a fence around learning

  1. Katie says:

    Great post, Corinne. Re-thinking our concept of knowledge and it’s place in learning seems simple yet our thinking and patterns of behaviour are so entrenched it can seem overwhelming to shift them.

    EduTech was a real game-changer for me, on a number of levels. Taking the time to reflect and process all that we saw, heard and felt is just as important as being there. I am slowly getting little blocks of time to do this. Whether I publicize it any way I’m not sure but for me, it’s more important to just complete the reflection and hopefully I can then be effective in sharing my learning with my colleagues.

  2. Very interesting and makes sense to me. Relevant to parents, as well as teachers. I’ll no longer worry I’m not being adequate when I tell my kids “I don’t know”.

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