I Just DON’T KNOW Yet

By Tracy Pompei

Tracy Pompei

I feel compelled to begin my late post with why it is late. In the beginning days of this week, I tried to write what I think about learning. Then, I did some research on the theories and collected my initial thoughts again on separate paper. I thought I was ready to answer this blog post at that point. When I sat down to write, I could not answer how I was promoting autonomy, mastery and purpose in my learning environment. I could tell you what I THOUGHT was creating these conditions but I was really unsure. As a result, I went back into the research phase and considered all the given sources, as well as branching out from there. I am currently in the process of outlining my own learning process as best I can. In the meantime, I wanted to write down some of my better supported ideas about learning before I finish writing my philosophy in an attempt to further solidify what I think I know, as well as to highlight some of the influential ideas that promote the construction my philosophy.

It’s interesting to think about what I am promoting in the classroom, especially so because what I promote has not always been what I wanted to or how I intended to do so. In fact, I have often asserted that I become less effective as a teacher as the years go by, which sounds ironic since, as those years dissolve, I have more years of experience teaching than I had the year prior. Follow?

For example, over the years I have been “taught” that close-reading is a strategy to help students understand text. However, when I was first introduced to it years ago I remember asking, “How would I use this in the classroom?” I was met with blank stares and some superficial answers. At the time, I took this response to mean I simply didn’t know what I was talking about or that I somehow missed the point. (As an aside, this has happened to me many times and I often allow these events to make me feel stupid which I know affects my stability in asking questions = fear.) The truth is they didn’t know the point when they taught it to me, therefore they had no answer to my question. “I don’t know” is a phrase that seems difficult for people to say. It occurs to me as I write this that an appropriate response to my question could have been, “I don’t know. How about if we take ten minutes to work that out within your small groups.” I’d bet we could have left that PD with some tools on critical reading skills. As it was, we left and stuffed the paperwork in a folder to collect dust while embedding the strategy and learning later how and why to use it.

After an exhausting search through the literature, not exhaustive of course because that might not exist anymore, I still hold learning to be a process of constructing meaning through our sensory input into our cognitive membranes where evaluation takes place. From there the information is either stored if deemed inconsequential or further examined. If we are forced to or decide to further examine surface-level knowledge, the brain makes comparisons, and conclusions are drawn and then stored. If those conclusions are still contradictory in any way, connected to a seemingly disconnected idea, or interesting and valuable (play), the brain might continue to evaluate the information. In addition, it might create something with it. Whether or not we scribe this information depends on the value it holds, our circumstances in life, and our purpose for evaluating the information to begin with. Sometimes, if the conditions are just right, our brain makes many connections all at once and if we engage with it; we are able to make new meaning of these connections. These can be Aha moments or tactile creations wherein the Aha is embedded in the creation.

I believe fear plays a dynamic, always present role in community learning and often in personal learning situations. Too long to discuss here.

I also believe that habits play an important role in learning and that they are learned young and are very difficult to change. Furthermore, I believe that much of student learning today is invaluable because of this natural tendency of habit and iteration of such habits. Whether the habits are negative and continue through a child’s learning experiences or positive and then met with negative situations for any significant amount of time, the habits are critical in my learning philosophy.

I believe that students are motivated to learn by their very nature of being human. I believe that all humans want to understand the world around them, they want to understand themselves and to succeed in life, they realize young that learning is crucial in this endeavor, and that they realize their role in their own learning process and successes. Daniel Pink further supports this theory of mine in his “Surprising Truth…” when he reports that researchers have found that larger monetary rewards led to lower performance. Based on this research, I believe humans understand that the value of money is superficial and the value and work of performance is not. Therefore, a superficial reward is irrelevant and a hindrance to the process of creation. Those superficial rewards can work if we are asked to perform superficial tasks. On the other hand, when asked to perform deep analysis to create and innovate, the rewards are social acceptance and gratification, as well as personal success or feelings of autonomous skill and/or mastery, and finally, strong purpose.

However, I also believe that schools disengage students to the point that motivation to learn becomes a disposition often visible only outside of school. Students might ingest knowledge while present in school every day; however, their ability to engage with the knowledge is often hindered by motivational factors. I believe those factors include lack of interest, success, and joy in the process of what school has become for them. Furthermore, I believe that many students engage for the purpose of being seen as superior or gaining acceptance from adult role models or for the ultimate justification of themselves, a grade of A. The best! Sometimes this means better than others, and sometimes it is just a quest to be the best he or she can be for their own personal satisfaction.

Sir Ken Robinson persuades us to revolutionize learning for students today in his “Bring on the Learning Revolution.” He differentiates those who love their work because they have a strong passion for it and those who don’t as lacking this passion, purpose, and intrinsic meaning within it. I believe he probably thinks those who don’t love their work to be those whose resources were hidden or discouraged when they were learning, and therefore they never discovered their passion or never learned to master it. His vision of the revolution includes creating opportunities for students to explore their passions so that they will discover purpose, and live and work by and for it — in the interest of the human factor as well as the society at large, who lives in communities that contain diverse populations with diverse talents.

In conclusion, my philosophy of learning has changed a bit although I am not yet sure how. However, I can say this: I do believe in Sir Ken Robinson’s words, although our public education system must not. I have never been taught to teach my students what they are passionate about or to help foster and grow them from that place. I have also never been taught what the future might look like for the purpose of allowing my own ideas to conceptualize what kids should know to be successful. Instead, we have a set of competencies wherein we teach kids to read, write, calculate, and understand scientific phenomenon. And often this is extremely outdated material. There is so much more to our society, and if we don’t figure out how to teach better, we will find ourselves without public education. Without public education, what does that mean for our democracy? I just DON’T KNOW yet.


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