Today I came across two texts from different sources which essentially proffered the same message: the importance of trial and error in the learning process. Both Michael Duffy’s essay Try, Try Again in the Sydney Morning Herald and Dr John Seeley Brown’s interview in the PBS doco Digital Media (thanks to http://bluyonder.wordpress.com/ for the tip) discussed the virtues of trying, failing and trying again.
Michael Duffy’s essay quotes from a book called Being Wrong by American journalist Kathryn Schulz. Schulz writes:
''Far from being a sign of intellectual inferiority, the capacity to err is crucial to human cognition. Far from being a moral flaw, it is inextricable from some of our most humane and honourable qualities: empathy, optimism, imagination, conviction, and courage…''
''And far from being a mark of indifference or intolerance, wrongness is a vital part of how we learn and change. Thanks to error, we can revise our understanding of ourselves and amend our ideas about the world.''
In his interview, Dr John Seely Brown begins by discussing ‘the questing disposition’, by referring to specific examples of gamers and surfers who, within their respective communities, share a curiosity and passion which generates natural learning. Dr Brown states that one of the chief skills needed by the children of today - to ensure they will be able to navigate the world of the future - is a ‘love of embracing change’. His central premise is that we need to teach students the value of tinkering, of playing with a problem in an attempt to solve it. By tinkering, we are experimenting with things ourselves, asking ‘Does this fit?’, ‘Is this a match?’ etc. Dr Brown invites us to consider that ‘Tinkering brings thought and action together in some very powerful, magical ways.’
Wouldn’t it be fascinating if the academic community accepted Schulz’s opening sentence as a given? Imagine if all students saw errors as learning opportunities, chances to improve, a reason to try, try again? How can we best offer students the opportunity to tinker with ideas, concepts, words, numbers, as well as objects and projects? What a challenge for us!
I believe that tinkering has a place in all real and lasting learning. The following variables would make this possible:
- Time: to play, to think, to scrap, to start over, to collaborate
- Passion and enthusiasm
- Genuine interest in the product/skill
- Facilitation rather than explication on behalf of teachers and mentors
- A ‘mastery-oriented’ approach (Dweck)
- More time!